Sunday, 23 December 2012

Bakealong: Decorating your cakes

If you are going to use ready-made icing to cover your velvet cake, warm it up before you take it from the packet to knead and roll it out. It will be so much more obliging if it is warmed up- just pop it behind you in the armchair while you have a coffee. Perfect. What we are aiming for here is minimum effort for maximum impact, lovely ribbon and sparkly accessories make a big impact!

I leave my Lemon Drizzle cake in one piece as the syrup makes it really moist and sweet enough - if you want to layer it, cut extremely carefully with a serrated knife/bread knife. I would suggest layering with lemon or orange curd.
I decorate the top with cut-outs from the left over icing used on the Velvet cake. As the top of the drizzle cake is very shiny, a bit of glitz seems appropriate: stars and snowflakes cut from the left-over icing from the velvet cake, some gold balls and stars and edible glitter star shapes.

The Velvet Cake is my equivalent of the traditional Christmas Cake, white icing and Santa's Sleigh on top.

Stage 1: Once the cake is properly cold, slice it horizontally into layers. I make two small shallow cakes rather than one large deep cake as it makes this slicing simpler. Use the flattest and most circular of the cakes as the top layer, you want a nice smooth top. The sides won't be perfect- don't get too worried about this, buttercream will hide some bumps, the icing will hide a multitude of sins, ribbon around the icing will hide even more- getting the top smooth is the important thing.

Stage 2: Layering. Decide what flavour you want- the cake is chocolate- if using buttercream you can flavour it with orange/raspberry/mint/chocolate...whatever you like best. I spread my  cake with alternate layers of Nutella and Dutch spiced Speculaas paste. Build up your cake on the plate/board you intend to serve it on, you don't want to be moving it around once it is iced! Once it is layered together, smear the outside with a thin layer of buttercream to make the icing stick to it. Chill it ( if you have room in the fridge) so the buttercream isn't too sticky and slippy.

Stage 3: have that coffee and warm up your pack of icing, so it easy to knead. Prepare a good flat surface for rolling out your icing and have some icing sugar ready to prevent it sticking to that surface. Make sure your rolling pin is really clean and smooth so it gives a blemish-free surface.

Stage 4: Remove the icing from the pack, give it a gentle kneading to make it pliable. Place it in the middle of your flat surface, a light dusting of icing sugar will prevent it sticking, firmly but gently roll out the icing sugar to about a quarter inch thick, working from the centre out. Measure up the sides and across the top of your cake, your icing needs to cover an area at least as large. Once it is smooth, even in thickness and large enough, you are ready to do the scary bit. This is a bit of a leap of faith, so keep calm.
 Carefully lift up your icing, it is about a quarter inch thick, which is quite thick for icing, so will hold together. In one smooth movement lift it and place it roughly centrally  above your cake, lower it down so it gently drops onto the cake top and drapes itself down the sides. Pause to recover. Now start to gently smooth the icing into place around the bottom of the sides of the cake, trimming the excess off with a sharp knife- you can re-roll and use this for other cake decorations.You will have an element of pleating happening- don't worry we will cover this with the ribbon that goes around the cake.

 Smooth and polish the cake icing with a smoother, if you have one. Smoothers really do work to get rid of a surprising quantity of lumps and bumps, my cake was a right mess before I smoothed it! 

 Now put some nice wide, wire-edged festive ribbon around the sides- wide ribbon hides bumps, wired ribbon makes lovely bows. Cut your ribbon longer than the circumference of the cake so you can make a decorative flouncy bit/ turn under the edges neatly to the back. Pin any bows/edges in place with dressmaker's pins- remember to remove them before cutting!

Stage 5: Add your decorations to the top of the cake. Stand back in awe of your achievement and enjoy the ooos and aaahs of your nearest and dearest.

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