Let`s go through some of the most basic yet important aspects of baking and cake decorating. If you do everything correctly from the beginning, no cutting corners, that is what creates a perfect bake and before you know it you will be making all your family and friends a `Magical bake for every occasion`.
Just by taking your time and learning all the different Hints and Tips, From lining a cake tin so much that you have no crusty edges and a perfectly moist cake, to rolling the fondant out evenly using a simple but effective tool so that it goes onto your cake flawlessly and at the same thickness, learning these simple tips will guide you to creating the perfect cake!
So the first thing were going to look into is your basic equipment needed to bake and cover a cake neatly and professionally then I am going to take you through the Science behind a perfect light, fluffy, moist, airy cake, because these cakes will “Taste just as good as they look”
Cake Tin - I find the Non Stick Cake tins are the best with a loose bottom so you can easily get the cake out. You do get what you pay for so investing in a good quality cake tin, even if it does mean paying that little bit more it is worth it, in my opinion. (Tip – The darker the cake tin the more Heat it will absorb!)
Baking Parchment – Yes I said baking parchment not Greaseproof paper but why? If your cake needs to stay in the oven for a longer period of time e.g. Fruit Cake or maybe just a large 12 Inch Cake, the longer Greaseproof paper is in the oven the less effective it becomes and can stick to your cake. I find it is much easier to just avoid this problem all together so baking Parchment is a must for any baker.
Cooling Racks – Simple and obvious but another “must have” these will prevent your cakes from going soggy after all `who wants a soggy bottom`? They also have the added bonus of cooling the cake faster.
Rolling Pin – I prefer the non-stick silicone rolling pins as they don’t only do what it says in the title but they have a lovely weight to them which really helps when rolling out that sugar-paste (fondant) especially when you have a large amount to roll.
Spacers – When I first started cake decorating I didn’t have a clue what these were however it soon became apparent that to create a perfect neat flawlessly covered cake they are a must! All they are is two long strips of plastic, 5mm thick those are the ones you want you simply roll your sugar-paste (fondant) in between them so the rolling pin goes over the top of the spacers, when you have finished you will have a lovely piece of sugar-paste exactly 5mm Thick to cover your cake evenly in all places.
Cake Smoothers – Another very simple piece of equipment, it is always best to have two, and we use these to smooth over the fondant on the cake without leaving any finger marks behind. It leaves a beautiful neat finish just what you want before you decorate your cake.
Turn Table – Again very simple but makes the word of difference when it comes to adding the Sugar-Paste to your cake, it will make everything ten times easier. It is a simple round, raised plastic plate that just turns freely.
Piping Bags – I prefer the disposable ones and yes I do use them to help sandwich my cakes together believe it or not, in my kitchen they play a very big role. I will show you how to do this in the next section as it’s a great way to prevent the Jam from oozing out of the middle and to get a lovely level finish to the cake.
Cake Leveller – It does exactly what it says, a perfect way to get your cake not only level but to the depth that you want it at, my cakes average on about 10cm deep, plenty of cake and plenty of filling.
Cake Tester – Again another simple tool just to check that your cakes are thoroughly baked, When you test your cake if this comes out with any batter stuck to it your cake will need just that little bit longer.
Getting that Perfectly Risen, Moist, Airy Bake every time !
Now you have everything you need to start baking and covering that amazing cake. But before we go jumping into making the perfect sponge, just learning and understanding some of the science behind what makes your Cake Rise, Why the batter sometimes curdles, how to prevent it from curdling, why does your oven burn it rather than bake it. These simple things and understanding what is happening will help put you on the right path and avoid baking disasters.
So I am going to start with the most crucial piece of equipment that can genuinely make everything so difficult, the oven.
Why has my cake burned but still not cooked in the middle ? – Just because your oven states that it is at a certain temperature does not mean this is always correct. Again it goes on the price of the equipment, the more expensive the oven, the better the thermostat the more accurate the temperature will be. The cheaper the oven or the older the oven gets the more likely the temperature it states is in-correct. So what can you do? Well firstly you don’t need to buy a new oven, just by purchasing an oven thermometer from your local baking store or even supermarket you can adjust the temperature to that of the monitor this way it will be more accurate and you will get a much better bake!
What is Curdling and how can I prevent it? – This is when the cake batter starts to split, but don’t worry, It is really simple to prevent and even remedy. For starters always have your eggs at room Temperature and add them gradually to the cake batter constantly beating but being careful not to over beat the mixture. During this process you are actually adding air to the cake this air is what makes your cake rise as well as giving it that lovely light airy texture. If it does start to curdle add a little bit of your flour that has been weighed out ready to fold into the batter. Give it a good beat for a few minutes using a hand held mixer is great for this but not essential. You will see your batter coming together again.
Do I need to use Baking Powder? - In all honesty the answer is no, once you have mastered beating in those eggs, gently folding in the flour and keeping all that lovely air inside your cake then baking powder is not needed. However if you are new to the baking world and are practicing then there is no harm in using it BUT be aware, “Adding too much baking powder can actually cause your cake to Rise then sink suddenly” So if you want to use some just mix a little into your bowl of flour, which is the last thing that gets added to the cake batter. Reason being the longer baking powder is in with the liquids, so in this case the eggs the less effective it becomes, always add last minute.
Why is it so important to fold in the flour rather than beating it in? – Again it is all about the air, by gently folding in the flour you are able to keep as much air as possible that you have just spent your time beating into the batter. This will make the cake Rise and be light rather than dense.
Lining your Cake Tins
For me this is by far one of the simplest parts of cake decorating that people rush, but it is also by far one of the most vital parts to keep your cake moist whilst it is cooking especially if it is a large cake or even a Brandy-licious fruit cake and needs to be in the oven for just that little bit longer. A neatly lined cake tin with plenty of butter helps not only stop the cake from sticking but gives you a lovely neat finish.
For each tin I tend to draw a template using the base of the tin on to some baking parchment using a non-toxic pencil and have three pieces for each (this is for the bottom of the tin).
I then cut strips of Parchment to line the sides, I cut these a bit deeper than the actual cake tin and fold up the bottom edge about 1cm and cut diagonal lines using some scissors on the folded edge, this will help you place it into the cake tin much easier and neater look at (Image B) .I use about 6 strips for every 8 inch cake, the larger the cake the more I use, also the longer the cake needs to be in an oven so Fruit cakes can take a minimum of 4 hours depending on there size the more I use to keep my edges as moist as possibale.