Decorating Cakes: Advanced

If you like the smooth look of fondant or ganache, try these techniques for your next special-occasion cake.

Start with the Cake

Poured glazes, like ganache or fondant, require a smooth starting surface–otherwise you’ll end up with crumbs in the glaze or a lumpy-looking cake. Prepare the cake by covering the top with a very thin layer of marzipan or buttercream frosting before glazing.

Poured Finishes: Prepping the Cake
For marzipan, spread a thin layer of jam (or frosting if you used some to fill the cake) to help the marzipan stick to the cake.

  • Roll out marzipan like you would a pie crust, using confectioners’ sugar instead of flour to prevent sticking.
  • Use a dry pastry brush to dust away excess.
  • Transfer to the top surface of the cake and use scissors to trim to fit.

For a buttercream layer, use a recipe that uses mostly butter, not shortening: you will need to chill the cake in order to create a firm surface before pouring on the glaze.

  • Frost the whole cake, taking care to make it smooth and level–but don’t worry about perfection or about crumbs in the coating, as you’ll be covering it up with the fondant or ganache.
  • Chill until firm to the touch.
French Buttercream Frosting

Photo by cakesnthings

Glazing the Cake
When you’re ready to glaze, place the cake on a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. The cake should be resting on a cardboard circle for easy maneuvering. Cake circles are available at baking supply stores and craft stores. Or you can make your own: cut a circle slightly smaller than the diameter of your cake pan. You can also elevate the cake by resting it on an inverted dish or other makeshift stand; the idea is to make it easy to cover the cake with glaze without making a big mess. The baking sheet catches the excess and allows you to pour it back into a bowl for reuse.

The ganache or glaze should be warm enough to flow easily, but not hot–otherwise, it will melt the buttercream or lose its shiny finish. It should be about 90-100 degrees F (32-40 degrees C). Use a glass measuring cup or small pitcher for easy pouring. Start pouring at the center of the cake, moving to the sides; try to cover the entire cake in one shot. You can use a small offset spatula to spread the glaze, but be very careful: don’t spread too vigorously–you will lose the smooth surface and might gouge into the walls of the cake. You’re just trying to help the glaze flow.

If you don’t glaze the whole cake in one pour, you may re-use the glaze on the baking sheet. Reheat if necessary and proceed as above. Let coating set before decorating.

Chocolate Ganache

Photo by Lyrik03

Rolled Finishes
Rolled fondant and modeling chocolate–plastic chocolate–also require a bit of finesse, but result in a smooth, matte finish on your cakes. They’re a little more forgiving than glazes, allowing you to move flowers or other decorations without leaving a mark.

  • Prepare the cake by spreading a thin layer of jam or buttercream on the top so the fondant will stick.
  • A marble slab is ideal for rolling out fondant or plastic chocolate. Otherwise, make sure you have a clean, dry work surface.
  • Dust the counter with sifted confectioners’ sugar (for dark chocolate, use sifted unsweetened cocoa powder) and roll out the fondant or chocolate to between 1/4 and 1/8 inch thick. Thinner is better, but it’s also more difficult to achieve.
  • Brush off excess sugar and carefully transfer the fondant to the cake; before you lower it onto the sticky surface, make sure it’s large enough to drape over the entire cake.
  • Starting in the center, gently smooth the coating toward the sides, pushing out any air bubbles, and smooth the fondant down the sides of the cake.
  • Use a sharp paring knife to trim the excess. If the bottom edge is ragged, you can decorate the bottom of the cake with a rope of fondant or piped icing.
Marshmallow Fondant

Photo by Bobbie Susan

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