I started baking as part of my half-assed, slow-motion, car crash of a mid-life crisis. I needed a creative outlet. My first decorating attempt was truly pathetic.
It was a peppermint cake and I wanted to make it look like a peppermint candy. I failed. I lacked technical skill (and proper tools) in decorating. So, I regrouped and focused on making the cakes impressive on the inside by figuring out how to make checkerboard cakes.
But, I really wanted them to be pretty on the outside as well.
I decided to focus on what I was capable of doing. I bought basic tools, an offset spatula and basic tips and a pastry bag. With just these tools, you can make impressive cakes if you think carefully about what you are doing.
Before we get to decorating, I do want to tell you about ermine – or boiled– frosting. This is the best frosting I have ever tasted. It is fluffy, light, and just sweet enough. It’s made by combining 5 T flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk (you can use coconut milk or almond milk to make it vegan) in a saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until it has the texture of mashed potatoes. Let that cool, then beat it a little at a time into 1 cup of butter (or margarine) with a pinch of salt and vanilla or other flavoring.
It will seem to curdle, keep going, and it will turn into something with the texture of whipped cream. Now, we’re ready to talk about decorating.
First, you can make a swirled frosting, then sprinkle stuff on top. I made a coconut lime cake with lime curd between the layers. I used coconut milk to make the ermine frosting and balance the fresh lime curd between the layers. I used the offset spatula to make it swirly. It really takes no skill at all – just smear it on the cake. Then I sprinkled dried coconut on top along with a few lime slices. I think this is a pretty and inviting cake.
I’ve also made an almond cake with raspberry between the layers. I decorated this one with sliced almonds and fruit. I toasted the slivered almonds and used them to make ‘flowers’ with a berry in the center. Just stick them into the frosting in a circular pattern – it’s hard to mess up. I smoothed out the sides, and I’ll explain how I got it smooth in a moment, but you don’t have to do that. You could leave it swirled. I pressed toasted almonds around the bottom of the cake as well. Again, I think this is a pretty and inviting cake.
You can make a very cute or a very elegant cake just by making blobs of frosting. When I do this, I leave the sides unfrosted. This is for two reasons: I like the look, and I use butter cream and the blobs are thick. That is a lot of butter cream on the top of the cake and I don’t want the sweetness of the butter cream to overwhelm the cake. I made this cake (along with StraffinRun who never posted pics – glares) back in October. I just made blobs using different tips and colors and then added candy eyes.
The simplicity of the idea inspired me. I thought instead of cute, this could be used for an elegant cake. And, you don’t actually need tips to make the elegant version. It can be done with just a Ziploc bag. Put the frosting into the Ziploc, cut off part of one corner and go to town. I made a lemon cake and put cherry jam between the layers. I just made blobs and then sprinkled a little colored sugar over it. I think it looks elegant.
Lastly, drip cakes are very popular and hip these days and they are easy. I made a peanut butter cake and put chopped peanuts between the layers
For a drip cake, you want the frosting smooth on the top and sides. I made a peanut butter butter cream, and smoothed it over the cake.
You make it smooth by putting frosting on the outside of the cake. It doesn’t need to smooth at that point, but you’re not trying to make a swirled cake. Then, put the offset spatula under hot running water. Use it to smooth the sides by running it around the outside. It takes repeated efforts, under the hot water, smooth, repeat until you are happy with it. Once it is smooth, stick it in the refrigerator to chill. A drip works best over a cold, frosted cake.
Next make the ganache for the drip. I made chocolate ganache which is equal weights of chocolate and cream. Do weight it, it makes a difference. Chop up the chocolate then pour hot cream (heated in the microwave) over it and stir. Add a little corn syrup (1 tablespoon or less) to make it shiny.
Pour a little ganache on top, then smooth it toward the edge of the cake. When you reach the edge, give it a little push to make it drip over the side. It’s that easy. You can add more decorations, like chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups or other candies if you like.
I’m enjoying learning to decorate cakes. It gives me a creative outlet and has pushed me to think about how to get an effect within my skill level. I hope you enjoyed seeing these easy methods and take inspiration for your own cakes.