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Old 06-07-2009, 08:55 AM   #11
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you are way too frustrated about all of this. if you want to be a professional, then go to school to learn what you need to learn. nobody
is going to be able to tell you some 'magic formula' to give you your
answer. don't be so hard on yourself.

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Old 06-09-2009, 01:52 PM   #12
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It's a long time since I've done any cake decorating, but it cost you more than $50 for a cake that size? You weren't using gold leaf in the filling, were you?
I like to use really expensive ingredients, like organic butter and El Ray chocolate, so it can get pretty pricey pretty quick. I also pack things pretty densely in there. The butter alone for that cake would have cost me nearly $20, lol.

Cake decorating is part design and part execution, and you need to know how to handle both. If you've tried to learn from books and it isn't working, then you could try YouTube or other video-based classes. The advantage of an actual class is that you're interacting with the teacher, who can give you feedback on your efforts, which a book or video can't do.

If you're going to try to learn from books, you need to look at them with a very analytical and detailed eye; you don't have the author there with you to explain what's going on, so you need to be able to work it out from the information they give you, and that isn't anywhere near as much information as you'll get from a class with a good teacher. I'm almost entirely self-taught, but I tended to stay away from things I know I wasn't good at - I have huge gaps in my technique which could probably have been remedied by taking classes, but for me it wasn't really worth it, I just worked around the gaps.

On the subject of working around the gaps - if you know that writing isn't something you're good at or comfortable with, then don't have the written stuff be the focus of the design. You can write a small "happy birthday" on the cake but have flowers and other decorations dominate the design.

To answer the question about the supermarket cakes, those decorators are working to a fairly basic design. The cakes aren't really different, they're just the same thing with the flowers in different places and with different colours. You're probably also not looking at those cakes with as critical an eye as you're looking at your own.
Thanks for the very good answer. I have suspected that this "working around the gaps" thing is alot more common than you'd think, even with professionals. I've noticed that when I buy different books, everyone seems to favour certain techniques and ingredients and structures almost exclusively. Some people seem to love chocolate work, but they avoid buttercream completely. Others focus on tortes but ignore layer cakes.

Only a handful like Pierre Herme seem to be able to do everything, and even he tends to ignore the piped buttercream.

you are way too frustrated about all of this. if you want to be a professional, then go to school to learn what you need to learn. nobody
is going to be able to tell you some 'magic formula' to give you your
answer. don't be so hard on yourself.
Sorry, yeah I kind of know. When I wrote that message I was upset because I felt bad about not only doing a sub-par job, but also charging $50 for it. Anyway, they emphatically claimed to love the cake, but I don't know: I still wonder if they were just not being polite.

I need to kidnap Pierre Herme, chain him to my kitchen, and make him teach me everything he knows :)

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Old 06-09-2009, 08:01 PM   #13
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if they don't ask you to make another one, then u will know
"life isn't about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain"
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Old 06-09-2009, 08:44 PM   #14
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Decorated cakes that you find in the store are not made with buttercream. They may call it "buttercream", but it's really a shortening & sugar mixture that handles well, doesn't melt in the piping bag in your hand, smooths to a firm finish, etc. They use an even stiffer version of this frosting for flower work, such as roses. I know - I've taken the classes and made the cakes, including many tiered and pillared wedding cakes. (And yes, I've done some of them in real buttercream)

Classic buttercream is for eating, not decorating. Cakes frosted in real buttercream are usually decorated in something else. (chocolate work, sugar work, marzipan, pastiage, etc). However, if you do try to decorate with it here are a few tips:

1. Real buttercream doesn't take color real well - stick to pastels.
2. Don't try to use highly contrasting colors like red & green. Stick to a light/dark combination of the same color - it's much more forgiving.
3. Do not use very fine or highly detailed tips for your decorations. The soft creaminess of buttercream will not hold the detail well.
4. As was previously mentioned, use a crumb coat and CHILL it before adding the finished layer of frosting.
5. Use twice as much frosting as you think you need. Pile it on thick! Then when you use your offset spatula to level it, you actually lift off the excess.
6. Use a turntable.
7. Use the longest offset spatula you have. You can hold it upright along the side of the cake and spin the turntable. If you've used enough frosting, you will get a perfectly straight side.
8. Never use a heated knife on real buttercream. You will get dark melted spots just like the ones that show up in the picture.
9. If your hands get hot - STOP! Chill your hands down with ice water before continuing.
10. Don't write in all caps.
11. Keep the writing small and simple. Don't try to embellish it. It's much easier to stay even with small writing.
12. Mark out your writing with a toothpick if you must. But do it before you add any decorations. That way, if you've used enough frosting (see number 5) you can wipe over it until you're happy.
13. Don't use a contrasting color for your top and bottom border work. It will only serve to accentuate any inperfections. Use your main icing color for the borders, then decorate in your accent color.
14. Limit yourself to 2 colors, a main color and an accent color. Maybe add a little green for leaves, but that's it! Too many colors tend to look ameteurish.
15. Use a parchment bag, not a 'tube kit'.
16. I think Wilton still makes a 'practice board'. It's a plastic mat with all the basic patterns drawn on for you to follow. If they still do, it comes with instructions. Google Wilton and see if you can find it.

When you take decorating classes, they always teach with decorator's frosting. You might want to try it for a while to practice your skills. Since it's just shortening and sugar, you can use it over and over. Work on your smoothing skills by frosting inverted cake pans. Practice your art work on parchment or a silpat. Don't waste expensive butters for learning. Just mix up a big batch, keep it all one color, keep it cool, and practice whever you get a chance.

Sorry, that's probably more than you wanted to hear, but it only scratches the surface. The most important thing to do is keep practicing!
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Old 06-11-2009, 08:34 PM   #15
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orry, that's probably more than you wanted to hear, but it only scratches the surface. The most important thing to do is keep practicing!
Are you kidding? That stuff is gold. And it makes perfect sense.

I am especially intrigued by the comment that I should not be using real buttercream for decoration.

Do you recommend using a shortening based "decorator's buttercream" for both the writing and the frosting, or can I get away with using real buttercream for the frosting? If I'm grokking you correctly, I should just switch to the decorator's stuff for both the writing and the frosting. I can use something more classy as a filling.

I'm also going to stop using the hot spatula trick. I think you're right that doing so is just self-defeating. What I like to do after the crumb coat is use one of those long flat piping tips to apply an even coat around the top and sides, and then just smooth it with the offset spatula. It's more even and neater I think than just shovelling it on haphhazardly with my spatula.

And what you said about not using a contrasting colour for the border is so **** obvious... why didn't I realize it?! LOL...
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Old 06-11-2009, 08:47 PM   #16
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I will start by saying I have never baked or iced a cake.

Ironically enough I just recently spent a week at a retreat with a woman who used to be a professional baker (for weddings and the like).

She gave me some tips on icing, and I can remember two.

The first was to freeze the cake before icing, it will keep the crumbs from getting all over. The second was to use a warm spatula (you can have a hot glass of water to dip it in) and that helps to make the icing smooth.

I did not read all the comments so someone might have mentioned this already - also your cake didn't appear to have either crumb issues nor uneven frosting so you might already know these things.

People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
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