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Old 06-01-2009, 09:09 PM   #1
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How to make a professional looking cake?

I have been making cakes for several years now. I keep practicing, refining my techniques, but I just feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. No matter how hard I try, I can never make a professional cake. Every cake I make has that "home made" look to it that I hate.

Take the latest cake I made. Here's a photo. I made it for a colleague who asked me to make it for his wife's birthday. In the end it looks like a total amateur job. It's bumpy, rough, and messy. You can see a million flaws in the photo. What's worse is he's insisting on paying me $50 for the thing. It cost me way more than that for the ingredients, but I don't want to charge him. For $25 he could have bought a professional cake that looked 100 times better.

What am I doing wrong? I stand there with my icing spatula and heat it up and smooth it for ages trying to smooth out every wrinkle. I sit there and try to pipe everything carefully, but in the end it always looks rough. I'm just really frustrated. It doesn't have to be elaborate... I just want to be able to make cakes that I wouldn't be embarrassed to sell.

How do you make the leap from producing rough "home made" products that wow only friends and family to producing "professional" products that would be at home in a gourmet bakery, or for that matter, even in the counter of the local supermarket?


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Old 06-01-2009, 09:13 PM   #2
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That's a fine looking cake if you ask me.

However, if you want to improve your skills, consider taking a cake decorating course.
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Old 06-01-2009, 09:16 PM   #3
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Is there no way to learn the right techniques from books or at home? It's just so hard to find the time to take classes.

But at this point I guess if I want to get better I have no other choice... nothing else has worked so far.
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Old 06-01-2009, 09:24 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasonr View Post
Is there no way to learn the right techniques from books or at home? It's just so hard to find the time to take classes.

But at this point I guess if I want to get better I have no other choice... nothing else has worked so far.

There must be books on the subject. Someone who is better at this than I may have a good recommendation.
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Old 06-02-2009, 10:06 AM   #5
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i am in absolutely no way an expert, but one thought did occur to me - what kind of recipe are you using for your frosting? ive noticed that different recipes (store bought being the worst) produce different results....if they are too sticky, or too dry, or too thick/thin, etc it can all have an effect on the final product

and you prob know this already, but a thin, then chilled, crumb layer can help

and i just want to add that the cake in the picture looks pretty good to me....maybe not $50 of good, but certainly nothing to be embarrassed about, and WAY ahead of most homemade cakes
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Old 06-02-2009, 12:18 PM   #6
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If you want a flawless finish then you will probably

have to use fondant. Without using fondant even professionally make cakes never are perfectly smooth. The tip about the crumb coat and chilling ususally helps a lot. And I would suspect your frosting itself is to
blame. If you bought one of those 5 gallon tubs of frosting, made with
shortening not butter, that commercial bakeries use you would probably
create a cake similar to the bakeries.
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Old 06-02-2009, 12:33 PM   #7
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I don't buy any ingredients; it's all from scratch. I used Pierre Herme's basic buttercream frosting recipe from his "Patisserie" book, with a vanilla bean to add flavouring. You basically prepare a custard with milk and egg yolks, cook to 81 degrees C, then mix in some softened unsalted butter, and then fold in a whole lot of Italian meringue at the end.

I suppose maybe my frosting wasn't perfectly done; it could have been smoother in the end and a little less curdled looking.

I have never done a fondant cake. I know it would probably look smoother, but if I had to switch to fondant from buttercream, that would mean I failed at buttercream. I don't want to switch to an easier or different recipe; that's like running away from the problem. If Pierre Herme or even the grocery store down the street can make perfect looking buttercream frosted cakes, why can't I? What am I doing wrong?

And I did use a crumb coat this time. Crumb coated it, and chilled in the freezer before applying the remaining frosting. It helps, but it's never perfect :(

The other problem is the writing. I just can't do it freehand. I don't know how people are able to pipe letters freehand. I have to rely on this stupid stamp tool to make indentation in the buttercream. But it's so awkward and this time it didn't stamp cleanly so it made a bit of a mess of the buttercream... I just want to be able to do things cleanly. It can't be rocket science. I mean every two bit supermarket cake is clean and professional looking, so what are they doing that's so magical?
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Old 06-02-2009, 01:19 PM   #8
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do you use a turn table while frosting? it would be alot easier to hold your tools still while letting the cake turn....ive seen alton brown use an old record player, so the cake turns at a constant speed with no effort on your part

i think the writing will just take practice....from what i see in the stores, you just need to move semi-quickly....if you have decent handwriting, i bet you can pull it off....writing in cursive might help too - i would imagine that the less you need to stop and restart, the better
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Old 06-02-2009, 01:20 PM   #9
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ooooooor, make a coconut cream cake that's covered in shredded coconut! it hides all the blemishes
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Old 06-07-2009, 12:20 AM   #10
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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.

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?
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