Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A cake decorators toolkit

I'm often asked how I manage to achieve particular features of my cakes and my answer is invariably that there is a tool for the job! Here's my top items in my cake decorators toolkit:

1) Icing smoothers

Icing smoothers

I absolutely couldn't get by without these! They help hide a multitude of sins. After applying marzipan to the cake I use these to push the sponge into as regular shape as possible and you can actually be quite brutal at this stage to force the cake into a more even cube/cylinder. Then after applying the icing these are used to remove any lumps and bumps and literally polish to a really smooth finish.

2) Tylo (CMC) or Gum Tragacanth and icing glue

CMS, Gum Tragacanth and edible glue

Not strictly a tool but an invaluable part of my arsenal nonetheless. The addition of a small amount of either of these powdered gums will transform regular icing sugarpaste into something that will hold its shape when modelled, not get too sticky, and allow you to roll it extremely thinly. You can also buy ready mixed modelling paste but I really don't see the value when you can so easily make it yourself. 

Icing glue is simply a hydrated version of CMC and I use a fine brush to stick items together in most of my designs.

3) Paste colours

sugarflair paste colours

I adore plain white cakes. They can be extremely classy and striking in their simplicity. Our wedding cake was totally white. However cake decorating wouldn't be cake decorating without plenty of colour even if sometimes less is more.

I use Sugarflair paste colours which don't make the icing sticky. Liquid colour just won't work. Some shades are better than others at achieving a good depth of colour and if I want to make something really intense like black or bright red then I'm also happy to buy ready coloured icing. You also don't need many different colours as they blend together really well.

4) Stand mixer

kitchenaid stand mixer

A light and tasty sponge cake requires a lot of beating to cream the butter and sugar together. It's much easier to put the ingredients in the bowl and come back to it after a few minutes than to use a spoon or a hand mixer. This also allows you to multitask. I'm lucky enough to have a really good quality stand mixer and would wholeheartedly recommend one.

In addition to the cake batter I use the mixer to really beat buttercream until it turns white. I also admit that I've used it to mix royal icing although, but this would probably disappoint my old cake decorating teacher who would insist that it should be made by hand to avoid introducing any air bubbles.

5) Cake slicer

cake slicer

This adjustable cake slicer is a lot like a cheese wire. It takes a bit of practice to learn to use it but well worth using to level the top of cakes and create perfect layers like in this cake. This always leads to plenty of off-cuts that my husband loves snacking on. 

6) Cake tins

cake tins

I've already raved about my adjustable square cake tin that folds flat and allows me to make any sized rectangular cake I need. I just wish some clever boffin could work out how to make an equivalent circular tin! 

7) Knives


A really good quality kitchen knife is very important for trimming the icing from around the bottom of the cake and the edge of the cake board if. If it's not sharp it'll drag the icing rather than glide through it. A food grade scalpel can even be used for more intricate work. Pallet knives are used to lift the cake or apply butter cream or royal icing.

8) A range of brushes


A wide range of good quality brushes is very important. I buy mine from cake decorating shops to make sure they are food grade.

I use a large brush to add stock syrup onto the cake when it's cooling to keep it moist. A medium brush is best to moisten under layers of icing to make it stick or apply lustre dust. Tiny brushes are used for applying glue or to literally paint on colour, e.g. the pupil of a penguin's eye.

9) Non stick rolling pin and board

non stick rolling pin and board

Your work surface, chopping boards and rolling pin probably all have subtle textures that would transfer onto icing if used. I use these good quality non-stick items to roll and shape finer work to help it stay perfectly smooth.

10) Modelling tools

cake decorating Modelling tools

These tools can be used in a multitude of ways to manipulate and shape the icing; to poke holes, dents, make flowers and petals... They were used on this teddy bear to shape the ears,  add the stitching to the head and make holes for eyes.

11) Boards and boxes

cake decorating boards and boxes

A perfect cake in your kitchen is all well and good but if you can't get it to your destination you may as well not bother. All cakes need to sit on a stable board. Sometimes it's just underneath the cake so you can't see it, other times it provides more of a decorative feature. I tend to use 12mm cake drums that won't flex so the cake doesn't get damaged in transit. A properly fitting clean cake box then also helps protect the cake to make sure it arrives in perfect condition.

12) Ribbon


I always keep a roll of white ribbon in my toolbox. Much like smoothers ribbon helps to hide a multitude of sins. I use it around the edge of the cake drum but also the bottom of the cake to hide the join between the cake and board - it's a hell of a lot easier than the more traditional option of piping royal icing around the base.

13) Cocktail sticks

cocktail sticks

Sometimes the simplest things are the most useful. Cocktail sticks have a variety of uses in my toolbox including applying small dabs of paste colours to the icing, supporting heads on complex models or helping models stick to the cake. They also make a passable substitute for some of the modelling tools above.

14) Piping nozzles

piping nozzles

I don't do much work with royal icing these days, but when I do these nozzles allow me to pipe whatever designs and shapes I need. Flower nozzles are great for creating sugar flowers like on this cake.

15) Cutters

cutters for cake decorating

I have a wide range of cutters and presses for cutting out many designs from hearts and stars to letters, blossoms and more intricate designs.

Of course I didn't buy all these tools at the same time and some I use more than others. It's definitely possible to get by without many of them. But for that special cake where you really want it to be perfect then there will always be a tool to help!

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