Sunday, 30 March 2014

A cake decorating lesson

Two of my girlfriends came around today for a cake decorating lesson. We had great fun and I was really pleased with how well their icing and decorations turned out. I said I'd write down some key points and recipes for them which I may as well share with you all. All quantities for a 6"/15cm round cake.

Elephant cake

As am aside here's a picture of the first cake decoration I tried to do before I went to learn properly at night school! I'm very proud of it for a first attempt. The model comes from The Essential Guide to Cake Decorating.

Sponge cake

200g salted butter at room temperature
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 capful of vanilla extract
30ml milk

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
  • Grease the baking tin and sprinkle with a fine dusting of flour so the cake doesn't stick
  • Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer for at least five minutes until they become almost white. It really helps to cream up faster if the butter is softened
  • Crack the eggs into another bowl and slowly add to the mix, add a little flour to stop the batter curdling
  • Add the rest of the flour and baking powder and mix. This is best done by hand so as not to overwork.
  • Add the vanilla extract for flavour and milk to loosen the consistency.
  • Split evenly between two identical tins. Spread the mixture higher around the edges so that when the cakes rise they stay as flat as possible; you want the batter to be visibly concave.
  • Baking time depends on size of tin, oven temperature etc. When cooked the cake should start to smell caramelised and when poked should feel soft and springy to touch without leaving an indentation. A skewer should come out clean.

  • Leave to cool for a few minutes but whilst still warn prick all over with a skewer and using a pastry brush liberally apply syrup.
  • Once cooled wrap in cling film and leave to rest overnight to firm up so that they are easier to slice.
  • This quantity makes around a 4" tall cake.

Stock syrup

Stock syrup is made from 50% sugar, 50% water by volume. It helps to keep a sponge cake really moist, given it takes a day or two from baking to decorating to actually getting to eat the cake! I use around 1/3rd cup of each for a 6"/15cm cake. Add the water and sugar to a pan and bring to the boil. When the sugar has dissolved remove from the heat and add a capful of vanilla extract for flavour. Leave to cool.


100g salted butter at room temperature
100g icing sugar

  • Mix together using an electric mixer for at least five minutes until the icing becomes almost white.

Marzipan and Sugarpaste

600g marzipan
600g sugarpaste for the cake
200g sugarpaste for the board

It really helps to be generous with quantities of marzipan and sugarpaste so always tend towards using too much rather than too little.

Covering the board

  • Cover the board with a layer of icing a day or two in advance to give the icing time to dry.
  • Before you roll out the icing brush the board with cooled boiled water or vodka so that the icing sticks. Be very very sparing with the icing sugar or it'll dry out the icing and leave visible marks.
  • Use a cake drum style board that is at least 3" bigger than the cake.

Decorating the cake

  • Use a cake slicer to level off the top of each cake and to slice each cake into two layers.
  • Use the bottom of one of the cakes as the bottom layer as it will have a harder and flatter base to help support the rest of the cake. 
  • Place the first layer onto a large square of baking parchment so you can easily lift and rotate the cake as you work. Smother generously with jam.
  • Place the second layer on top. Smother generously with butter cream.
  • Place the third layer on top. Smother generously with jam.
  • Place the top layer on top. It's best to use the other cake bottom upturned as the top layer as that too will be firm and flat.

  • Smother the whole four-layer cake with butter cream, filling any gaps. Use a pallette knife to remove the excess and ideally leave a fairly perfect cylinder of delicious, delicious cake.
  • Chill in the fridge for as long as you have time for. Ideally an hour or so.
  • Roll out the marzipan and carefully apply to the cake. When rolling our aim for around 5mm thick and a diameter that is at least as big as the diameter of the cake + 2 x the height of the cake. Each time you roll gently rotate the marzipan or icing by 90 degrees to help stop it sticking. 
  • Cut off the excess and polish with cake smoothers. 

  • Wash all your tools and the surface so you don't get the marzipan oils into your icing
  • Use a pastry brush to moisten the marzipan with either cooled boiled water or vodka.
  • Roll out the icing and carefully apply to the moistened marzipan.  Cut off the excess and polish with cake smoothers.

  • Carefully peel off the baking paper and place in the centre of the iced board. Finish with ribbon.

Adjusting for different sized cakes

7 inch round

  • Multiply basic sponge quantity by 1.5. 
  • 750g marzipan/sugarpaste +250g sugarpaste for the board

8 inch round

  • Multiply basic sponge quantity by 2.
  • 850g marzipan/sugarpaste + 350g sugarpaste for the board


At these sizes you can get away with using the same quantities for round and square cakes, but the square ones won't be quite as tall.

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