This month's tutorial will be in 2 parts:
1. How to get the icing on a cake perfectly crumb-free and smooth.
2. How to use the Piping Gel Transfer to draw on a cake.
Part 1: How to get the icing on a cake perfectly crumb-free and smooth
We need to start with the basics. To get a beautifully decorated cake in the end, you need to begin with a correctly stacked and iced cake! After you bake your cake, you'll notice that there is a slight (or sometimes huge) dome on the top of the cake. You can't stack 2 cakes that have domes, so you first need to level the cakes. Wilton makes this amazing cake leveler that is absolutely fool proof (available at Michael's and other craft stores)! Basically, it's just a metal frame with a wire going across it. You slide it along your countertop and the wire levels the cake for you! No longer will you need to rely on a steady hand, your eye, and a serated knife to level a cake! Once the cakes have cooled, level them and either discard the dome tops or use them in another recipe (like Bakerella's cake balls).
Place a dollop of icing on your cake board and put one cake layer on top. This cake board can be cardboard, but it needs to be covered with aluminum foil or wax paper. This prevents the moisture from the cake causing the cake board to soften and become essentially useless. Wilton also makes these "show and serve" cake boards that are ready to use. The general rule of thumb is that your cake board should be about 2 inches bigger than your cake so if you baked an 8-inch round cake, you need a 10-inch round cake board.
Next, you're ready to fill your cake. Pipe a thick layer of icing on the top of the cake layer all the way around the edge. Fill the center with the filling of your choice. Keep in mind that if you fill the cake with cream cheese or something that can spoil, you'll have to refrigerate the cake. A lot of times, I just fill the cakes with buttercream unless someone requests a specific filling. Wilton has some really good visuals on filling your cake. Place the second cake layer on top of the filling. It's often easier if you put the leveled side of the cake face down. This will help keep the crumbs down when you ice the whole cake.
Yay! Congrats! Your cake is now ready to ice! Here's where the fun begins! Instead of loading the cake with tons of icing, put a crumb coat on first. A crumb coat is a very thin (and I mean thin) layer of icing covering the whole cake. As you put this layer on, you'll see lots of crumbs. That's normal! Keep going! After you ice the whole cake, set it aside for 10-15 minutes so it will "crust." Many buttercream recipes, including mine, will form a crust when it's allowed to sit for a duration of time. To speed up the crusting process, you can throw the cake in the fridge for 5-10 minutes. You'll know when your icing is ready to move on if you can gently touch the icing and it doesn't stick to your finger. When you get to this stage, you're ready to completely ice the cake. Now you're going to really load the icing on! The crumb coat will hold all the crumbs so this icing should be pretty clean. When you spread the icing over the cake, be gently so that you don't disturb the crumb coat. I tend to skimp on the icing because I feel like I'm putting so much on the cake! If you're like me, push through it and really load the cake up! The finished product will look much nicer and I've rarely heard people complain of having too much icing (they don't have to eat it if they don't want to, right?!).
After you've iced the cake, smooth it with your spatula as much as you can, but don't worry if it's not perfect. Insider secret: Some professionals hold a rigid ruler next to the cake and spin their turntable to help create a smooth, straight edge on the side of the cake. Others use clean, new paint spatula which are pretty inexpensive at your local hardware store.
Again, set the cake aside for 10-15 minutes and let it crust. Here's an exciting trick that will be sure to impress everyone! People call this the "papertowel trick." Are you ready? Are you excited? (I am!) You need some pattern-free papertowels -Viva brand works great! Lay the paper towel on your crusted buttercream and gently smooth over it with your hand/fingertips. Like before, be careful not to disrupt the crust layer. If you do, the buttercream will stick to the papertowel and you'll need to let it crust again before you can continue. Sometimes, I can do a whole cake with one piece of paper towel, but other tmes I use 5-6 before I'm happy. Be patient and gentle. If you work at it, you can have a perfectly crumb-free and smooth cake when you're finished!
Part 2: Piping Gel Transfer
Now that you have a beautifully smoothed buttercream cake, let's decorate it! Here's what you need:Choose a pattern that you like from a coloring book, the computer, etc. Tape it to a hard surface like your coutnertop, and then tape a piece of wax paper on top of it. If the orientation of your photo is important (ie, if there are words in it), be sure to flip the picture over before you tape it down. Sometimes it is difficult to see the picture from the wrong side of the paper so I usually trace it again with a Sharpee. Using Wilton's piping gel (clear is best, but I had white on hand so that's what I used this time), trace the picture onto the wax paper. Then, place the wax paper face-down onto the top of the cake, being careful to place it exactly where you want the picture to be. Gently trace your finger over the lines you drew to be sure that the piping gel is transfering from the wax paper to the cake surface. Carefully peel the wax paper off the cake. You should be able to see your piping gel lines on the buttercream. Next, trace over the piping gel lines with buttercream. The piping gel will not be easily visible in the final product so if you want to be able to see something, be sure to redo it in buttercream.
To trace this lobster and soccer ball, I used red and black icing with decorator's tip #3. I decorated the sides with tips #12 and #5 and the star and shell borders were made with tip #21.