Saturday, February 12

Wedding Cake Part 4: Decorating!

You would think that decorating the cake would be the best part of the process, right? But by the time I'd baked the layers, made the frosting, trimmed and filled the layers, and frosted and stacked the tiers, I had a little cake fatigue. I also had a lot of real-life things come up right after assembling the cake, so I didn't even try decorating it for another week. By that time, the cake had shifted and looked pretty pathetically crooked!

The straight side
The almost-disaster side!

My original plan was to try out a bunch of different designs on the blank canvas of my cake, but since it looked like it would be in a puddle on the floor at any moment (remember, I didn't use the long dowel to secure my tiers together), I just tried to mimic one of the inspiration pictures Beta sent me. This design works on fondant or buttercream cakes, although it probably looks best with the clean lines of a fondant cake. It's also simple enough to be practical for the wedding (I won't have weeks to work on it then). If I make this design I'll definitely want to mimic the alternating taller tiers and staggered widths for structural interest.

I love Martha Stewart cakes!

The first step was coloring the fondant. Because it's very rigid when cool, kneading the fondant is necessary before adding food coloring. Gel icing colors are recommended (not the liquid droppers you get from the grocery store) because they blend better and maintain the consistency of the fondant. This stuff is very powerful, so it's important to add it a little bit at a time. I put on gloves (necessary unless you like the look of tie-dyed skin), dipped a toothpick in the coloring, smeared a bit on the fondant, kneaded, and continued adding color until it was right. Since fondant hardens quickly and becomes crumbly, it's important to keep it in a sealed container as much as possible. It's also good to know that the color often intesifies over time, so it's best to err on the side of caution. I definitely over-colored my ribbons this time.


A smooth stone countertop or metal table is ideal for rolling out and cutting fondant, but since I have neither I had to be creative. My mother-in-law, Karen, who's thinking about turning baking into business, read that a piece of vinyl from a hardware store works well as a surface for rolling fondant. So I took Michael to Lowe's (turns out he didn't know where to look for this any better than I did) and we found ourselves in the tub and tile section. We ended up buying a sheet of PVC that is sold as tub liner. I don't know if this is what was intended by the recommendation, but it's thick enough to cut against without ruining my table, flexible enough to roll up in my suitcase, and can be cut to size. I planned to get a piece about 2 1/2 feet square, but decided to get a sheet almost as big as my table top. This way I have a big work space that's easily cleared away, and I can always buy a smaller piece if I want one.

Because it takes a lot of pressure to roll out fondant, I was worried that any grit between the PVC and my table would leave scratch marks. Also, the PVC would easily slip around against a slick surface. So I folded an old sheet beneath it. After cleaning the PVC well I spread it over the sheet for an excellent workspace. 

Since I wanted long, thin ribbons, I did what anyone who graduated kindergarten would do and made a long, blue snake of fondant. I then used a rolling pin to flatten it until it was about 1/4-inch thick. Using a fondant tool called a ribbon cutter, I cut two adjacent long strips of fondant.

Straight lines are easy with a ribbon cutter.

The white stuff is cornstarch.

Once I had a few ribbons I placed them haphazardly on the cake. This was surprisingly easy and would have been a total snap if my cake had been refrigerated since the ribbons sank a little into the warm icing.

I continued placing ribbons until I had 3 or 4 of each color on the cake. While I was doing this, it occurred to me that I was creating a messy top. I'm still not sure how to handle this. I think the best way is probably to use super long ribbons that cross the top and eliminate the problem of stray ends. If that doesn't work I could also put a solid blue "cap" of fondant on the cake.

At this point it was time to make the bows, which kind of make the cake. Unfortunately, I had no luck with this, mostly because I was running out of time (I had an exciting project, which I'll share very soon!) and table space. There are lots of instructions online for making elaborate loopy bows, but I have yet to find instructions for bows as simple as these. In case you're wondering, tying it like shoestrings just makes the fondant tear. The two things that gave me trouble were attaching the pieces together securely without smushing them and allowing them to dry without letting them fall flat. Fortunately, I have four-and-a-half months to figure it out or choose a different design. : )

Be on the look-out for more wedding cake practice. But most of it will happen on cake dummies - either syrofoam shapes or inverted pans, instead of another 20-pound (I weighed it) leaning tower of cake.

Is there a cake design you love?  Send it to me!  I'm looking for inspiration!

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