Award-winning pastry chef, author and patisserie guru, Claire Clark, gives us her top tips for a glamorous finish to any cake. Get ready to ditch the sprinkles and ready-made decorations and grab yourself a palette knife.
Last year I was at the Cake and Bake Show and came away somewhat dismayed that, although there in my capacity as a patisserie expert to share great recipes, give advice and demonstrate some of the hot trends of the year, 80% of the visitors to the show, although keen bakers, were more interested in ready-made decorations and finishes.
Whilst I simply love sprinkles and shimmer spray is one of my favourite finishing products, I encourage you all to make your own frostings, ganaches and fillings and engage in learning a few simple finishing techniques. It's so rewarding.
The palette knife is the equivalent of the cook's knife to a pastry chef. Learn to love your palette knife. It gives a smooth surface, it makes ruffles, and fluffs up frosting - it's all about application. No one said the decorating part of cake making was easy, it takes practise and time. Allow yourself the time to give your homemade cakes the glamorous finish they deserve.
Whilst I simply love sprinkles and shimmer spray is one of my favourite finishing products, I encourage you all to make your own frostings, ganaches and fillings and engage in learning a few simple finishing techniques.
If making chocolate ganache for frosting, use 100ml double cream and 150g dark bitter chocolate. Lakeland has an outstanding range of concentrated flavouring compounds and oils. You only need a few drops and they won't alter the consistency of your ganache. Leave it to set at room temperature overnight and apply with a palette knife the following day.
Cream cheese frosting is a fabulous healthy alternative to butter cream and is easy to make. It can be flavoured with fruit puree and can be made up to two days advance if you keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Leftover egg yolks or egg whites can be made into light fluffy buttercream. Use the French method of making an Italian meringue if using egg whites, or a "pate a bomb" if using egg yolks.
The butter cream can be kept for up to two weeks in the fridge. This time of year, praline paste, coffee, chestnut and chocolate are all great flavours to be using. Try Valhrona Caramelia chocolate with a little sea salt for a less sweet taste.
Use a step palette knife for spreading cake mixes, such as Swiss roll or Jaconde, onto trays to make them level. You will get a better finish.
An eight inch palette knife is easy to handle and control for most home use. Make sure the blade is flexible but strong. Avoid fancy handles which are not straight. It makes frosting complicate and hard to control the knife.
A small baby step palette knife (six inch) should be on all cake makers' Christmas stocking list. For all those small delicate jobs it's priceless.
80 Cakes From Around the World is published by Absolute Press, and is available from Amazon.