Recipes and all manner of cookery are popular sub-sections on many a homemade craft and design blog/website, and the variety of techniques used to make some truly fabulous eatables is astounding. Some of the disciplines in cookery are so creative and artistic, with the resulting foodstuffs resembling works of art that deserve to be housed in galleries rather than being consumed! Baking, for example, is one of those disciplines where the resultant end product, aesthetically, can be worthy of the Turner Prize.
In the last few years, I have particularly been struck by how artistic, creative and downright genius some of the designs of cakes are, as they are decorated in such a way that they do not even resemble edible food most of the time, rather, they resemble art work. With sculptures of literally anything that you can fathom being able to be reproduced, cake decorating has certainly gone up in many people’s estimations as an art form in itself worthy of distinction and celebration.
Defined in basic terms, cake decorating is the use of icing, frosting or other edible decorative elements to make plain cakes more visually interesting and appealing. To that end, cakes can also be moulded or sculpted to resemble three-dimensional objects, animals or even people.
There are three main types of cake decorating media, these are;
Royal icing is sweet white icing made with egg whites, powdered sugar and lemon or lime juice. It is typically used on Christmas cakes, wedding cakes or birthday cakes and its resultant fine edges are ideal for piping elaborate writing or lacework onto cakes. In addition to being used as frosting, or for piping writing on cakes, royal icing can be used to make decorations to embellish the cake, i.e. flowers or figures, etc.
Sugar paste icing, also known as gum paste, is made from sugar and glucose and is used to cover cakes, mould figures and create decorations. It is brittle when dry, and dries quickly, and is ideal for making bigger decorations that will stand up on a cake, i.e. bride and groom figures. Homemade sugar paste icing is known to not store for long compared to commercial preparations, but can be much cheaper.
Fondant icing, usually referred to simply as fondant but also known as sugar paste, is commonly used to decorate wedding cakes but can be used to decorate any type of cake. In its simplest form, it is sugar and water cooked until it reaches a fudge-like consistency. In commercial preparations, it is made up of ingredients including gelatine, food-grade glycerine and sugar, and colourings and other flavourings are typically added too. It can also be made with powdered sugar and melted marshmallows. Rolled fondant is rolled out like a pie crust and then draped over the cake. Fondant’s popularity is increasing due to the fact that it provides a smooth and chic finish to a cake, coupled with its versatility when it comes to texturising it.
Given just how mind bogglingly creative some cake decorators are, I do not hesitate in using the often misused word ‘genius’. Their work proves that they are artistic geniuses and they deserve a lot of praise and recognition. And for those who go the extra mile by sharing their genius in the form of tutorials online, in my opinion, they deserve Nobel prizes… seriously. They share what is a beautiful art, and allow amateurs like myself and others to learn and attempt to recreate the beauty that they design. And that’s why I have decided to give a special mention to what I am dubbing, the unsung heroes of homemade craft and design.