Cake decorating is fun, but it has many challenges. As a self-taught cake decorator, I have many stories to tell. Many times it seems like the buttercream just won’t come together or there is condensation on my fondant or the cake baked with a domed top. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to share a collection of tips and tricks for cakes (20 to be exact) that I have learned over the years from my experience baking and decorating cakes, from books I have read (I have read many) as well as from the pros. With these tips and tricks for cakes, no one will ever know you encountered any issues at all.
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Being able to know how to fix any cake issues that arises makes you become a better baker, cake decorator and builds patience. It is different when you are baking for fun versus when someone is depending on you to create beautiful cake art. All our clients or family and friends see is the result. However, behind the scenes, the baker and decorator needs to know how to handle cake issues and be adaptable. If something does not work the first time never give up just keep trying.
What do you do when you don’t have an ingredient on hand? What do you do if your Italian Meringue buttercream is cold and curdled and you need it like yesterday? How do you fix a broken buttercream? Or your favorite recipe uses cake flour and you don’t have any and it is 5 am? These are just a few questions I hope to answer. I hope that these tips and tricks for cakes will help you along the way.
Cake Flour: If your recipe calls for cake flour, you can use a combination of ¾-cup all-purpose flour, and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Another substitute is to use 1 of cup all-purpose flour and remove 2 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour, then add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
All-Purpose Flour: When the recipe calls for all-purpose flour but you only have cake flour. Substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour by using 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour.
Buttermilk: Use milk with lemon or vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to a 1-cup measuring cup, then add whole milk and let it sit for 2 minutes. Or use 1 cup sour cream.
Sour Cream: Use 1 cup plain yogurt or 1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt.
Dairy Free Milk: Use almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk
Dairy Free Heavy Cream: Use coconut cream, place in the refrigerator before whipping up. I like Trader Joe’s coconut cream. It whips just as beautiful as heavy cream. Works perfectly for dairy-free ganache.
Dairy Free Yogurt: Use soy, coconut or almond yogurt.
Eggs: Eggs play an important role in cakes and cookies etc. Eggs provide structure and stability within a batter; they also add moisture to cakes, richness, flavor, and color to baked goods.
For Cakes, Brownies and Cupcakes use ½ a medium Banana (or ¼ cup), mashed or ¼ cup (4 tablespoons), Applesauce or 1 tablespoon ground Flax Seed plus 3 tablespoon water. Please note: Flax seed has an acquired taste; it is best if used in dense cakes such as a carrot cake.
Your recipe calls for room temperature eggs and butter? Here’s how to achieve that perfect balance.
Cakes do not always bake to the top for many reasons including problems with the rising agent. However, if everything else is great try adding a cake collar to your baking pan. See my step by step guide about adding a cake collar to your baking pan.
Problem: Why are does my cakes have a hump in the middle and does not bake leveled?
Solution: Use the Wilton bake even strips or use a damp paper towel or tablecloth and place on the top of the cake, then use a cake board the same size of the cake pan and press down. Remove the cake board and voila, a flat top cake.
Problem: The sides and bottom of my cake started burning before the center is cooked.
Solution: Use a heating core. Why do I need a heating core? You need a heating core when you are baking large or deep cakes; I always use one for cakes that are 10 inches or greater and cakes that are deeper than 2 inches. If you do not have one, use a flower nail or two. You will need to adjust the time and temperature. I love to bake my cakes low and slow.
Problem: When I split my layers I end up with a cake that’s not leveled. I don’t remember what order or where I need to place it.
Solution: Use toothpicks. This was a common mistake I made when I started cake decorating. I would always forget the order in which the cake was removed or where the cuts lined up. I use toothpicks all the time. They are especially helpful with carved cakes especially when you carve before you add buttercream or ganache.
Question: My cakes baked great but had a crust on the top, bottom and side should I trim the crust off the cake? Answer: YES…YES,…YES….and YES. Always remove the crust from the cake.
Problem: My meringue buttercream is cold and looks curdled.
Solution: Add a tablespoon of the meringue buttercream in a microwave-safe cup and microwave for 10 seconds. Then add the meringue back to the mixing bowl on high and watch the buttercream come back to life.
Problem: When I color my meringue buttercream it looks speckled, how do I fix it?
Solution: Remove a small amount of the meringue (before adding butter) and place in a small bowl. Then add the desired color to the meringue. Once your buttercream is ready, add the colored meringue.
Problem: Sometimes with carved cakes, you can get carried away with carving and cut too much.
Solution: If this happens, create some Cake Spackle. Cake Spackle is made by mixing a small amount of buttercream or ganache with some cake scrap. The right consistency is making it firm enough, but not too sticky or too stiff.
If you made it this far, God bless you. Fondant rips all the time, especially if it is too thin, or the excess fondant is hanging.
Solution: mix a small piece of fondant with water and create a paste. Then add paste to the ripped section. It will look like new.
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