Monday, September 29, 2014

Buttercream Cake Decorations

Eleanor blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, iced and decorated with buttercream.
Elaborately decorated cakes often taste not so great. That's right, not so great.

This is because satin smooth finishes and fancy three-dimensional decorations are usually obtained with rolled fondants and gumpastes, sickly sweet sugar doughs that frankly taste terrible.

I really don't want to eat a cake that's covered with something bought in a can at the craft store, not to mention the manhandling that goes into getting these decorations onto the cake. Do I really want eat fondant that's been warmed in someone's hands before being rolled out and pressed and smoothed onto a cake? No, I don't. I want cake topped with homemade frosting that's applied with a spreader.

The fact is though that I do get requests to make special theme decorated cakes for celebrations and I've done my best to figure out a way to make these cakes with buttercream.

Recently my daughter Eleanor asked me to make a CaptainSparklez cake for her 15th birthday celebration. For those who don't know (I wouldn't if it weren't for Eleanor), CaptainSparklez (real name Jordan Maron) is a very popular minecraft Youtube personality with more than eight million subscribers.

For her birthday cake, Eleanor asked me to put the CaptainSparklez logo on top of a Guinness chocolate cake.
The CaptainSparklez logo.
 Lucky for me, the logo isn't too intricate and with a bit of help from my much more artistic husband Joe, who outlined the logo for me onto the cake using a wooden skewer, the cake turned out great. The final buttercream decoration looked clean, was recognizable and most importantly tasted great.
Eleanor's cake.
And, it was easy to make. After Joe outlined the logo, I traced the outline with buttercream using a #2 tip and then filled it in by adding more buttercream and simply smoothing it out with a small table knife. Completing the decoration took just about 30 minutes.
Joe used a skewer to outline the logo onto the yellow buttercream iced cake. If you don't feel comfortable just going for it, an option would be to print and cut out a template that you could trace.

I outlined the design using a # 2 tip, filled it in using the same icing and tip and used a small knife to smooth it out.
Almost done!

Here are some other cakes I've made using the same technique of piping an outline, filling it in with buttercream and using a knife to spread the frosting. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

Airplane Cake:
This is still my all-time favorite cake and was for my friend Jack's 90th birthday. The airplane is the B-29 he flew as a navigator in World War II.

I traced the plane using a cardboard template. Once again, my husband Joe helped by drawing it for me. Then I set the template on the cake, traced it then outlined and filled it with buttercream.
The template.

Adding more details with buttercream.

The skewer trick of tracing on your design before you add the icing also helped me get the lettering onto Jack's cake.

Dinosaur Cake:
This cake was for my Goddaughter GraceLin's 5th birthday party.

I used a dinosaur cookie cutter as a guide to making a template.


Fill in the dinosaur and smooth out the buttercream using a small knife.

Looking good.

Looking even better with some pearl sugar for teeth, a candy eye and upside down heart sprinkles for spikes.

And, here's the recipe for the Swiss Meringue Buttercream that I use. It's from Julie Richardson of Baker & Spice Bakery and it's absolutely delicious and not too sweet.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
6 large egg whites
1 1/4  cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder, dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water.

Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in vanilla, salt and coffee and whip on high speed until fluffy.

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