How to make professional looking cakes in your own kitchen

Make Your Own Professional Looking Cakes

by Wendy Hummeldorf

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I have fond memories of the birthday cakes my mother made. She made pig faces out of round cakes and butterflies decorated with lifesavers. The cakes that every 70s housewife made. Unfortunately, most kids today think store bought cakes are better. At $20 or more, they can be a budget killer, but with a little help, you can make professional looking cakes in your own kitchen.

If your child has his/her heart set on a specific bakery cake, most bakeries will sell you the sets of plastic decorations for $10 to $20. Plus, the store's decorators are usually happy to give tips on how to put the cake together. If they have a display cake, take pictures. If not, ask if they can make you a copy of the display book page.

Cakes with a character on them are another option. My favorite ways to transfer pictures onto cakes include frozen buttercream transfers or poking with a pin. With both of these, you are tracing over a picture, so you don't need artistic talent.

Frozen Buttercream Transfer

This is great because it can be done in advance. Also, it is easy to get a smooth finish. Tape your picture under a piece of glass or other transparent surface. I use an acrylic cutting board. Place a piece of wax paper on top of the glass. Your layers from the bottom will be picture, glass, wax paper, and frosting. Trace the outline of your picture onto the wax paper with icing. A round tip, parchment triangle, or plastic bag work well for this. Add any highlights like lines in hair. Now fill in. For highlight lines, you can put your fill in color right over the top of the lines. Make sure that your fill colors touch the edges of your outline. To ensure that your transfer looks the way you want it to look, pick up the glass and look through it at your transfer. When the transfer is done, gently smooth out the back of the transfer. The colors will blend together, but that's fine as no one sees the back. Put the transfer into the freezer for at least two hours. If storing for longer than a few hours, cover the back with plastic wrap or foil.

Place the frozen transfer on top of the iced cake and carefully peel off the waxed paper. It is much easier to place the transfer and remove the paper if the transfer is completely frozen. If your transfer breaks, put the pieces together on the cake. When the transfer thaws, smooth the break with a knife or your finger. It's a good idea to save extra frosting from the transfer for touch ups once the transfer is on the cake.

Poke with a Pin

Lay your picture on the frosted cake and poke around the outline of the design with a pin or toothpick. Remove the picture and connect the dots. If you're having trouble seeing the pokes, poke holes in the outline of the picture before placing it on your cake, place the picture on the frosted cake, sprinkle with cocoa for light cakes or powdered sugar for dark cakes, remove the picture, and connect the dots. Fill in the outline.

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To write on the cake or create decorations, you will probably need something like a decorating bag and tips. The professional version can be expensive and rarely turns up at yard sales or secondhand stores. However, you can do a lot with some basic items. The least expensive option is to use parchment paper triangles folded into a cone shape with a hole in the small end. As an alternative, cut the corner out of a plastic baggie. A more advanced option is the candy or cookie kits that are available for holidays. Most include disposable bags for icing and a round tip. If you only have one tip, the round tip is a good choice; you can write with it and make dot borders. The tips in these kits are lightweight plastic, so if you get multiple tips, you can cut them into different shapes. For example, cut the tip down to make a larger round tip or cut triangles around the opening to create a star tip.

Lastly, be creative. What you lack in skill can be made up in creativity so don't be afraid to experiment. Who's to know that your fairy has a dress made from cut up fruit leather and sugar sprinkles because you didn't want to mix green icing?

Wendy learned cake decorating the hard way by helping her mother frost wedding cakes into the wee hours of the morning. She honed her skills taking Wilton classes and doing a lot of experimenting on cakes for family, friends and her husband's co-workers.

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