Most cake decorating calls for the artful use of piping bags and spatulas, and requires a significant investment in time to learn the necessary skills. But creative bakers can compensate for a lack of conventional decorating skills with some imagination and creative use of standard materials. For example, glaze or softened frosting spilling down the side of a cake gives it a dramatic appearance, in exchange for little effort.
The Basic Technique
There's no demanding technique involved in covering a cake so the frosting spills down the sides. It's best to start by placing a rack over parchment paper, then placing your cake on the rack. This way, any excess simply falls to the paper, rather than collecting and pooling around the base of your cake. For a Bundt cake, drizzle the icing in a moderately thick stream onto the crown of the cake, rotating the cake to ensure even coverage. For flat cakes, pour a pool of frosting onto the middle of your top layer and spread it to the side in generous waves with a spatula, rotating the cake as you go. Cakes from tube pans are handled similarly, as they're also flat on top.
The richest and most flavorful frostings used for most cakes are buttercreams, or similar types made with margarine or shortening. Ordinarily they're too stiff to flow down the side of a cake, but most can be softened to the appropriate consistency. Place the buttercream in a heatproof bowl and microwave it in 15-second intervals, stirring frequently, until it reaches a consistency similar to a thick batter. You can also heat it in or over a pan of hot water, which takes longer but avoids the microwave's tendency to overheat parts of the frosting. You can use this technique with simple powdered-sugar buttercreams, elegant meringue buttercreams or the canned store-bought variety.
Ganache and Other Glazes
A number of lighter glazes will work with this method, either as an alternative to conventional frosting or layered over you cake for effect. The simplest uses just powdered sugar and milk, drying to a light and hard finish. That's best for coffee cakes and Bundt cakes, which already have rich flavors or an interesting shape. Use your favorite fudge recipe for a thicker and more flavorful glaze, pouring it over the cake rather than into a pan to harden. The richest glaze of all is ganache, a mixture of equal parts high-quality chocolate and heavy cream, by weight. Stir until the chocolate is thoroughly melted, then let it cool and thicken slightly before pouring it over the cake.
One of the most elegant forms of free-flowing frosting is poured fondant. It's easy to make from scratch, or available ready-made in small buckets from craft and baker's supply shops. Poured fondant must be held at a barely warm temperature, ideally 100 degrees Fahrenheit, to have the correct consistency. It makes a delicately thin and even coat over your cake, dry once it's set but not as hard as a simple sugar glaze. Poured fondant takes colors readily, and you can achieve a striking effect by pouring multiple layers of different-colored fondant. Chill the cake after each layer, to prevent them from melting together. Poured fondant is the traditional frosting used for dainty petits fours.
- The Professional Pastry Chef; Bo Friberg
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