The Business of Cake Decorating #7
Eliminating Construction Problems

by Earlene Moore

When we first begin decorating cakes for family and friends we usually do sheet cakes or two layer cakes for small parties. But sooner or later someone asks you to do a wedding cake or a special shaped cake that requires an armature. Don’t panic - just do some good planning. Remember wedding cakes are just big glorified special occasion cakes. They just take a little more time and a lot more planning. We all get comfortable with our standard set ups. Things we use all of the time and cakes we feel totally comfortable with don’t cause us to fret and worry about them being stable.

Good planning is the first step to eliminating those construction problems.
1. Do you have enough separator plates and legs in your supplies? Nothing is worse than to be working on a wedding cake late on Friday night and realize you don’t have the size separator plates you need. Stores are closed and now what do you do? PANIC!!!! Good planning ahead of time will eliminate this problem. In regular wedding cake construction, my favorite set up is the Wilton Crystal-Clear Divider set. This set up is very stable for seperated tiers and the legs go down through the cake below. No way this cake set up can come down unless the table comes down also. This set up works great for a cake that has separations between all tiers to leave room for buttercream, royal, gumpaste or fresh flowers. The Stress Free support system is more expensive but is absolutely wonderful. Super stable and strong. No matter what set up system you choose to use, you must use good support in tiered cakes. (Hint - That top plate under the couples first anniversary cake sometimes goes in the freezer with the cake. Remember to replace that plate in your stock before you need it again.)

2. What are you going to use for supports in stacked tiers?
If the cakes must be stacked then Wilton’s hollow white Plastic Dowel Rods are great. Being 3/4” in diameter they give very good stable support. These hollow white plastic dowel rods can be cut with a serrated knife to any length desired. White contact covered cardboard's (both sides) under the cakes between the tiers in stacked cakes (with several white hollow dowels cut the same exact length) will also help give that cake good sturdy support. Plain uncovered cardboard's used between the tiers in a stacked cake simply are not good support. The moisture from the cake and icing softens the cardboard's and makes them weak and limp. Also remember that a small amount of fresh icing placed between all plates, cardboard's and cakes is essential for stacked cakes.

The stress free support system is fabulous in stacked tiers. It is so sturdy and stable. Check this system out here. We have used this system for several years now and have come to totally rely on it. Total support and so stable. Absolutely wonderful. 

3. When I am asked to do a new design that requires some unusual construction, the first step is to make a scaled sketch
. Even a bottle which is a simple three dimensional cake requires some planning. The first step is to measure the bottle and then to make a drawing in scale to figure how many servings you will get out of the actual cake used. Then decide just how you are going to support that cake. Being tall and slim the bottle does require a simple armature with a wooden round base and one attached dowel rod through the middle of the cake. The rest of the support is done with cardboard circles covered with contact paper and sturdy strong straws cut to the lengths to keep the cake level as it is layered up.

The second place to eliminate construction problems is to make sure you have baked a good firm cake. You need a cake that is easy to handle, firm but not dry. A cake that will not crumble into your icing as you layer or carve it to fill your cake order. My first priority in making cakes is that they must taste good, be moist and yet handle with ease. The second priority is to decorate that cake to the customers satisfaction. Nothing is worse at a wedding reception than getting sawdust disguised as cake. It is important to give your customers a good eating product.

Third - Make sure your icing is the right consistency. Icing that is to thick or firm will make it hard for you to ice your cake and smooth it easily. The solution is to add more liquid or shortening or decrease the powdered sugar in your recipe. If your icing is too thin that will create other problems such as wrinkling, sagging, being so sticky you can’t smooth the icing and etc. Icing that is sticky and does not dry to a light crust will be very difficult to smooth completely. Learning to know what consistency of icing you need for different techniques will take time. There is no shortcut to trial and error. But there are a few guidelines. Roses need heavier or thicker icing. Crumb coats need very thin icing. Icing the cake and most borders will need medium consistency icing.

Remember when your customer asks you for something a little different. Don’t panic - just get out that paper and pencil and do some heavy duty planning. How many flowers you will need, how much cake batter, eggs, oil, sugar and etc will be needed, do you have enough separators and legs, have you replaced that tip that got stepped on and that pink color you are almost out of, and on and on and on the planning goes. Planning does help keep us organized and enjoying these sugar arts.

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