I have learned through this Homemade Holiday series, that I do fairly well at describing how to complete a project. Not having enough words has never been my issue. But I am still on the lower end of the learning curve when it comes to taking pictures of EVERY step of a project. Looking back over this post, I think I have enough pictures for you to be able to follow along, but I want to say that I appreciate each and every one of you so much and how patient you are as I learn, try to grow this blog, and bring you posts that will be interesting AND useful. You have all been so amazing and I’m thankful to be able to meet here with you, now and again.
We had a birthday in our house over Thanksgiving and I marvel as much as the next person at all the beautiful, professionally decorated cake options that we have such easy access to nowadays. Most of the time, however, professionally decorated cakes are NITB (Not in the Budget). When you purchase a cake, professionally decorated, the ingredients are only a small fraction of the price you are paying. The biggest part of that expense is to pay for someone else’s time. That’s definitely convenient, but realistically, it’s becoming less and less affordable to pay someone else for time you and I could invest ourselves. For the price of a cake mix and frosting, or your own pantry ingredients to make both, you can create a wonderful hand-decorated cake. What you save in dollars will be spent in time and love, but who doesn’t appreciate receiving those? You’ll be the hit of the party and save money in your family’s budget, too!
So, lets just jump right in and see what’s involved in some basic cake decorating. First of all, you need to know, I have never taken classes and I am NOT an expert. I have learned what I know by doing; and it is far from perfect or professional. Many of you, may be whizzes at decorating cakes and you amaze me; but this little tutorial is for those who think it’s impossible and that this savings is out of their reach, because they just aren’t creative enough. I want those ladies to know, “It’s not out of your reach and you ARE creative enough.” Let’s do it!
My standard go-to birthday cake is homemade and chocolate, but our birthday girl was feeling strawberry, this year, so I grabbed a couple of strawberry cake mixes (a spare, just in case) at the store, as well as four cans of strawberry icing. I could have made the icing at home, but would have needed to buy strawberry flavoring, so opted to buy the base icing already made. The decorator icing was made from scratch.
I baked the first cake according to the box directions in a 9×13 pan. I’m not sure what the problem was, but it just didn’t rise as well as I thought it should have. So, I wrapped a cookie sheet in aluminum foil, turned the first cake out onto the sheet and then whipped up a second cake mix (SOOO happy I bought an extra one). This one raised a little higher, but still not as much as I expected. I think I am too accustomed to homemade cakes. Anyway, once the second cake was cool, I put a layer of strawberry icing over the first cake, then turned the second cake out onto the frosted layer. We made a double layer 9×13 birthday cake. That’s a lot of cake!
Once the layers were assembled, one of my girls made quick work of finishing off the base frosting. She frosted the sides and then the top and the finished, pink monument of cakedom was ready to be decorated.
The birthday girl had requested more than strawberry; she had requested Belle. You know, the Disney princess from Beauty and the Beast. I went online and found a free coloring page, printed it, cut it out and used it for a basic template for the design on my cake. See how I cut out a couple of the larger details? Those helped me to have good reference points as I began drawing in the rest of the details. So, step one in your decorating process is transferring a design onto your cake.
I used a toothpick to trace around the template.
Once you have traced your entire template, gently lift the paper off the top of your cake. Be sure to save it, as you will refer back to it to fill in the rest of the details on your cake.
Now you have a basic outline, with a few details to use as a gauge for where to place the rest of your details.
The next step is to grab that toothpick and start filling in the details of your design. Take your time, look at the template and see where to place details in relation to the lines you have already added. It’s easier than you think. You can definitely do it. My finished outline looked like this.
I have to make a confession, at this point. I’m not like normal people. I got the cake assembled and frosted and then went off to finish a sewing project that would be a birthday gift the next day. I actually finished that project about 1:15 a.m. and THEN I started the outline on this cake. Needless to say, by the time the outline was done, it was about 2 a.m. and I was beat. I put my outlined cake in the freezer and went to bed.
The next morning, I mixed up my decorator frosting. Frosting for me, is not an exact science. I don’t like to run out and have to make more, so I almost always make too much. The good news is that it freezes well, which is where the last 1/3 of this batch is, now. To make the decorator icing I put a stick of butter, an 8 oz block of cream cheese and 1/2 cup of heavy cream into my mixer with 2 lbs of powdered sugar. I started the mixer and beat the frosting, adding more powdered sugar along the way, until I had the consistency that I wanted. I used 4 lbs of powdered sugar, total, for this batch.
Now that I had my big batch of white frosting, I could start coloring small batches of it to decorate the cake. I started by tinting some with a little pink and a small amount of yellow to make a sort of “flesh tone” for Belle’s face. Once the color seemed right, it was time to fill a plastic decorator bag and start to decorate. I like to place the bag in a tall glass, folding the edges down the sides of the glass to keep them clean and out of the way and to make the bag easy to fill. I like the Wilton disposable bags for their convenience, at clean-up time, but have often used their reusable bags as well. I love Wilton tools for cake and cookie decorating and they are so simple to find locally at Wal-Mart.
Pack the tinted icing into your decorator bag.
Next, I push the frosting into the tip at the end of the bag, removing air pockets and rolling down the top of the bag. The first tip I used had a tiny circle on the end. It’s for outlining.
It was time to outline everything that would be using this flesh-tone icing. I had other decorator bags for the other colors I used, so I could switch back and forth, if I needed to, but I prefer to do everything in one color, before moving on to the next, when I can.
Once Belle’s face was outlined, I used a star tip to fill in the areas in the outline. The star tip has a “star” cut out on the end and the star had around 8 or 10 points. This tip filled in the blank areas quickly and easily.
Next I mixed a little cocoa powder into a small batch of our prepared icing. Black, red and brown food coloring can make icing have a bitter aftertaste if you use too much, trying to achieve the depth of color you want. Adding cocoa powder got me close to the brown shade I wanted, before ever adding food coloring, so very little was needed to get the right hue. And the frosting was delish! I used the brown to outline Belle’s hair, eye lashes and the iris of her eyes. Then I used about a teaspoon of the chocolate frosting, added a touch of black food coloring and filled in the pupils on her eyes. I didn’t even use a bag for the black. I just pushed a small amount through the decorator tip with my finger.
I continued on with the decorating in exactly the same fashion, filling in my outlines with a star tip. After the brown, I did plain white for Belle’s blouse and a small dot in her eye. Next was the blue for her hair bow and jumper and for the lettering on the cake. Outline first, then fill with a star tip. Continue through to finish the cake. That’s it. No extra expense for special pans or expensive tools — some disposable plastic decorator bags and 2 tips is all I needed (and a toothpick ). You can definitely make this happen without breaking the family budget.
Here it is, all aflame.
A very happy nine-year-old basking in the glow of wishes made and a cake handmade by mom. That’s priceless when you think about it. She won’t forget this birthday, or that cake, or that I took the time to make it for her. You can do this, too! Go make something beautiful for your Christmas celebration! And then send me pictures! I will definitely need pictures!