Humans have been making and eating cake pretty much ever since we went agrarian and, along the way, gave some pretty strange names to the baked goods made of wheat; kaka and placenta among them.
Kaka is the Old Norse word for cake from which our word derives and ‘placenta’ was used in Ancient Greece to describe sweet baked treats.
While we have a hard time imagining anyone offering up slices of placenta at their next big do, it is quite common to serve a lavish cake at special occasions – say, a party to celebrate the newest addition to the family.
Today’s cakes are mostly calorie bombs loaded with butter and sugar; the icing tends to be especially rich.
Those are a far cry from the cakes of yore, which were more like bread than what we identify as cake today. Perhaps that is why this next phrase is so often misunderstood:
Let them eat cake!
This phrase is both incorrectly translated and attributed, often to Marie Antoinette but actually recorded several years before she came to prominence. There is no proof she ever spoke that line, no matter how cruelly history has rewritten her deeds.
Besides, whoever spoke that immortal line did not mention cake but brioche, a pastry-like bread whose high butter and egg content make it both fluffy and rich – and decidedly out of the reach of the peasant farmers of the day.
Modern-day proof that brioche could never be considered cake is waiting for you at your nearest hamburger restaurant where, following the current trend of cutting back on enriched white bread, you may choose between a regular or a brioche bun.
Maybe they’ve done away with regular buns altogether.
Which type of bread your sandwich is served on aside, there is a staggering variety of cakes for us to discuss and explore – we’re not talking about a layer cake (typical for birthday cakes) versus tiered cakes or wedding cakes, here.
All of these fall under the header of ‘cake’:
- Butter cakes: Victoria sponge and pound cakes are examples of such
- Sponge cakes: made without yeast; examples include angel food cakes and Genoise
- Chiffon cakes include oil in the batter, making them extra moist
- Coffee cake uses yeast, baking powder or baking soda; they may have a glaze drizzled on
- Yeast cakes: eastern European babkas are a perfect example of such
- Flourless cakes: cheesecakes, flourless chocolates
- Chocolate cakes: can be flourless, sponge, chiffon or butter cakes whose primary flavour is chocolate
You’ll note that, so far, the discussion has centred around cake – not a bad topic in itself. But we’re concerned with decorating all of those yummy cakes with the many different types of icing – buttercream and fondant, royal icing and meringue.
Quickly now, before we’re unable to control our drooling, let’s lay out all you need to know to become a sugar artist.
Where Can You Find Cake Decorating Courses?
If you want to do things conventionally, you will want to find cake decorating classes, preferably an entire course rather than a one-off or an afternoon session at your local bakery.
You may find such classes at your local university under the header of ‘culinary arts’.
If the school nearest you has such a degree programme, you would have to follow their plan, which encompasses everything about cooking, to get to the relatively small segment that deals with pastries and cakes.
To enrol in such a school, you will have to have sat your GCSEs and A-Levels in subjects pertinent to cooking and food, and earned satisfactory marks on both.
Should your town have a cooking school – an institute dedicated to teaching and mentoring budding chefs, you may see if they offer cake decorating classes. That will save you the time and expense of earning a university degree.
There are other ways to learn how to decorate cakes; we’ve covered them all in our full-length article on the subject.
How can You Become a Cake Decorator?
Think of some of the greatest minds in history: da Vinci, Turing, Einstein... yes, even Julius Cesar, who was a brilliant military strategist. Did any of these innovators base their brilliance on years of academic study?
Sometimes, the best way to learn is to blindly forge ahead.
Some people would say that the best way to become a decorator of cakes is to buy cake decorating tools, icings, gum paste and food coloring and see what you can do with it all.
Others – more prudent learners, advocate for tutelage in the sugar arts. After all, piping bags and decorating tips cost money, to say nothing of the icing sugar and all the eggs you need to whip up a meringue buttercream frosting...
Perhaps the happy medium would be to straddle the line between formal lessons and learning on your own.
After all, cake decorating is an art form; isn’t it well-known that artists may take direction and instruction but must ultimately rely on their intuition to create standout pieces?
And, once you can confidently create novelty cakes and speciality cakes; as soon as you have mastered cupcake decorating and making cake pops seem like the only answer to a sweet tooth craving...
Whether you work out of your kitchen at home or share space with your local baker; even if you trade only on weekends or take only special orders, you need to find out how to market your skills as a cake decorator.
Where Can You Find Cake Decorating Supplies?
Indeed, before you can experiment with an airbrush set, edible glitter or ganache shaped in a silicone mold, you have to actually have these things in your possession.
Your local supermarket likely has a few cake decorating supplies: sprinkles and dragées, for sure. You may even find a set of decorating tips and a piping bag and if you’re really lucky, a straight spatula.
Offset spatulas, the one tool no cake decorator can be without, will be harder to find in a common grocery store or even a bargain store such as Poundworld.
It is great that you wish to support your local grocers rather than rushing to your computer and ordering everything from Wilton – the top-of-the-line merchant for all things cake.
If you’re just starting out in your cake decorating venture, you can surely find all of the ingredients – the eggs, milk, butter and sugar; possibly even food colouring at your local shop. For more specific ingredients, such as those needed to make gumpaste flowers, you will certainly have to have a supplier on speed dial.
One way around that stumbling block is to work with your local baker. You could ask who their supplier is – maybe a local wholesaler?
Come to think of it, your local baker might sell professional-grade decorating tools and, who knows? They might commission you to make a few cakes for their display case.
I don’t like going online; I would rather be personal – Luisa D.
Not everyone dashes for the computer to see what is available from the top-rated vendors and find discounted rates; today, the trend is to shop local.
Wouldn’t you like to support your local businesses when you stock up on cake decorating supplies?
Inspiration for Your Cakes: the Best Books, Website and Social Media Feeds
If you are like the above-quoted Luisa, the Internet is not your go-to source for everything. In this day and age, some might find that remarkable but we’ll bet your librarian is more than happy about it!
For some, a library is a quaint repository of outdated resources: books. For others, it is a treasure trove of information and inspiration – are you such a one?
If so, you may find back issues of periodicals and even entire books on the topic of cake decorating.
Among the many benefits of using books as a source of inspiration for cake decorating is that they usually include step-by-step instructions, along with helpful hints on how to achieve a particular colour or type of decoration.
All Hallow’s Eve is just around the corner; the perfect time to serve up a spooky treat in orange and black!
Now is the time to head to the library or consult your cookbooks to see what you can whip up to mark the day. While you’re there, you might even look at a few Christmas-themed cakes to get some cake decorating ideas for the upcoming celebration.
Whether you are planning a sheet cake (slab cake) decorated in cheerful red and green or you want to decorate cookies in keeping with the season, you can find a host of ideas at your local library.
That doesn’t mean there are no resources available online for you to draw inspiration from; all you have to do is know where to look.
Some people get into cake decorating for the money they could earn and others keep their eye on the prizes they might win (did you know there are sugar arts competitions held worldwide?) while designing and decorating cakes that seem to defy gravity.
We daresay every sugar artist indulges their creativity with every cake they decorate, making our world both sweeter and more appealing, one slice or cupcake at a time.