Chow Time: Baking a Masterpiece is a Piece of Cake!

I like to think of myself as a master baker but I’m really a disaster baker. Then I met Carrien (great name) at a conference and saw a beautiful birthday cake she made for a friend. The cake, garnished with flowers, looked like it was created by a master cake decorator. As I was drooling over it, she offered me a piece and it was out of this world. Like me, Carrien had several cake decorating mishaps, but now she bakes cakes for special occasions for all her friends and family members.  Here’s her secret…

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My mother was a caterer.  The cakes this woman made! 3D masterpieces of icing and confection.  I remember a my little pony castle, with towers made of cake, walls made of cardboard covered with icing and ponies dancing on the parapets between flaming candles. There was the Nancy Drew book with the blue convertible emerging from it’s open leaves, Nancy and her friends gaily laughing as she drove with the lollipop steering wheel. My mother had a gift.

I, don’t.

I can make cakes taste really good, but pretty? I’m quite bad at it. The first time I tried an elaborately decorated cake was for my oldest son’s second birthday, I tried to make a train. I took all night, it looked like crap. So not worth the time.

I’ve gotten better, though I had to call my mom in the middle of this one…

if you look closely you can see I’m a total hack.

But if I want to make a cake look pretty in a hurry, I totally cheat. (I totally cheat even if I’m not in a hurry actually, just so you know.)

Enter, flowers.

Flowers are pretty, even if your icing skills are not. They are simple and instantly make a cake look good.

Here’s what you do…

If the flowers are edible, geraniums, roses, lavender, etc. Just go ahead and stick them on/in the cake.

For the cake I took to the conference I just bought a cheap bouquet of mini pink and white carnation and stuck them in all over the top of the cake. I was going for a pattern at first, but then decided it looked better all over.

You will have to smear the cake with icing before you put the flowers on, but don’t worry too much about how it looks, you are going to hide it. (Always use cream cheese icing. It just makes people happier.)

Even your kids can do this, while you are busy giving birth to a baby brother for them.

If your mad cheating skills have fooled someone into think you are actually good at this cake thing and you find yourself doing a wedding cake with flowers of questionable edibility, here’s what you do.

Cut off the stems and stick toothpicks into the back of the flowers. Use the toothpicks to stick the flowers to the cake. The toothpicks make it much easier to arrange without messing the whole thing up too. For flowers you know aren’t edible, either put little pieces of saran wrap between them and the icing with a toothpick sticking through, or make a topper arrangement. I use a clear glass saucer, some floral foam that you get at craft stores and then just plopped the whole arrangement on the top. I should have done it before I chilled the icing because then that whole plate would have sunk down into the icing and disappeared.

I also cheated and used ribbon on the cake, rather than try to make an icing border.

(If you ever try to make a wedding cake remember to use straws. Cut them to even lengths length and stick them through the cake. Each layer should be on a round piece of cardboard and each layer rests on the straws. Otherwise the cake will be crushed.)

In the end, be sure your cake tastes amazing, that’s the most important part. My current favorite is this Key Lime cake recipe.

Tip: Before smearing the icing on mix up a solution of lime juice and icing sugar. It should still be liquid, but fairly thick. Brush it on the cake and let harden before applying icing. It  helps keep the crumbs from getting into your icing when you spread it. More importantly, it adds an amazing layer of flavor to your cake with all that extra lime flavor. People will rave, trust me. (Traditionally they use milk, but that’s so boring.)

Remember to use parchment paper so you can actually get the cake out of the pan, seriously, way easier.

Now go forth, and make pretty cakes. If I can make a cake that makes people stop to look then so can you.

Carrien is a mom of 4, Co-founder CFO and Secretary of The Charis Project, a nonprofit that is revolutionizing orphan care through socially responsible entrepreneurism. She doesn’t remember what sleep is rarely ever finishes anything well. She writes about it all at shelaughsatthedays.net .

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