I often get asked how I get my cakes so smooth and I have to tell you that it’s a bit like DIY. It’s all in the preparation. If you don’t sand and fill in the holes on your walls before you paint then you are always going to see those lumps and bumps. Well with cake decorating it’s all about the crumb coating.
What’s a Crumb coating
Basically it’s a thin layer of buttercream that you apply to a cake to stop the loose crumbs from coming off of the cakes outter edge before you give it a really good layer of buttercream. The cake is coated in a thin layer which is smoothed as much as possible. This needs to be done gently as very fresh sponge can so easily crumble- especially my chocolate cake recipe. The cake is then popped into the fridge for 20 minutes to harden up. This gives the cake a kind of coat of armour. When you take the cake out of the fridge the buttercream crumb coat has firmed up enough to prevent crumbs coming off when you add a proper layer of buttercream. This second layer can be smoothed perfectly. It’s also where you can hide any inperfections. If there are deep holes, wonky layers or uneven fillings you can add buttercream and smooth it to hide everything. No one will ever know!
Once the second layer of buttercream has been applied and smoothed you can pop the cake bake in the fridge for 10 minutes to harden again or go straight to the sugarpaste/ marzipan covering.
I don’t like to leave cakes in the fridge for a long time as it alters the taste and consistency, but by adding these two buttercream coats the sugarpaste has a really firm and flat base to sit on. Since mastering this technique my cakes look much more professional. It’s also an essential step when decorating a shaped cake. It makes life a whole lot easier.
How to do a Crumb coating.
Here are the steps to doing a crumb coating from the cake I made for Dahlia (you know the one that fell over!)
1. Once your cake is stacked and filled or shaped add a thin layer of buttercream to the outside edge. I used buttercream to ensure where each layer was filled looked nice and flat. I then scraped off the excess. Pop the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes.
2. Remove the cake from the fridge. The crumb coating is now firm to the touch and acts as a base for the real buttercream coating. This coating can be for decoration or as a base for marzipan or sugarpaste.
3. Use a side scraper to give a perfectly smooth finish even if you are covering it in sugarpaste and no one will see it. The better the finish here the better the final result will be.
4. Pop the cake in the fridge for a little longer so handling the cake is easier then complete your decorations.
Good luck crumbless bakers
Last week I made a two tier wedding cake for a friend and I decided that it was about time I really mastered getting the right amounts of ingredients for different sized cake tins, rather than doubling and hoping for the best. I got the basic gist of how to work it out from Ruth Clemens on her Pink whisk blog. You take your basic recipe and then measure the volume of water that the cake tin will hold. Now my Madeira cake recipe is for an 8″ cake but I find that the cake isn’t as deep as I’d like it to be. It usually only comes out about 3/4 of the depth of the tin, so I have been experimenting.
My goal was to have a cake that would rise to just above the rim of the cake tin so that I could skim off the top to make sure that it’s perfectly flat – ready for decorating. So I used my 8″ recipe in a 6″ tin and voila. Perfect result. So that was my base to work with.
Last week I made this really big (and really heavy) wedding cake. I have been asked a few times now how I cover cakes with sugarpaste and get it looking so smooth, so, I took some snaps as I went. My poor camera is now covered in icing sugar! I started with each cake covered in marzipan. It gives a really smooth base coat. (To cover a cake in marzipan you do the same proceedure as with the icing- you just use jam or buttercream to attach it, not alchohol) I found out whilst making this cake that if you buy a 5kg box of sugarpaste you get 1kg free. It’s so much cheaper to buy in bulk! I buy from here by the way. Just look at the size of that sugarpaste! It’s massive and really heavy. I break off big chunks and knead them until soft and pliable, then add the next chunk of sugarpaste, till I have enough to cover the whole cake. I use spacers when rolling to make sure that the icing is level throughout. This was a 12″ Madeira cake so the sugarpaste needed to be rolled out to a really big circle. In order for the sugarpaste to stick to the marzipan you need to make it damp. For this use either cooled boiled water or brandy. You can guess which one I used! Well, it was a wedding cake! Use a damp pastry brush and cover the whole cake especially around the base.
If you are sugarpasting directly onto a cake (ie with no marzipan) add a thin layer of buttercream to the top and side of the cake for the sugarpaste to stick to. The smoother you can get teh buttercream the better the sugarpaste will look. Carefully lift the rolled out sugarpaste over the cake. Support it from underneath as much as you can as it will stretch very easily- making it very thin in some areas. Use a cake smoother to gently force any trapped air bubbles out and smooth the top layer of the cake. I have this pink spirit leveller just for using with cakes. It’s an essential tool when stacking cakes, as if you get the bottom two tiers wonky it will throw the whole cake off. Most of the time you can keep using the smoother to get the level as good as perfect. Keep smoothing in a circular action and checking the flatness till it’s good. Once the top is nice and flat gently use the palm of your hand to smooth down the sides. Avoid creases at the bottom by holding the lower piece of sugarpaste out away from the cake while you smooth it gently towards the bottom with your other hand. (It’s impossible to take a photo of this action when you are home alone on a Tuesday afternoon!) Hope it makes sence. Once the whole cake is covered use the palm of your hand to smooth the edges of the icing securely onto the cake. There is always some excess to cut off. I use a pizza wheel to cut away the extra sugarpaste. Don’t lean the cutter in towards the bottom of the cake. Keep it at a right angle and leave about 2mm sticking out. Use a flat smoother to tuck in the excess 2mm of sugarpaste all the way around the cake. Use the inside part of your palm- between your thumb and first finger, and smooth the top corner until it’s really soft and there are no bumps. The last action is to finish off with a cake smoother all over the top and around the sides till it’s perfectly smooth.