Cake and Icing:
Well, you've got to have these two things to be able to decorate a cake! If you're unfamiliar with my cakes, I just have to mention that I try to make things as easy as possible. I like made-from-scratch cakes as much as the next person, but I spend a lot of time on decorating the cakes. I am like many people who have a hard enough time trying to carve out a chunk of time to be with their families, so when it comes to a cake project, I embrace shortcuts and simply use boxed cake mix and canned icing - something anyone can just pick up at the store. You could certainly make your cake and icing from scratch and go from there but the results you see in the pictures, unless otherwise noted, are from boxed cake mix and canned icing.
I usually use Pillsbury brand cake mix. I've found that I prefer the resulting cake - the moistness combined with the work-ability. My best friend prefers the Betty Crocker cake mix. It's really just a matter of preference.
If I plan to do a lot of carving to the cake, I add some all-purpose flour to the batch to firm it up - sometimes a couple of Tablespoons and sometimes (since I've moved to a high altitude) I add as much as 1/4 cup.
For icing, I usually stick with Pillsbury icing, but I've found that it really doesn't matter. If I need a white cake, I definitely choose the Pillsbury Classic White over the Vanilla (which has a slightly off-white color). If I need black icing, I start with Milk Chocolate, Chocolate Fudge or any chocolate variation of icing so I can use less black coloring.
Regular store bought canned icing is not nearly as thick as buttercream icing so you won't be able to create icing designs that "stand up" like fancy flowers. With canned icing, those flowers would look wilted. You can certainly add some powered sugar to it and mix it in, but you would also need to add some flavoring because your icing would wind up just tasting like sugar. If you have to do all that, you might as well make buttercream icing!
I have a variety of cake pans that I use for my various projects. Sometimes I think I have too many, but I know a professional cake decorator that has over 300 different cake pans in her collection. Many of her cake pans are character pans, but there are the tiered sizes in several shapes as well.
I have a much more modest set of cake pans. My most often used pan is probably my 13x9 inch Air Bake pan. I use this pan for lots of things I bake, not just cakes. I love the corners that are more straight than rounded. It comes in handy for things like my "Fade In" Movie Script Cake (opposed to the very rounded corners of the original Movie Script Cake).
If the only pan you have for baking cakes is a 13x9 inch pan, you'll be just fine. There are plenty of cakes to make using this size pan.
Featured cakes that use a 13x9 inch pan are: Electric Guitar Cake, Unicorn Cake, Movie Script Cake, "Fade In" Movie Script Cake, Lego Mini-figure Cake, Bowling Themed Cake, Tiki Man Cake, X-Box Controller Cake, Conan's Atlantean Sword, Pikmin Cake, Kingdom Hearts 2 Keyblade Cake
Betty Crocker Bake 'N Fill Cake Pan - The year the Betty Crocker Bake 'N Fill cake pans were first introduced to us in a barrage of television commercials, (I believe it was back in 2005) I received one for Christmas. I wasn't sure what I would do with it, but it has proven to be a "regular" when it comes to my cake decorating. I have only use the dome option, though. Not the Tall Pan option. And I believe I have only used a filling once. It does come with an option to just make cake layers with no filling.
These are getting harder to find. If you must have one, you may have to search on eBay. Otherwise, try baking your cake in an oven-safe bowl. If you have one of these and have lost the instruction book, there is one available for printing and download at Bakenfill.com.
Featured cakes using the Betty Crocker Bake 'N Fill Cake Pan are: Cinderella Carriage Cake, Super Mario Mushroom Cake, Princess Cake, Basketball Cake, Baby Dragon Cake, Sombrero Cake
Bundt Pan - I haven't thought much about different cake decorating opportunities for a Bundt Pan, but I'm sure thy are out there. I usually just make more grown up cakes with it - you know, the ones that have a simple drizzle glaze or dusting of powdered sugar. However, my love for cake decorating started because of one cake made with a Bundt Pan. The Pumpkin Cake, made for my husband's 40th birthday (because he adores pumpkins).
My Bundt Pan is a Nordicware Bundt Pan. It is heavy and durable and has a non-stick coating in it (but please don't skip the grease and flour stage of baking).
Featured cakes that use a Bundt Pan pan are: Pumpkin Cake
Round Cake Pans - I have a variety of round pan sizes I use, but most commonly it's an 8" round cake pan. I don't really have a brand preference for these, but my Wilton pans do have a higher side which came in handy when I created the Ferret Cake in a 10" round cake pan. The cake rose quite a bit and the higher sides kept the batter from spilling out. My Wilton cake pans also have a straighter side verses the more tapered sides of my other round pans.
Featured cakes that use a Round cake pan are: Ladybug Cake, Butterfly Cake, Ferret Cake, Bumblebee Cake, Grill Cake, Dragon Cake, Bowling Cake
Muffin Pans - If you're going to make cupcakes, you need a muffin pan. You can use a pan that makes regular sized cupcakes, mini cupcakes or jumbo cupcakes. I have both a 6-cavity and 12-cavity regular muffin pans and I have two 24-cavity mini-muffin pans. The 6-cavity muffin pan is mainly used for small batches of muffins. I use the 12-cavity muffin pan when I make a cake with only one 8 or 9" round layer. Since those cakes only use half the batter from a box of cake mix, I usually make the other half of the cake batter into cupcakes! Sometimes, though, I will just make a 2nd round layer and freeze it for later use.
I happened to acquire 2 mini-muffin pans when I found myself making over 100 mini cupcakes for a friend's bridal shower. You really don't need two of them - unless you find yourself in the same predicament. Just figure out how you're going to transport them before you agree to make them.
Of course, you could also use silicone muffin pans or individual silicone cupcake and muffin cups. They come in a variety of colors and some even have appendages on them for creating wonderful cupcake creatures. Silicone cupcake cups have lots of potential but please read my review on those before deciding to purchase them.
Cake Decorating Utensils:
Spatulas - I have 2 angled spatulas that I use on a regular basis. My small angled spatula is great for covering cupcakes, spreading small areas with color and getting into tight spaces. My large angled spatula is used for those things that are impractical for my small spatula - spreading the bulk of my icing, smoothing icing on large top surfaces and smoothing sides of cakes.
I haven't found a big need yet to increase the number of spatulas I have, but having the 2 different sizes really helps.
Icing Sculptor - I own an Icing Sculptor that is used on the sides of a cake to add dimension. I used a simple design to the Movie Script Cake #2 to make the cake look more like a stack of paper.
I'm still trying to decide if this product is even worth the money or the hassle. I think if I can manage to get it work consistently, I would use it more often and really like it. The individual pieces kept sliding out of the holder or the pressure I used to create the design would cause pieces to retract into the holder (changing the design in the icing and making it uneven). One reviewer on the Wilton site suggested placing a large black clip on the holder to help keep the pieces in place. More testing and experimenting is required on this one. Update: I don't recommend this tool (I wound up giving mine away). I would instead recommend the Decorating Comb and/or the Decorating Triangle - the combined cost is LESS than the Icing Sculptor.
Featured cakes that use the Icing Sculptor are: "Fade In" Movie Script Cake
Decorating Tips - I have a variety of icing tips that I bought several years ago as a set. I've added a few more to the set since then as I needed them. Of course, if you get the icing tips, you'll probably want to also get the couplers and decorating bags as well. Wilton has a new TwistQuick™ Decorating Coupler available but I have not tried it out yet.
Decorator Brushes - Dedicate a set of brushes to decorating and nothing else. I use these strictly for applying Pearl Dust or for painting on color - both were done on these cakes: Electric Guitar Cake, Unicorn Cake, Lego Mini-figure Cake and Kingdom Hearts 2 Keyblade Cake
I have a set of brushes but usually only use 2 different sizes. If I were more of a painter, I'd go crazy painting beautiful patterns and pictures all over my cakes! The brushes I have are Wilton Decorating Brushes which have a painted wooden handle. I would prefer a set with plastic or acrylic (or even non-painted) handles because the paint on these tends to peel off after several washings.
Cake Icing Additives:
Coloring - For most of my icing colors, I use Concentrated Gel Food Coloring. It is highly concentrated and the lower moisture is less likely to change the icing consistency than liquid food color. They are available in sets with small jars of an assortment of colors or individually in large jars. I suggest purchasing a kit with primary colors in it. If you find you use one color more often than others, buy it in a larger size. You can also create an endless array of hues using the primary colors. For red colors, I definitely suggest the "no-taste red" instead of the regular red Wilton color gel.
On occassion, I do use liquid food coloring, especially when I need a specific color that I don't have a gel color for. For instance, I used neon liquid food coloring for my Tiki Man Cake.
Pearl Dust - I have this in silver and gold. There are many other colors available. I first discovered Pearl Dust when I was making the Electric Guitar Cake. I was looking for a way to color the knobs and other pieces of fondant silver (coloring them gray was just unappetizing).
Application is easy. For a light shimmer, dust it on with a dry paint brush. For a more intense color with the shimmer, mix it with a bit of water, flavor extract or vodka. I've found you can wet the brush and then dip it into the Pearl Dust. I had a lot less waste that way.
Featured cakes that use Pearl Dust are: Electric Guitar Cake, Unicorn Cake, "Fade In" Movie Script Cake, Lego Mini-figure Cake, Kingdom Hearts 2 Keyblade Cake
Fondant - Fondant is one of those things I spent many years trying to avoid - though I did bury my nose in Debbie Brown's many cake books drooling over her wonderful creations covered in fondant. I had actually bought the fondant package pictured here to create a cake (very similar to the one pictured here) for my daughter's first birthday. She got an icing covered Hello Kitty themed cake and everyone else shared one iced in vanilla and covered with neon stacked fondant flowers. Of course, everyone pulled off the flowers and ate the cake. The fondant was tasteless. I didn't know then that you could flavor it.
You can purchase pre-made fondant or you can make your own.
Pre-made fondant is available in craft stores (Michaels, JoAnne's, Hobby Lobby, AC Moore, etc), at big box stores (Walmart, Target, etc) and online. It comes in many different colors and sometimes can be found pre-flavored. You can always purchase white fondant and then color and flavor it yourself.
You can also make your own fondant, called Marshmallow Fondant because it is made with lots of marshmallows. If you plan to make a cake using marshmallow fondant, be sure to read "Working With Marshmallow Fondant" which also includes the recipe I use for Marshmallow Fondant.
Featured cakes that use fondant are: Electric Guitar Cake, Unicorn Cake, Lego Mini-figure Cake, Kingdom Hearts 2 Keyblade Cake
Candy Melting Wafers - I have a variety of uses for candy wafers.Wilton has a brand called Candy Melts. I prefer to use the Make 'N Mold brand. The bag is larger, the wafers melt better and the taste is great! I got them at AC Moore, but you can also find them at other craft stores or online at Amazon or at MakeNMold.com.
The melting wafers come in a variety of colors and can be used whole (un-melted), melted and poured into molds or piped into lettering or made into Candy Clay for molding such as the head for the Baby Dragon Cake (The head was molded from candy clay and then covered in icing with the rest of the cake) or the burgers and hot dogs for the Grill Cake.
Featured cakes and cupcakes that use candy melting wafers are: Blue's Clues Cupcakes, Kitty Cat Cupcakes, Bumble Bee cupcakes, Bumble Bee Cake, Bridal Shower Mini Cupcakes, Cinderella Carriage Cake, Jack Skellington Cupcakes, Pikmin Cake, Baby Dragon Cake, Dragon Cake
silver dragees or sugar pearls, were used on the guitar cake. The Sugar Pearls, made by Wilton, are also available in gold and pearl colors.
I use dragees in moderation. Some brands are so hard they can be tough on your teeth.
I try to use items that are easily found everywhere. Here is a list of additional things sometimes added to cakes:
- Popular candies such as Reese's miniatures, Tootsie Rolls, Twizzlers and jelly beans, Cinnamon Hots
- Chocolate Chips
- Rice Krispies (made into Rice Krispies Treats that can be molded into shapes)
- Fruit leather (Fruit Roll Ups)
- Graham Cracker Crumbs
- Silver Dragees and various sprinkles
- Pretzel Sticks
- Ice Cream Cones