Pros: A lot of well photographed and easy to follow directions to a variety of projects
Cons: Specialty ingredients required
I am somewhat familiar with DK cookbooks. I am especially drawn to them by their consistently fabulous color photographs and proven recipes. As you can imagine, when I saw the opportunity to review Step-by-Step Cake Decorating, Hundreds of Ideas, Techniques, and Projects for Creative Cake Designers by Karen Sullivan I pounced on it. I rely heavily on books for my cake decorating inspiration. As a result I now have a small, but ever growing, collection of cake decorating books. Some of my books focus on one particular type of cake decorating, like sugar paste for example. Others focus on using a variety of techniques that for most home cake decorators are just simply out of reach. What Sullivan and her impressive contributors have done is compile a succinct reference for the home decorator who wants to be inspired to try new techniques or simply learn how to experiment with fondant for the first time.
If you are new to cake decorating then some of these techniques may be out of reach for you. The beginning decorator will absolutely benefit from the many frosting recipes, including basic buttercream (with several flavor options), marzipan, chocolate ganache, chocolate clay, fondant, gum paste and Mexican paste. There are also detailed instructions along with recipes for cake baking in the back of the book under “cake basics.” In this section you will learn about how to properly prepare all of your pans. There is even information on cake-pop pans for the cake pop lovers out there. If you are baking cake for certain pans simply turn to the Adapting cake quantities for a nicely laid out chart to help you see how much batter you will need in each pan.
A variety of projects will inspire you, from a princess castle to wedding cakes and a whole lot in between. To make it easy, there is a decoration planner section right at the beginning with inspirational ideas broken down by floral, children’s novelty, elegant and occasions. Sullivan goes over modeling, embossing, using molds and cutters, creating flowers and sprays, and so on. If there is a project that catches your eye, and assuming you have a certain level of cake decorating skill for that technique, then Sullivan is going to show you how to do it. The step-by-step photographs and directions are really straight forward and easy to understand. Most of the supplies you will need to purchase either at your local cake decorating store or on Amazon. There is also a nice reference section towards the rear of the book to help you with any specialty pans you may be inspired to purchase.
Karen Sullivan has her own celebration cake business in London and has written several books, although her earlier works mostly focused on health. Step-by-Step Cake Decorating and her newest book DK Kids’ Birthday Cakes, Step-by-Step (due out in August) seem to be focused on cake decorating. Sullivan’s three contributors to this tome appear to be very successful cake decorators in the UK. What Sullivan has done is pull together some very talented decorators: Asma Hassan, owner of The Sugared Saffron Cake Company; Sandra Monger, an award winning cake designer based in Bath; and Amelia Nutting, owner of Shuga Budz in Wolverhampton, UK. Together they create a compilation of techniques to entice you to create your own fabulous cakes for your next special event. Each of the contributors also has a web site you can go to with even more inspiring photographs. These award winning decorators bring to this book a wealth of information and helpful tips in an easy to understand format that DK is famous for. This book is great for the home cake decorator. There are plenty of projects for all levels of decorators from beginner or even those more experienced to achieve. However, I would not recommend this for a professional cake decorator. The intent of this book is to get you excited about cake decorating and show you how to recreate these projects from your own home kitchen through step-by-step directions from these very talented professionals.
The recipe I chose to share was the wedding mini cakes because they are so beautiful and easily adapted to most any occasion. With the buttery smell of frosting still hanging in the air I hope you enjoy the recipes as much as I have.
Wedding mini cakes
Frosted with ganache, wrapped in chocolate fondant and finished with a pretty ribbon and chocolate roses, these gorgeous miniature wedding cakes make an ideal favor or sophisticated dessert. For completely edible cakes, cut your ribbons from white-chocolate clay instead.
Timing: Allow 1 ½ days, including drying time.
Small rose leaf plunger cutter
8ft (2.5m) ivory grosgrain ribbon, ½ in (12mm) wide
2lb 12oz (1.2kg) dark chocolate fondant
12 x 3in (7cm) miniature round chocolate sponge cakes, halved and filled with chocolate buttercream frosting
3 ½ cups dark chocolate ganache
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
2oz (50g) dark chocolate, melted
1. Strengthen 7oz (200g) of the dark chocolate fondant with tylose powder and allow to rest overnight (See directions below). When the fondant is pliable, hand-model 12 small roses, 1in (2.5cm) wide. Set aside to dry for about 30 minutes. Roll out more strengthened fondant to 1/16 in (2mm) thick and use the rose leaf plunger cutter to cut out 24 leaves. Curve the tips, and let dry for about 30 minutes. Use a palette knife to spread the sides and top of each cake with ganache. Run the scraper over the surface.
2. On a surface dusted with confectioner’s sugar, roll out the remaining dark chocolate fondant to 1/8 in(3mm) thick. Cut out 12 circles, large enough to cover the cakes, and smooth the fondant down over the cakes with a fondant smoother. Trim off any excess from the base. Rest for 30 minutes.
3. Use the melted chocolate to fix a rose and 2 leaves to the top of each cake. Cut the ribbon into 12 equal lengths, and wrap around the base of each cake, securing the seam with edible glue.
Whether you choose to model fondant entirely by hand, or you use cutters to create a variety of shapes, it is important to prepare the fondant so that it is pliable, strong, and able to dry hard enough. Use small quantities at a time, leaving the rest double-wrapped in plastic wrap.
Vegetable shortening, for greasing
1lb 2oz (500g) fondant
2 tsp tylose powder
1. Lightly grease a flat surface and place the fondant on top. Knead the fondant until it is smooth. Make a well in the center.
2. Place the tylose powder inside. Press the fondant around the well and knead the ingredients together.
3. When the fondant is smooth, pliable, and evenly colored (with no streaks of strengthening powder), double-wrap it in plastic wrap and place in a zippered bag for 1-2 hours, or overnight. You can omit this resting time, but the fondant will lose some elasticity.
Tips: Always use “flower” grade or finely milled tylose powder to strengthen fondant. Coarser-milled powders are fine for making edible glue, but will make fondant lumpy and cause ti to harden unevenly. Strengthen after coloring fondant, not before.
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
This type of frosting is made with butter, confectioner’s sugar, and cram or milk, and is lightly flavored with vanilla or another flavoring. Use it to frost and fill sponge cakes and cupcakes. Some buttercreams require cooking, but most can be whipped up quickly with an electric mixer. If you prefer a lighter flavor, halve the amount of cocoa powder.
Just over 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream or milk, plus extra for thinning
Coloring paste, optional
½ cup cocoa powder
1. Cream the butter and vanilla together with an electric mixer. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder.
2. Beat in the cream and continue mixing until the frosting is light and fluffy.
3. Transfer to a bowl and add coloring paste, a little at a time, until you get the right color.
4. The frosting should be firm enough to hold a small knife upright, but soft enough to be piped.