It’s easy to make cakes beautiful if you have the right tools. Here’s a list of the basic edibles and equipment you’ll need to get started and achieve professional results. Each project in Cakes & Sugarcraft magazine includes a list of more specific items you’ll need to complete it.
Cake drums, boards and cards
15mm cake drums are food-safe and lightweight but strong enough to hold the weight of a heavy cake. Thinner cake boards are still strong and can be used as an alternative to cake drums if preferred. Cake cards, which are thinner still, are used between stacked cakes (to support the dowels) and underneath mini cakes.
To achieve a professional finish, cake boards should be fully covered. Usually sugarpaste covers the top surface and ribbon is used to trim the outer edge. Attach it with a non-toxic glue stick or double-sided sticky tape.
Cake leveller/layer cutter
This is a handy tool for making cakes perfectly level and cutting even layers. The wire can be adjusted to achieve the desired height.
Apricot jam (glaze)
Boil and strain apricot jam and allow it to cool to make a glaze for brushing onto the surface of fruit cake. This creates a sticky surface for marzipan. It’s ideal for this purpose as it doesn’t affect the overall taste of the cake.
Clear spirit such as gin and vodka is brushed onto the surface of a marzipanned cake to help sugarpaste stick and can also be used to dilute paste food colours. When mixed with dust food colour it forms a quick-drying, edible paint.
Icing sugar shaker
Simply sprinkle the work surface and rolling pin with a little icing sugar to prevent sticking when rolling out paste. Choose a shaker with generous holes in the lid.
It’s easier to roll out sugarpaste and other edible pastes on a non-stick surface. You’ll still need a little icing sugar to prevent sticking, but not as much as for a normal kitchen surface
Non-stick rolling pins
Polypropylene rolling pins are a good investment as they will last for years if looked after well. Use a large one for rolling out cake coverings and a small one for smaller decorations.
Roll marzipan or sugarpaste between spacers to achieve an even thickness.
A cake smoother helps to create a smooth, professional finish when covering cakes and boards with sugarpaste or marzipan. It is useful to have two so you can hold one in each hand and press on opposite sides, especially if you want to create neat edges.
Dowels are invaluable for safely supporting stacked or tiered cakes and can also be used as internal supports for large models.
A turntable allows you to work around the sides of a cake without handling it, making it an invaluable piece of equipment for any cake decorator.
As well as being great for covering cakes and piping details, royal icing is often used in cake decorating for sticking surfaces together. Instant mix royal icing can save time and will produce professional, consistent results. They are quick to prepare: simply add water following the instructions on the packet and mix.
Use a cocktail stick to add tiny amounts of paste food colour to paste before kneading it in. They’re also useful for marking paste.
You can either buy readymade piping bags or make your own from greaseproof paper.
For best results, always use professional piping nozzles. Make sure they’re clean before you use them. For larger nozzles, you need a thicker consistency of royal icing; for finer nozzles you need a thinner consistency.
There are many different cutters available to make cake decorating and sugarcraft quicker and easier, including plungers which are ideal for tiny shapes.
White vegetable fat (shortening, Trex)
Rub a small amount onto a work board to prevent flower paste from sticking to it; rub it onto the palms of your hands or knead it into paste to make it more supple and prevent cracking, or smear a small amount inside a mould before inserting paste to make it easier to turn out.
Edible glue (sugar glue)
This easy-to-use glue is particularly useful in sugar flower making and also works well with other sugar and pastry pieces. Apply a thin coat with a small brush.
Confectioners’ glaze (resinous glaze, pure food glaze, natural glaze)
At full strength, confectioners’ glaze creates a strong, permanent varnished effect when applied to a sugar surface. Use wherever a high gloss is required or as a protective coating for sugar, chocolate or marzipan pieces for exhibition work. It can be diluted to a less shiny ½- or ¼-strength with clear alcohol or glaze cleaner.
Glaze cleaner (isopropyl alcohol, IPA, dipping solution, rejuvenator)
Glaze cleaner is a quick and effective product for cleaning brushes, airbrushes and other equipment after using confectioners’ glaze.
Cornflour (cornstarch, maize starch)
To make a ‘duster’ for applying cornflour to a work board and therefore preventing flower paste from sticking to it, place some in the middle of a clean, dry muslin square, gather all the edges together and secure with an elastic band. Cornflour can also be mixed with roll-out pastes such as sugarpaste to regain the correct consistency if it becomes too sticky (e.g. after adding a lot of paste food colour).
It helps to have a ruler to hand for precise measurements. Keep one solely for sugarcraft use.
Cutting wheels are particularly useful for cutting out intricate shapes, either freehand or using a template as a guide, without pulling on the paste.
Dresden (veining) tool
Use the thin end to vein the centre of leaves and petals, emphasise the centre of some flowers and emboss lines on leaves, petals and models. The broader end can be used to soften, flatten and flute the edges and centres of petals and leaves.
Scribing tool (scriber, scribing needle)
Use this food-grade needle with a stencil or tracing paper or to scribe words or pictures onto icing freehand to act as a guide for decorations.
Ball modelling tool
When pushed into soft paste, a ball tool indents a smooth, neat circle which is useful for figure and animal modelling. It can also be used to make smooth curves in modelling and to cup and frill petals in flower making.
Bone modelling tool
The bone tool can be used in the same way as a ball tool, plus the back of the tool can be used to indent a teardrop in soft paste.
Palette knives are useful for spreading buttercream and ganache and are an essential tool when covering a cake with royal icing. Knives with a cranked blade allow you to pick up sugar pieces easily.
Small, plain-bladed knife
You will need a small knife to cut and trim sugarpaste, modelling paste and so on. Make sure the handle doesn’t impede your movement when cutting.
Large, serrated knife
Use to level and carve cakes.
Useful for cutting out templates and edible decorations as well as scoring cake dowels.
Good quality artists’ brushes will hold edible glue and paint well and the hairs don’t mark the surface of sugarpaste. You can also use brushes to pick up small items to avoid squashing them. Use round brushes for painting and flat ones for dusting. You may also find a paint palette useful.
Pointed modelling tool (CelStick)
Use the pointed end for opening up paste such as the centre of flowers and the rounded end to open the paste wider if required. This tool can also be used as a small rolling pin.
Food-grade foam pad
This firm sponge pad softens when pressure is applied to the surface. It is used in conjunction with a ball tool to thin and soften the edges of petals and leaves, making them more realistic. Some pads have holes in for flower making.
Non-toxic glue stick
Use to attach ribbon around the edge of a cake board, making sure that the glue doesn’t come into contact with any edible items.
Double-sided sticky tape
Use as an alternative to non-toxic glue for trimming a cake board with ribbon.
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