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Fave Finds is Erica OBrien Cake Design’s weekly(ish) list of the products, gizmos, gadgets, tools and must-haves we’re wanting, needing, buying or using.
I recently taught a private class to a lovely woman who is relatively new to cake design, and she was amazed by some of the tricks in my (figurative) cake design bag. Some of them are techniques or products I’ve been using for so long I’ve forgotten how exciting it was when I first ‘discovered’ them. It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fave Finds, but my student’s amazement at some of the items inspired me to do a new post.
1. Self-healing mat. This is a must-have for any cake designer. I don’t know how many of my beloved non-stick sugar flower boards (like my older green board and my newer non-stick board) I ruined with xacto knives and razor blades before I learned about self-healing mats. They have a special self-healing surface that minimizes the effects of sharp blades so they’re perfect for xactos, and they have a built-in ruler. I have all different sizes but the 18″ x 24″ Olfa is my favorite.
2. A good color wheel. I work a lot with custom color, and when it comes to color matching I’m kind of like Home Depot. (I’ll soon be blogging a regular color series, so stay tuned.) I rarely use just a single paste color on my fondant, always adding a dab of this or a dib of that, and never buy pre-colored fondant. Some of it is instinctual–I’ve just always been good with color–but for some colors I rely on a very basic color wheel. The wheel helps me determine, for example, which direction I need to go in (more red or more blue?) for the perfect violet, and how to tone down the brightness of my greens (just add the complementary, or opposite, color on the wheel). Color wheels are inexpensive and indispensable.
3. Windsor Clikstix. We’ve all come near to tears (or, okay, shed a few actual tears) thanks to Tappits Cutters. Yes, they make lovely letters, but sometimes you need something fast, and a little more modern (that won’t cause you to violently yank your hair out). I love the Clikstix because they’re super easy and extremely fast. They’re the perfect font for kids’ cakes, and there’s no crying involved. Their circle cutters make easy work of polka dots too. We used the Block Uppercase (below right) and Block Lowercase Clikstix on the gender reveal cake below. They also come in script.
4. Masonite boards. If you’ve ever had cracking along the bottom edge of a buttercream cake, it’s probably because your outer board couldn’t support the weight of your cake. When your cake is lifted, transported, or moved, if your board is not substantial enough, it will bend or shift ever so slightly (but enough to cause cracking) under the weight of your cake. Masonite boards are much more dense than either foamcore or cardboard, and come in round, square, even hexagon in depths of 1/4″ to 1/2″. (I’ve only used the 1/4″.) They’ve become my go-to for transporting larger tiered cakes. I generally cover the top with white Contact Paper and wrap a ribbon around the base.
5. And finally, a product that is new to me. Ateco piping gel has become a necessity in the shop kitchen. A little background: My cake design career began when I took an inexpensive Wilton class at a local cake shop about 20 years ago. Their classes are accessible and inexpensive and offer a solid skills foundation. The one drawback is that while the classes are dirt cheap, instructors are expected to promote Wilton products exclusively. Now, there are some Wilton products I love (their Rose food color gel is one of my go-to pinks), and some I would never use (like their fondant). Their piping gel was the only one I had ever used, and it never occurred to me that other piping gels might not be as gooey and gloppy. When I really started getting into wafer paper (thanks Stevi), I purchased a 5-pound bucket of the Ateco piping gel on a whim. Oh, the difference! Gel, yes, but gooey and gloppy? No! It’s a dream to work with, and, as Callan says, kind of magical. The five-pounder is definitely a lifetime supply, so you could easily go smaller.Have a great product you’d like to see on our list? We’d love to hear about it! Please feel free to leave a comment or contact us.
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