When it comes to improving your cake design skills, nothing can replace real-life, hands-on experience. Want to improve your work? Practice, practice, practice. That said, there are lots of things you can easily do right now to take your cakes to the next level.
1. Take a class. There’s a lot to be said for learning on your own, but sometimes it’s really helpful to learn other artists’ techniques.
The ubiquitous Wilton company has been around forever, and is a great place to hone your piping skills.
Until recently, the closest you could come to cake design in a culinary school was to enroll in a baking and pastry arts program. Today, many culinary schools offer professional level cake design programs. About four years ago, The International Culinary Center (formerly French Culinary Institute) in New York City got in on the cake game and launched a highly respected 300-hour Cake Techniques + Design program.
Of course there are now tons of online classe that are inexpensive, convenient, and can be accessed any time from the comfort of your living room (or local Starbucks). These must-take classes are perfect for students of all levels:
Better Buttercream. My Craftsy buttercream class teaches you everything you need to know about classic Swiss, French, and Italian buttercreams as well as how to ice the perfect cake.
Fondant techniques. In Clean and Simple Cake Design, instructor Jessica Harris shares several of her unique fondant decorating methods. Her brilliant techniques will save you tons of time and give your cakes a more professional look.
Sugar Flowers. This class is like a cake decorating greatest hits. Four masters sugar artists teach five sugar flowers.
2. Vow to bake from scratch. There are many, many people in my area–and throughout the country–doing what I do. Baking from scratch is just one of the things that gives me a competitive advantage. It’s a labor intensive process, but in the end yields a better product. I’m not a food scientist–my brain just doesn’t work that way–so I don’t write any of my own recipes. Instead, I rely on solid recipes that really work for me. There are tons of fabulous books out there, but keep in mind that just because a recipe is in print doesn’t mean that it’s been tested or even that it’s very good at all. I love Flo Braker’s Simple Art of Perfect Baking and Maida Heatter’s Cakes , and for buttercream ideas I always turn to Rose Levey Berenbaum’s Cake Bible.
3. Improve your photos. You can make the world’s most gorgeous cake, but once it’s eaten, it’s over, unless you have a good photo. And of course it’s not enough just to have any photo: You need quality, high res images. Luckily, you don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on a good camera. I take almost all my photos myself with my Cannon Rebel. It’s a decent beginner camera, and it’s perfect for my needs. I typically use an inexpensive 50mm lens with a max aperture of f/1.8. (It’s how I get a blurry backdround.) I also highly recommend Carrie Selman’s Cake Photography class to learn how to use the camera and shoot your cakes.
4. Invest in quality supplies. I’ve written before about the importance of spending money on some ingredients over others. When it comes to your cake design toolkit, there are definitely supplies worth splurging on. Things like a good turntable make all the difference, both in the amount of time you’re investing in your designs and the quality of your work. If you don’t have one, get one. These are my absolute must-have cake decorating tools and supplies.
Quality turntable. Seriously, if you’re still using a plastic one, ditch it immediately. You can’t decorate a cake without a quality turntable.
Sugarflair colors. Other brands are fine in a pinch, but if your looking for purple that won’t fade, red that isn’t too orange, and green that isn’t too vibrant, this should be your go-to brand. It’s more expensive, and it’s worth it. Colors I love: ruby, claret, grape violet, deep purple, spruce green, holly green.
Heavy duty pans. Buy quality pans with straight sides. They’ll last forever and decrease the likelihood that you’ll overbake your cakes. I like Magic Line the best. I always bake in 2″ tall pans.
Good luck upping your game!