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This is our third annual Great Gifts for Cake Designers posts, and it’s a fun one. Some of the recommended gifts are timeless and have appeared on the list before while others are making their first appearance. Several are on my personal list of ‘mandatory’ cake tools: those things that you hate to spend money on but are essential for creating a quality cake. Either way, everything on this list is something I either have or want, and all are gifts I personally recommend. In no particular order, here they are.
1. Graphic design classes. With the explosion of social media, having great graphics is absolutely imperative. Until recently, I did my design work on distinctly non-design programs like Microsoft Publisher or, worse yet, Microsoft Word, and paid a graphic designer to translate it into Illustrator. Like many cake designers, I’m very visual, but lacked an understanding of graphic design programs. Luckily I found Simplified Graphic Design by Jones Design Company.
The price is reasonable and I was able to take the class on my own time. The instructor is thorough and effective, and has a great way of making a really intimidating program completely accessible. Plus, she has a great design aesthetic. It’s not a comprehensive class but rather the perfect introduction to graphic design, and I highly recommend it. I did the graphic in the photo below in Illustrator, and while it might not be all that fancy, it’s exactly the kind of stuff I used to have to pay someone else to do.
2. A really, really good turntable: The Ateco 613. The Cadillac of cake turntables, the Ateco 613 is only about $10 more than the standard 612, but far superior. The base is secured to the top with ball bearings, so there’s no wobble like you get with the 612. I’m always amazed when I teach classes at how many people don’t have a quality turntable. Instead, they’re using a lazy susan, a plastic turntable, or just a plate. Icing a cake without a turntable is, for me, like driving a car without a steering wheel. You need one, or you need to buy one for someone you love.
3. Quality paint brushes. You get what you pay for with brushes, and the more you spend, the better the brush. Cheap brushes have bristles that easily loosen, leaving unsightly stray hairs on your cake, and can be trying for a variety of reasons. Quality brushes are just easier to work with, and well worth the investment. Dick Blick has an excellent selection, and I find their guide to brush shapes (click here and scroll down) really helpful. For finer work, such as hand painting lines on a cake as well as applying gold or silver leaf, the Princeton Series 3050 would be lovely. I like a flat brush for applying color to flowers, and this is a set I covet.
4. Craftsy Classes. Craftsy truly has something to offer everyone. These online classes are very reasonably priced but offer excellent production value and are accessible any time. I’ve learned some invaluable tips and techniques from Nicholas Lodge, Erin Gardner, and Allison Keleher, and I only wish Carrie Selman’s cake photography class existed when I first started. I also teach my own Craftsy class, A Cake for Every Season. Bonus: Almost all of their classes are on sale now through December 1st.
5. The Cake Bible. Like many cake designers, I started with design and do not have a culinary background. Most of what I learned, I learned on my own, and much of it came from The Cake Bible. Rose Levy Berenbaum, the author, is a food scientist and baking expert, and she taught me almost everything I know about Swiss Meringue, French, and Italian buttercream, baking, filling, flavoring, weighing, measuring, substituting and sourcing. This book is a must have.
6. Cake stands. Need I say more? One can never have enough. Love, love, love. At 15″, this porcelain scallop stand remains our most popular.
7. Live Classes. I love taking classes, and nothing beats personally interacting with an instructor and other students in the same field. I try to treat myself a class each year, and if I learn one thing that makes my work funner, faster, more innovative, or more efficient, I consider it a success. This year, I hope to take classes with SweetAmbs and Wendy Kromer. I also teach classes at my shop in Hamden, Connecticut. All of my classes are limited to six students so that I can offer really individualized attention. Plus, my background in education (I taught high school for 12 years) combined with my passion for the craft mean that the classes are structured, organized, and fun.
8. Stocking Stuffers. Here are some items that might not make great gifts on their own but might be perfect as either a stocking stuffer or as part of a cake decorating-themed basket:
9. Extra Kitchen Aid bowls. Whether you’re working out of your home or a commercial kitchen, extra bowls are essential for speed and efficiency. Note that not all bowls are interchangeable with all Kitchen Aid models, so be sure to check your model before purchasing.
Have a suggestion for a must-have I left off the list? Please feel free to leave a comment.
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