I am infamous amongst family and friends for my thriftiness, but when it comes to cake design there are several things I won’t skimp on. I am sharing a few of them here. For the most part, this list evolved out of my cheapness in that I went for the cheap brand, found it didn’t work, and ended up spending more than I would have because I had to purchase the item twice. Benefit from my experience, save yourself time and money, and don’t cheap out on the following.
1. Fondant. Buy quality fondant. I like Satin Ice. Although Wilton is readily available and relatively inexpensive (for 40% off at Michael’s), it dries out quickly and is difficult to work with. By the time all is said and done, you’ll spend more re-buying than you would if you purchased a 20-pound bucket of Satin Ice. A good resource is bakerskitchen.net
2. Cream Cheese. When it comes to cream cheese, there’s only one option: Philadelphia. It’s the tangiest, cream cheesiest cream cheese there is. Don’t waste your money on anything else: I haven’t found another cream cheese that comes close. Costco sells Philly in large quantities. For baking and icing, always bring it to room temperature first.
3. New X-Acto blades. I find it ironic that something practically invented for cutting paper is so immediately dulled by it. X-Acto blades are cheap. Replace them after cutting paper and as soon as they seem dull. If your blades are not making smooth cuts but are instead shreadding or tearing your fondant, it’s time for a new blade.
4. Butter. European butters typically have higher fat than American butters. Higher fat means lower moisture, so your cakes rise higher, cookies crisp more evenly, and pastries bake flakier. (You can learn more than you’ve ever wanted to know about butter here.) Although most European butters have upwards of 13% butterfat, butters in the U.S. typically have 11%. The “European-style” Plugrá butter is a favorite of mine. Although it contains the standard 11% butterfat, it is made using “a slow-churned process that creates less moisture content and a creamier texture”, but can be hard to find. If I’m limited to my local supermarket, I like Land-O-Lakes.
5. Acrylic (or polyethelene) rolling pins. The more expensive rolling pins tend to be heavier and denser yet narrower, making rolling fondant and gumpaste easier. Splurge here. Brands to try: PME.Brands to avoid: Ateco, Wilton.