Sunday, February 24, 2013

Photo Tutorial: Candy Transfers

Tonight I started work on one of the most important cake projects I've done to date - my first Icing Smiles cake. The call to action came in January, to make a birthday cake for an adorable baby boy named Miles. Miles is recovering from a brain injury suffered almost a year ago, after a routine medical procedure went wrong.

Read about Miles' story here. Learn about Icing Smiles here.
Miles is turning two and is going to celebrate next weekend with a Dr. Seuss's "Happy Birthday To You" themed party. I was sent image of the invitation as inspiration for the cake.

I was also told I could incorporate the goldfish from "The Cat in the Hat."


I think I can draw pretty well, but we're talking about the art of Dr. Seuss here. And a highly unusual looking Birthday Bird, no less. In confectionery form, no less.

This was the perfect opportunity to break out the "icing transfer" technique, which would allow me to trace out exactly an image I want on my cake. Except instead of creating transfers out of buttercream or royal icing to apply to a flat surface of my cake, I used candy melts, creating more vivid, solid pieces that could stand up or be used as a cake topper. And I took pictures along the way.

What you'll need:
  • Your desired pictures(s) printed out in mirror image.
  • Lots of parchment paper - to make parchment triangles, and for the transfers.
  • Flat surface to work on, ideally one you can move around e.g. cutting board or cardboard cake circle.
  • Strong tape
  • Candy melts in the colors of your image
  • Ramekins/small bowls and spoons for melting and mixing candy

I started by sketching out the design of my cake (topsy-turvy, obviously!), trying as much as possible to keep it to scale. This way I would know how tall I'd need my candy transfers to be.

I decided on 6 inches each for the birthday bird and goldfish, and 4 inches in diameter for the greeting plaque.

Sketching also helped me visualize my design and decide on colors and placement of  my decorations.

Next, I worked on creating the printouts of my images. There were no fancy computer skills in play here - I literally used Microsoft Paint to cut and paste the image files I already had, cleaned them up, and enlarged them to the right size.

You also want to flip your picture horizontally to create a mirror image - you'll be tracing over the image in candy and then flipping it over again to reveal the finished product. This is especially important when you're working with letters/numbers.

Print out your images... (note the "Miles is Two!" is in mirror image)

... and trim away the excess white space around it.

Tape the image down onto a flat surface - not your countertop, but something you can move around. Being able to move your image means less work for your hands when you're tracing later. You also want to be able to move your candy transfers out of the way, or into the fridge, when it's time to let them set up.

A sturdy cutting board does a good job. Avoid anything that's even slightly warped or not perfectly flat, such as a cookie sheet. Any bend in your surface is going to result in a bend under your melted candy, which will amount to a break in your hardened candy.

Next, cut out parchment paper so it more than covers your image, and tape it down over your printouts. Securely! I used packing tape and lots of it. Parchment paper is, after all, notorious for being un-sticky. You really don't want any of this to move around while you work.

Prepare parchment cones (a.k.a. parchment triangles), one for each color candy you'll be using.

There are websites galore that offer instructions on how to make these, but I haven't found one yet that shows how I make them, which is super easy of course. I'll put "make a parchment triangle video tutorial" on my endless list of things I should post on this blog.

Now we want to start melting our candy. Begin with a color that you'll be using for the outlines and accents. In this case, it's black.

Unlike making cake pops, you only need to melt a small amount of candy each time, only enough to fill your parchment cone. Ramekins are the perfect size for melting.

*One exception: if you're mixing up a custom color, you should melt up a big batch at one go - you want to avoid running out and having to try and match the color you already made. I mixed my own orange for the goldfish.

Melting: start with 30 seconds in the microwave and start mixing it hard with a spoon, even if it doesn't seem like it's melty yet. Then heat in 5 second increments only, adding a tiny dab of vegetable shortening if it looks like it needs help liquefying. It's imperative you not overheat your candy or you'll risk scorching it and will have to throw it out.

Fill your parchment cone and start tracing out your outlines and accents.

Avoid trying to "draw" directly onto the lines. Instead, use the "string" technique to help keep your piping neat.

Elevate your piping tip a little off your decorated surface, and let a short "string" of icing form. Move your icing tip guiding the "string" so it falls onto the line you are drawing. Unfortunately, I had a hard time capturing a picture of this in action.

Here's a look at the birthday bird and the greeting plaque with their black outlines and accents completed. (Note the "BB" in mirror image)
Next I moved on to the white accents on my images.

The goldfish is a good example to illustrate the importance of the color order for the candy. The outline and accent lines are completed first, in black, along with the fish's iris, which you can't see here.

Next the white of the eye goes in, over the black iris that's already been piped.

Finally, the orange will go in over everything.

Using a toothpick will help you get into all the nooks and crannies within your candy outline. You really don't want to miss any spots (you'll see why later.)

Finally, when you're done with all your colors, you want to "fortify" your transfer with a thick coat of melted candy.

If you're making this as a cake topper, this is also the step where you would lay down a lollipop stick and cover it all with gobs of melted candy to attach it properly.

Leave your transfer(s) to harden. The thicker your layers, the longer it will take. Mine took about 30 minutes, but to be safe you should leave it for as long as you can. Refrigerating will speed up the process.

When you're transfer is good and hard, gently slide a sharp knife under your pieces of tape to free the parchment from your cutting board. Gently flip your parchment transfer over. And then gently peel the parchment paper off.

Alternatively, you could not flip your transfer over, and gently slide it back and forth over the edge of your cutting board, a little by little, gently peeling the parchment down and away. Either way, I think you get my drift: do it GENTLY.

I love the way the goldfish turned out!

The greeting plaque was fine too, but it's a good example of why you really want to get your candy in every last nook and cranny.

Take a look at the air pockets visible on the surface here. This is due in large part to the fact that I didn't use a parchment bag for the blue candy, but instead just smeared it on with the back of a spoon.

(Apparently I didn't learn my lesson when I was making the candy shells for my "Finding Nemo" cake, except as you may recall in that case, the added roughness actually worked in my favor.)

The birthday bird ended up being the most problematic, because it was the most delicate of the 3 transfers. This is a fine example of what can happen when you don't "fortify" your entire transfer with an extra layer of candy - the Birthday Bird's leg didn't stand up to even the slightest movement during the removal process.

You can't see it here, but poor Birthday Bird was also decapitated because his neck wasn't strong enough to hold his head. And that was even before I tried to remove the transfer.

Still, I'm really excited by how it's looking and I figure I'll be able glue it all together later with more melted candy.

Decorations done. Now all that's left to do is, oh, create a two-tiered topsy-turvy cake covered in fondant! Photo tutorial to come.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 Game Changer: Cake on Demand

Soaking Bake E-Z strips. Cutting out parchment circles. Running my oven for hours on end. Washing cake pans. These are a few things I look forward to not doing so much of in 2013.

It's all thanks to a random stop at a Safeway store on the wrong side of the Golden Gate Bridge this morning. On a whim, I popped by the bakery to ask if they'd sell me some uniced cakes. This was not the first time I've tried that move at various grocery stores and bakeries in my neighborhood. Except all the other times the bakery clerks looked at me like I had two heads.

Today, however, I was lucky enough to happen upon the bakery manager, who understood exactly what I was looking for and easily produced two 8-inch chocolate rounds from the freezer.

Courtesy of my new BFF, Phillip, the bakery manager at Safeway in Mill Valley
$10.99 plus tax bought me the two individually-wrapped cakes, with a cake circle and a box as well. Phillip even had 6-inchers to offer.

Decorators: what are your thoughts on buying pre-baked, uniced, frozen cakes? Is it "cheating" if you make no claims to have baked the cakes yourself?
As a buyer, would you be opposed to having factory-baked cakes if the fillings and frosting are made from scratch and the cake is custom-decorated to your specifications?

Mais non! Apparently the French do it as well!

Imagine my delight when I spied these uniced, wrapped genoise cakes available for sale at the G'Detou patisserie supply shop in Paris during my visit last summer. (And then imagine my despair when I realized I knew of nowhere else from which to purchase these cakes, except the G'Detou patisserie supply shop in Paris.)

G'Detou is, naturally, #1 on my abandoned Paris Top 10 list.

Click here to see what some are saying about decorating pre-baked cakes on I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Video Tutorial: Easiest Way to Fill a Piping Bag

"There is one thing I will show you today that, alone, will be worth any money you spent to be here." 

That's part of the script I recite at the beginning of each basic cake decorating workshop I've taught through in San Francisco.

That "one thing", as you may recall from this post from 2011, is a genius technique for filling a piping bag, using plastic wrap.  I am still as excited about this as the first time I tried it, and can't even imagine having ever done it any other way.

So without further ado, I'm proud to present, as promised, my first ever video tutorial: "The Easiest Way to Fill a Piping Bag." Enjoy! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Love Cake

I also love my sweet, yet long-neglected little blog.
Here's a place-holder as I continue to work on the half a dozen or so drafts I have in my Blogger post list.

Gitu Mehra (nee Mohinani) eating cake. Singapore circa 1982

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sharing Skillz

I have two pieces of exciting news this week.

First, despite the mocking tone I took in an earlier post, I finally pulled the trigger on the banana holder from Daiso. As it turns out my husband and I take bananas on the road with us fairly often. And I've ended up with banana mush in my purse one too many times. This purchase was long overdue.

 Banana snack, now properly protected.

Okay that's not really my first piece of exciting news. The real reason I was at Daiso was to pick up supplies for my first cake decorating workshop!

3 pastry cutters
3 bench scrapers
I'm offering my workshop through a neat Web site,, where, as its name suggests, anyone can sign up to teach, or learn, a new skill, in person, with other like-minded people.

This week, I spent hours shopping, organizing my game plan, preparing all my equipment, baking ten 6-inch cakes, and making 5 batches of Swiss meringue buttercream frosting (phew) for my students to use on their very own ruffle or rosette-covered cake. Check out the workshop description here.
Shabby chic?
With only three hours to share everything I know, and walk three students through the process from start to finish, I set about to do a timed dry  run at home. But my designated "test student" bailed. So in an effort to recreate the pressure of being watched, I conducted my demos in front of a rolling camera!

Quick cameo in my cake leveling and torting demo
And that's the second piece of exciting news. My new goal this month is to brush up on my editing skills (I already took one refresher course last night - offered on Skillshare, of course) so I can start posting video tutorials on line. YouTube is one of the first places I go when I want to learn something new. Maybe someone out there will be excited to learn something from me, in person or online.