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How to Bake a Cake and Prepare it for Decorating

Henri’s 10th* birthday party was last weekend, and while I’m not a professional by any means, I have made enough cakes by now (not to mention the 40 or so ones I’ve yet to post) that I often get asked for tips or help.  So I decided to put together a step-by-step guide on how I prepare a cake for decorating.** 

I’ll get more into the “how to bake a cake” part in a future post, as there are a lot of little tweaks and tips for the baking part itself…but this post will cover specifically how to prepare a basic cake for decorating.

Note #1- I typically bake my cakes 1-2 days prior to when I plan to decorate, which – depending on the desired outcome – is 1-2 days prior to the cake’s due date. (IE: if the cake is for Sunday, I’ll bake it Thurs or Fri night, then decorate Saturday night. If it’s a very involved, sculptural cake, I might bump those dates back a day each to leave more time for decorating.)

Before you can bake the cake, you need to prepare your pan. This step ensures you’ll be able to remove the cake from the pan once it’s baked. Some people line their pans with parchment, but I use this method:

  • Grease the pan’s bottom and sides with either Pam, margarine, or butter
  • Drop a tablespoon of flour onto the greased pan
  • Over the sink (I learned the hard way) slowly rotate and tilt the pan until the flour fully coats the bottom and sides, tapping if necessary to move things along
  • Make sure it’s fully covered, touching up bare spots if necessary
  • To remove excess flour, hold pan upside-down over the sink and smack the bottom of the pan a few times. The loose flour will fall into the sink.

Note #2- They make a ‘baker’s’ version of Pam that has flour mixed in already.

Note #3- I’ve heard of, but never tried, using Pan Grease in lieu of the above. I’m planning to try it out sometime when I don’t have a deadline looming 🙂

  
Pan Grease

1 cup shortening
1 cup flour
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Mix well with electric mixer and store in airtight container. Does
not need refrigeration.

Note #4- It doesn’t matter what kind of flour you use. One time I’d bought the wrong kind of flour for a recipe and had no use for it, so I used that one for preparing pans until it had been all used up. Ever since I use all-purpose, but you can use whatever you’d like, including nut-based and gluten-free flours. I’ve also seen people use cocoa powder when preparing pans for chocolate-based recipes.

Note #5- Don’t try to tap out the excess flour over a garbage can unless your pan is small enough to hold lower than the rim of the can. I learned this the hard way…

Once the pan is ready, you can prepare your batter, then pour it in. Some cakes need to be left alone, but for my regular birthday-type cakes, I drop the pan on the counter a few times so the air bubbles in the batter can raise to the surface and pop.

Once the cake is ready to come out of the oven, a very important step is to let the cake set in the pan for about 10 minutes. Try to remove it too soon and it will fall apart, but wait too long and it will get very difficult to remove. My standard is to set my oven timer for 10 minutes and use that time to get out the items I’ll need for the wrapping step coming up.

Once 10 minutes are up, your cake is ready to remove from the pan. Loosen around the edges with a knife. I also like to sort of “tuck” the knife under the cake and give it little test lifts to help ease it from the bottom of the pan.

The photos above show how I used to remove the cakes from the pan- I’d flip the pan over onto a flexible cutting board, then use a 2nd board to flip it back to right-side up, before sliding it onto a tray to allow it to cool overnight.

However- I don’t do this method any more. Instead I remove the cake from the pan and place it immediately onto a long length of Saran Wrap, which I then fold over to seal. Then I turn the cake 90 degrees, place it onto a 2nd long length of Saran, and wrap it again, so the 2nd layer covers any gaps in the 1st. I do this immediately after the 10 min rest in the pan.

Once the cakes are wrapped in Saran, you can leave them to cool. I’ve done this up to 5 days in advance of serving, and the cakes still came out perfect. In fact, I’d recommend this even more for cakes made in advance- unlike my previous method of leaving them uncovered, the Saran traps the heat and steam into the cake, leaving them dense and moist and delicious instead of dry and crumbly.

Leave the Saran-covered cakes somewhere dry and cool where they won’t be disturbed. (Don’t leave them stacked as the top one might sag, I only did this when I took the photo as I was trying to estimate how tall the finished cake would be).

Allow the cakes to cool at minimum overnight. A cake might feel cool on the outside but still have residual heat trapped inside, and icing and decorations will slide right off.

Once cooled, you’re ready to level and tort. (Tort is just a fancy word for “cut the cake in half, horizontally). For best results, use a knife long enough to fit across the narrowest edge of the cake.

Slowly and evenly cut off the rounded cake dome, starting at one corner then easing your way across until you can go straight down along the cake. Keep your hand steady and try to hold the knife as flat and parallel to the table as you can. Once you’ve cut all the way across you can remove the scraps for eating or other uses. I always like to have a storage container handy as well to hold the cake scraps which I use later with any leftover icing to make cake pops for my kids.

In the demo cake shown here, I didn’t tort, but if I would have it would have been at this step. Using the same knife as above, cut the cake horizontally into two layers.

Note #6- I recently picked up these cake level guides and OMG they’re perfect! I clipped one to my knife and held it flush against the table as I cut and I’ve never had a cake turn out as perfectly level before. I <3.

Before you can begin decorating, you must consider your base. Is the cake to be moved? Is it going to be heavy, and need a cake board? For the cake shown, I iced, decorated and transported it on the white tray, and I would use the same method with any other tray or cake stand. If this was a tier in a larger cake, however, I’d be using a cake board.

Put a dollop of icing into the center of where your cake will go. This will “glue” your cake to the tray/board and keep it from sliding around. Center the cake into place and give it a little push down to adhere.

Fill your cake. Do a border of icing around the edges of the cake and then fill it with more icing, jam, whatever you’d like. Then place your other layer on top and press down lightly. I often flip it so the flatter bottom of the cake layer becomes the top of the cake, but this 9×11 was a bit too large and thin for me to feel comfortable flipping without risking breaking. I’m a klutz after all…

Before I begin to ice the outside of the cake, I protect the tray/stand/surface with parchment paper or wax paper. Cut off a narrow piece and then cut that into pieces to fit around the edges of the cake. For a rectangle or square cake I’d cut 4 narrow strips, if it was a round cake I’d cut the full-size strips into thirds and slightly overlap them to surround the cake with a hexagon of paper.

See the crumbs on the parchment? That’s why it’s there- to protect the base from crumbs and icing. The crumb coat (shown) isn’t part of the decorative exterior, it’s used (and named) to capture any loose crumbs that would otherwise fall off as you work. Ice the cake on the top and all sides, but don’t worry about covering every inch of the cake. The main thing is to trap the crumbs and fill in any gaps in between the layers of the cake.

Note #7- Mine is sloppy. Both the crumb coat and the upcoming icing. This cake was for fun. If you are planning to cover the cake in fondant later OR planning to have smooth or knife-edge sides, then you should make sure your crumb coat is smooth as well, or it will be more difficult later.

After the crumb coat I like to put the cake in the fridge to set the icing. This isn’t completely mandatory, so don’t stress if you don’t have room in your fridge. Place the cake somewhere cool and undisturbed for about 30 minutes, or until the icing crusts over.

Once the crumb coat is done you’re almost ready to decorate. The cake just needs one more layer of icing. If I’ll be covering with fondant, I put a thinner layer. It’s more to smooth the top/sides and give the fondant something to ‘stick’ to vs a layer of icing to eat. If I’ll only be using icing, then I put a thicker layer, making sure to cover the cake completely.

For the cake in these examples, it was just for fun and I wasn’t going to be adding decorations, so I gave it a quick layer of thicker icing. I made it even but didn’t spend any time trying to make it smooth.

Whether or not I’ll be adding fondant, or additional decorations, this is the point at which I’ll remove the parchment/wax paper strips. Gently lift them away, making sure not to drop any icing blobs onto the cake or tray. If necessary, use a sharp knife to break the seal of any hardened icing that is connecting the papers to the cakes.

Note #8- Even if the icing on the strips looks clean, I don’t add it back in with any remaining icing to re-use. It’s more likely than not that there are cake crumbs within.

And here’s the baked, iced cake, ready for topping with fondant decorations, candies, candles, or anything else you have in mind.

Hopefully this basic instructional was helpful! If you have any questions that weren’t answered, leave them in the comments and I’ll update it with my answers.

*I know, Henri is 10 already!  Can you believe it? 

**This is only how I do things, after the last 10 years of trial and error.  I’m not saying it’s the only way, nor even that it’s necessarily the right way.  It’s just my way, and if it helps you, it can be your way too 🙂


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Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake

Only 3 months late, here’s (finally) the completed Pitfall: The Lost Expedition birthday cake.
pitfall the lost expedition birthday cake
The morning of Henri’s party I woke up and went downstairs, peering cautiously into the gloom of the laundry room to see how the cake had held up overnight.  There’s always the chance for decorations to slip, or icing to crack or worse – to discover that one of the kids had found the cake and begun to dig in…so I was nervous when I slowly approached.

pitfall-cake-party-day-02

Then I breathed a sigh of relief.  It looked good.  I’d finished so late in the morning that I’d passed out, so seeing the cake again was a pleasant surprise.  I was actually feeling quite proud of myself.

pitfall-cake-party-day-03

Oh yeah, I thought- Henri’s gonna love it!  All that remained was to transport it to the party without incident and then it would be-pitfall-cake-party-day-01

W-wait.  Why does something look wrong…?

Oh.

Oh no.
pitfall-cake-party-day-05

Do you see it?

Remember in my last cake post when I was all cocky about the vines working out?  Hmm.  Looked like I’d spoken too soon.  The first vine I’d attempted had had a chance to set up while laying horizontally… so when I hung it over the edge of the back board to test out it held its shape perfectly.  The new vines, however… I’d rolled each out and tucked them into place under the top cake right away.  And they’d looked good.  ‘Great’, even, if I may be so bold.pitfall-cake-party-day-04

But overnight gravity took hold, and the once relatively-uniform vines began to sag slowly.  Some had narrowed enough to look delicate and thin, twisting and tangling among others in a pretty cool, natural way (see the ones on the right).  Others, though… like the ones on the left… they’d basically collapsed.  Luckily they’d thinned before falling, so the resulting puddle of vines still looked pretty natural, I guess…which was good because it would have seriously messed things up to try and detach them.  The only one I did detach was the vine that had attached itself to the waterfall.  I thought it ruined the illusion of flowing water to have a vine stuck up alongside.  😛pitfall-cake-party-day-06

This pic was taken on my lap in the car en route to the party, and is probably the only pic taken strictly with sunlight.  The color is pretty accurate though I find the blue too bright.  (That may have been my phone, it’s notorious for having a hard time photographing blues and purples accurately).
pitfall-cake-party-day-07

I took a last quick set of pics at the party before serving.  Here’s the backside.  You can see how the vines here too have thinned and sagged.
pitfall-cake-party-day-08

And here’s the finished cake, complete with Pitfall Harry himself.
pitfall-cake-party-day-09

I waited until the very last moment to stick him in the cake, partially to avoid the risk of snapping the figure, and partially so he wouldn’t absorb moisture from the cake/icing and then have the fondant soften and fold over.  I likely needn’t have worried… there was probably enough ‘paint’ on the front at least to seal the moisture out, but the back was still bare fondant and I didn’t want to take a chance.pitfall-cake-party-day-10

Add one quick candle for the birthday boy’s age, and then I wheeled it over to his table.  It was a huge hit!  The kids got their choice of location to eat from and we served some to the parents as they came to pick up their children.

pitfall-cake-party-day-13

In the end this is all that was left – a tiny bit of cake and a filthy board.

pitfall-cake-party-day-12

I had planned to take it home and pop the fondant off the base stand so I could use it again, but sadly I broke it.  The fondant ‘glue’ was so strong in adhering the stand to the cake board, that when I was trying to separate the two I cracked the plastic of the stand itself.  I was impressed with the strength… but unfortunately it meant I had to throw out the stand.  Ah well.

PITFALL CAKE COLLAGE SQUARE

All the ‘making of’ posts:

1. Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 01

2. Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 02

3. Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 03 part 1- Pitfall Harry, crocodiles and a healing spring

4. Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 03 part 2- assembly

5. Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 03 part 3- finishing


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Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 03 part 2- assembly

For those following along, at this point in the Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake process, I had fondant pieces, I had rectangular baked cakes, and I had some cardboard and a brick-wall-looking stand.  Now, on the night before the party, was the time to start putting it all together.pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 01

Step 1 – cover the cardboard cutouts with tinfoil to use as makeshift cake boards.

pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 06

Step 2 – Confirm plan.  At this point I got a piece of paper and made a note of the order in which I had to do each step, because if I’d gone out of order (like sticking the waterfall down on the top tier before icing the bottom, for example) I’d make things harder on myself than they’d need to be.pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 02

Step 3 – carve the cakes.  I always use my largest unserrated knife for this, and have a large tupperware or two nearby for collecting the leftover cake (after being leveled or sculpted).

pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 03

For the top cake, which would become the top of the waterfall, I didn’t level it.  My cake had baked up much thicker in the center, but in a large enough area that I could cut a thicker cake in the shape I needed.  If I’d leveled it first to the height of the outer edges I’d have had a much shorter cake for no reason.  If the cake had been wide enough to cut my oval twice and stack them, I’d have done it, but it wasn’t big enough.  I cut the cake from the thickest part and used some icing to ‘glue’ it down to the cake board, then set it aside.

For the lower cake I used the cardboard to carve out the right shape so I could butt the cake right up against the stand.  After making sure it fit, I set that one aside as well.

pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 04

Step 4 – Solidify base.  I had my cake boards, 2 of them ‘glued’ together with icing.  I needed to attach my base somehow because otherwise the moment I’d try to transport the thing it would tip backwards, being so heavy, and separate from the cake which would be stuck to the board.  I stared at it a little while, wishing I had thought to Dremel 2 holes in the base BEFORE decorating, so I could quickly zip-tie it together, when I got an idea.  The base sat a few mm above my cake boards (less than 1/4″).  I couldn’t use glue or tape because I didn’t have any thick enough, but I did have fondant, and I knew that could dry pretty hard.  First I traced the shape of the stand onto the silvered board.  I took a few gobs (technical term) of white fondant and moistened them slightly so they’d be sticky all around, and pressed them down around inside the base’s outline.  I quickly put the base in position and pressed down on the lowest tier, using a knife handle to get into the back, and really squish the fondant and board and base together.  I waited a minute or two then tried to lift the base by the top tier… and the entire board lifted.  Success!

(Around this time I’d also cut open and re-taped a cardboard box, as seen above, for transport.  It was open at the front but had a closed back so I could carry the cake by supporting the back of the box instead of touching the stand itself when I moved it.pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 05

Step 5 – After making sure the base was well-stuck to the cake boards I cut a strip of plastic from my baggie the width of the waterfall I wanted, and used packing tape to tape it down to the bottom of the lower tier.  I used a few smears of vanilla icing to glue my cake board down over it, sticking it well to the stand.  I didn’t want it able to move at all.pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 07

Step 6 – I crumbled some of the leftover cake and mixed it into store-bought chocolate icing to make a rough, earthy-texture, and used that to coat the cake board for the cave floor.pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 08

Then I set the healing spring into place.  I didn’t bother using anything to stick it down, the icing floor was still wet and the spring was heavy enough that I knew it wasn’t going to move.

pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 09

Step 7 – Then I taped the waterfall up and into place with more packing tape, making sure it was secure.  I knew there’d be a cake sitting on top of it, but still…pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 10

Step 8 – At this point I set the cakes into place.  I put the lower cake down first, using icing to glue it in place.  I protected the cake board with strips of parchment paper, then set the top cake down with some icing too.  Putting the parchment around the back and under the front (on either side of the waterfall) was a bit trickier, but I used the tip of a knife to ease the cake forward or up and wiggled the parchment strips into place.  Then I gave everything a dirty ice (crumb coat) with vanilla storebought icing.

pitfall the lost expedition cake day 03 part 02 assembly 11

I just realized the pics are out of order, and that I’d crumb coated the base before adding the top.  Ah well.

Oh- I included the waterfall in the crumb coat on purpose.  I knew it would later be mostly covered with blue icing, but I wanted there to be some depth to the water so it would look like it was moving.  I also gave it a deliberate thick, choppy layer at the base where it reached the cake (as seen in the last pic).  Waterfalls often have a churning, frothy spray at the base and this would help imply that.

Up next – the fun/scary part… decorating!


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The Wiggles cake

Continuing to add Henri’s backdated birthday cakes as we count down to this year’s party, here’s the cake I made for his 2nd birthday, which had a The Wiggles theme.

I’ve posted about the party before, but sorta glossed over the cake, so here are some more details.

the wiggles big red car cake

The first thing I did was to cut out a LOT of man-shaped cookies.  Each invitee was going to receive their own set of Wiggles characters in their lootbags, and I needed to have extra for the cake, and in case of breakage.  Once the cookies had baked and cooled I tinted up some homemade royal icing and got to work.the wiggles cookies

A little while later I had these guys.  (The black icing marker details were added a few days later, to make sure the icing had dried enough).

the wiggles cookie lootbags

Once thoroughly dry, the cookies were packaged up and attached to assorted coloring books to be given out after the party.

Then I was on to the cake.  I had rented a Wilton 3D Cruiser cake pan from our local cake supply store.  I baked the car-shaped cake out of chocolate cake mix, and for the base I baked a 9 x 13 sheet cake out of vanilla cake mix, as I wasn’t sure the car cake pan itself wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone.  It took 1.75 boxes of cake mix, but it’s an odd shape, so I couldn’t guarantee it would be cut in a way that would give enough slices.  It took me about 3-4 hours to make my own buttercream icing, tint the colors I needed, crumb-coat and then decorate the cake.

the wiggles big red car cake 01

The cake as baked wasn’t a convertible, so I used a knife and carefully cut it into a more appropriate shape for what I was trying to duplicate.the wiggles big red car cake 02

I remember being panicked that I wouldn’t be able to ice the cake smoothly, which is why I’d ended up filling it all in with a star-tip in my piping bag.  the wiggles big red car cake 03

I copied the Big Red Car’s colors off a DVD case we had at home, and used leftover of the 4 main icing colors to cover the sides of the base cake.the wiggles big red car cake 05

The logo and the front windshield were the only two spots I dared attempt to smooth over.  After the basic shape was down, I piped the letters with a narrow round icing tip.the wiggles big red car cake 04

I waited until right before serving to add the 4 cookies I’d reserved, as I was afraid they would absorb moisture from the cake and crumble or break at the attachment points.  So I brought them to the party in a flat tupperware and stuck them in at dessert time.the wiggles big red car cake 06

I let Murray have a chance to drive. 🙂

the wiggles big red car cake 07

Henri’s other birthday cakes so far


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Henri’s Football Cake

Henri turned 7 last week.

I know, I don’t know where the time went either.

One minute he born, the next he’s this: Photo 2016-01-08, 7 11 31 AM

…this super-cool, chapter-book reading, rational-thinking, butt-shaking, quote-spewing funny, loving, sweet, creative, hysterical wise old soul.

His party is coming up and it got me thinking that I’ve never gotten around to posting all his cakes from prior years, so I’m going to amend that.  First up: his first birthday.

When Henri turned one Yannick suggested a football theme, as the Superbowl was coming up and his favorite team at the time, the Indianapolis Colts, were playing.  Using Yannick’s hat and jersey I set little Henri up for a photoshoot and got this pic:IMG_0248

Then, using the front and back of a Colts trading card for reference, I made up this invitation:Photo 2016-01-15, 2 36 58 PM

Love his stats 😀

The cake was only my second or third attempt at using fondant, so looking back on it now, I cringe, but at the time I was pretty proud.  I’d tinted white fondant to as close a match to Colts blue as I could and then cut a huge cake into roughly a jersey shape.  White fondant was used for the accents.  I remember being afraid to trim the edges and have cake show through underneath so I’d left them look ‘messy’, hoping it would appear like rumpled fabric.  Heh.Photo 2014-01-17, 6 57 19 PM

I shaped one of the cut out cake sections into a football which I covered with fondant I’d tinted brown.hfootball01

The smaller cake not only provided a place to put his name without messing up the look of the jersey, but it also was a perfect ‘smash’ cake to give him, so he could get his first taste of sugar and try to feed himself.

It was a hit 🙂

Henri’s other birthday cakes so far


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Decoration Station

A little while ago I finished a long-visualized project to organize my cluttered, messy dining room desk/hutch/thing into something functional for more than merely depositing random stuff into piles.

This past week I had some cake-related projects to complete, and it was the first chance I had to test out whether having everything set up in a clear, organized way would actually make my process smoother and faster than having things a bit all over the place (though I knew where everything was).  (Spoiler alert- it did).  😛

desk after

As a reminder, here’s the new after.  The right side holds assorted kid crafts and home stuff, like batteries and a few tools we use often.  The drawers on that side are Yannick’s, and the middle of the desk holds a caddy with all the kids’ coloring books and drawing papers and markers and pencils and the like.  The rest?  Mine… all mine!  😀

The first thing I did was organize the drawers, because they had been crammed full of the small toys and things the kids get in loot bags, assorted scraps of paper, and other randomness.  Now they’re organized.  The long drawer holds the battery chargers, my tape gun, and little trays with pens and pencils.  The side drawers are organized with the kids’ school papers and saved art, plus a drawer for me to keep some craft stuff upstairs but out of sight.

I forgot to take a pic of the inside of the top middle section, but it’s mainly storage.  I keep the foam trays that veggies come on and use them as palettes, so I’ve got assorted sizes stacked up there, along with a few cookie cutter sets that were too big to fit in my box down below.

Now, onto the rest: the cake decorating supplies!

desk after detail01

Now, I’m a home baker.  I don’t do this professionally, it’s a sweet hobby (ha!) so I can get away with not having a whole kitchen’s worth of supplies.  Most items I’ll replace when they run out, vs keeping extra on-hand, so this amount of space works for me, and I still have room to grow.

I mean… *technically* I can take over the ENTIRE hutch… but let’s not think of that (and worry my husband) right now.

🙂

desk after detail04

The top shelf is where I keep my fondant.  I have, and do, make and use my own MMF, but I also have no problems with store-bought.  I like the taste, myself (except Wilton’s), and I very rarely use it to cover kids’ cakes, because kids don’t really like it, so I use icing for them.  On adult cakes I find that most adults peel the fondant off anyways so the taste isn’t an issue regardless of the brand.  I’ve always got white fondant on-hand, and red and black are the only colors I’d buy pre-mixed, because of the taste and pain in getting those myself.  So on the left is a tub each of black and red.  I’ve never compared, but haven’t noted a taste or texture difference between Satin or Virgin, so I use whichever one is sold where ever I happen to be when I run out.  🙂

I ALWAYS keep the leftovers after I color fondant.  Even the tiniest of scraps can become pupils for eyes or detail on something or other, and even if you think it’s hardened beyond use it’s amazing what 15 seconds in the microwave can do.  The blue-lidded tub holds colored fondant, wrapped up airtight in ziplocks and saran wrap and there’s even another container inside that one holding what’s left of my last batch of MMF.

Finally, the red-lidded container on the very top has a small palette of silver dust, for decorative work.  I hydrate the dust with vodka or vanilla to use it as paint, and then when the alcohol evaporates there’s still dust residue left on the small cup I use.  Rather than waste it I let it dry fully then store, re-wetting with more liquid next time I need it.

The second shelf has my white fondant (and, yes, a small box of Wilton white because I was stranded without access to anything else).  The fondant tub with the post-it label is full of sugar pearls and candy beads and dragees, I’d found a sale at Michael’s and bought assorted colors.  Next to that are a bunch of containers I salvaged by washing out the icing tubs after making cakes in the past.  The top row are from dollar store icing, and are opaque white.  The red-lidded Betty Crocker ones are semi-translucent and the covers seal nicely and they make great food-safe containers.  I wouldn’t quite trust them with my lunch, I’m not sure how well the cover would stay on when tossed in a bag, but definitely reuse them for something!  I used them to sort my small bits that were previously in ziplocks and shoved loose into my toolbox.  They hold things like toothpics, q-tips, the levels for my fondant rolling pins, icing tips, small sets of mini fondant push-cutters, etc.  The 4 at the back are empty, waiting until I need them.desk after detail05

The next shelf down has all my ‘stuff’, the things I use most often when actually *making*.  Okay, I lie.  The purple flower-print box in the center has everything I use most often.  But the rest is stored here too.  🙂  The lower box on the left holds icing tubes.  I make my own icing usually, but I like the premade gel kinds for simulating water (you’ll see that soon in the water mixing cups for a Paint Nite cake I made recently) and I use black gel icing as a transfer medium.  The bin above it has tools like a Wilton fondant cutter and ribbon rollers and cake level markers…

You know, I’ll be honest – I never use that stuff.  Like, ever.  I bought it, so I have it, in case one day… but for anyone starting out decorating, DON’T spend the money on that kind of stuff.  The ribbon rollers… meh.  A cake leveler?  Garbage.  There are a few things I’ve found worth the money, like a fondant roller.  Moving from working on my table with a rolling pin to a gridded mat with a fondant roller was a revelation in ease and speed, and the rolling pin levels (differing thicknesses of elastic bands) are very practical.  But until you see what you need for the kinds of things you’ll be making, don’t bother.  You can cut ribbon shapes with a knife.  I used my kitchen knives for almost everything, from leveling cakes to icing them to cutting out fondant, and only just switched to using a smaller cutter because it came in a set with another tool I needed.

The red flower box has things that didn’t really fit anywhere else at the back, like cupcake stencils, and at the front has some items I reach for regularly, like a measuring tape, dressmaker’s pins, and a pen.

The green box has my icing bottles in assorted sizes, and my caulk-style icing guns.

The purple box… that’s where the good stuff is.  🙂

Oh- and those boxes by the way?  More repurposed items.  They’re tissue boxes with the tops cut off, and then I used additional cardboard and paper rolls to sort like items together.  Super easy, super cheap (free!) caddy.

desk after detail02

So what’s in this one?  At the back are my brushes, the ones strictly kept for food projects.  I have assorted sizes for everything from broad to detail work.  In the middle is a foam mat for fondant/gumpaste work and a set of food markers (I love these!).  Then there’s a small size fondant roller and a bunch of fondant/gumpaste shaping tools.  These are a recent purchase, most from the dollar store (except the 2 taller ones) and I’m not sure yet how helpful they will be, seeing as I’ve managed the last 8 years without them.  That said, I used to do scuplting with clay, and I know the right tools can make a big difference, so I wanted to give them a try, and the price was great.  The two taller ones are Wilton and were more expensive, I think they were on sale at $6 for the two, but I’ve found them to be a valuable addition.  The wheel has 2 sizes pinwheels for docking and fabric looks (though I achieved the same look recently using a sewing pin) and the capped tool has a needle on one end and a knife at the other, and I found it came in very handy (pun intended) this past weekend when doing some fine letter work with fondant.  The rainbow-lined packs are more food markers, thick ones mostly left for the kids to use, then a 2 pack of my preferred brand in black, and then a bottle of Wilton White icing whitener which I use CONSTANTLY when making my icing ‘paints’.

My favorite kinds of cake toppers are when I can sit down and ‘paint’ something fun, and this caddy will allow me to pull down the one box, and my icing colors, and get to work.  desk after detail03

The lowest shelf isn’t really a shelf, it’s the tablet of the desk itself.  I keep these things here right now, but I might reorganize one day if the kids get more nosy, as the idea of them having free access to the dyes and sharp tools above isn’t one I’m crazy about.  In the meantime, though, the lower tablet has the red-topped pencil case that holds my food-coloring dyes and Wilton pots of icing gels, and in front of them are the box of AmeriColor ones.  Love.  Love love love my icing dyes.

The blue-lidded box holds straws and bamboo skewers for cake support as well as icing/piping bags.  The two jars to the side hold mini and large cupcake liners, and the photo album has all the cakes and cookies I’ve made, a sort of gallery of foodstuffs made for when I visited a local cake guild one night.

Finally, for real this time, the storage bin on the floor under the table holds all my cookie cutters, sorted by shape and theme.

There are a few things not stored here, mainly due to size… my large fondant roller, the cutting mat, my turntables… plus other things I find indispensable for cake decorating, like my dollar store thin mats and saran wrap and parchment paper and scissors.  But the bulk of the stuff is here, and easy to access and find, and I’m really happy having a functional item of furniture.

(I’m also really happy to note that it’s been about 3 weeks since the cleanup was done and the desktop is STILL spotless!)

Who’da thunk?


1 Comment

challenge complete

I managed to finish my dining room desk overhaul and whoa what a difference it makes!  A main benefit is supposed to be when I work on my next project… having all my supplies organized and at-hand… but an important EXTRA benefit is that now the desk is clean… which means Yannick no longer tries to avoid looking in the dining room’s general direction.  😉

The before can be seen in my previous post…and here’s the after:

desk after

What a difference, no?  All that space… just waiting for me to pile stuff on it… hehehe


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