Imperfect Perfection

There used to be a time many years ago where I’d open a cake decorating manual and be amazed at the perfectly crafted birthday cake to which I’d wonder how they achieved such an immaculate finish. Whether the pictures were photoshopped back in the day or not, they certainly were presented in the best light,  set up in a flattering backdrop with a highly skilled photographer taking the shots. Regardless, the cakes looked great. Nowadays I can’t open a cake book without cringing at those same cakes.  The same cakes that once took my breath away now look painfully boring. The once vibrant colours look tacky and unoriginal and very dated.

Nowadays cake decorating is an art as well as a skill. The colours and textures around us, both natural and material, leave a creative mind saturated with ideas for his or her next project.  The internet has been a great resource for techniques, recipes, inspiration and sharing of experiences and ideas.  No longer is cake decorating institutionalized where a teacher in the later decades of life dictates what patterns and frills are acceptable and how you should configure your petal formation in a fondant rose.  I remember looking at my mothers creepy looking cake manuals (rather binded photocopies of recipes and past students work)  when she studied cake decorating at college.  All those little tools she had to buy of which she didn’t even use half. All that white, make that super white, fondant. I don’t remember any colour. Maybe a bit of pink for the roses. I always wanted to help but they had to be done a certain way.  Those perfect roses would look so old-fashioned if used on a cake now.  ‘Perfection’ has changed.  What was regarded perfect then is not what perfect implies nowadays. When it comes to cake decorating or when recreating original objects into another medium (like say,into cake!),  the concept of perfection likely lies somewhere between imperfectly fake and imperfectly natural.  Maybe this trend is a reflection from what has been happening in the fashion and beauty industries .  At the end of the day we make and produce things people want and we do that by being creative and  on trend and these two factors are influenced greatly by what surrounds us from other industries.

So how to translate IMperfectionism into cake design? Aim to have the cake looking like a cake! A Gucci handbag cake should still look like a cake! It should be well crafted but with some charm.  The client should want to cut into it! They wont feel like doing that if it looks rigid and over structured. Would you want to cut your designer handbag? Of course it’s not literally the same thing but how many times have you heard someone say ‘Its too nice to cut’? It’s a cake, it’s meant to be eaten and slicing into it is meant to be a pleasurable experience! Creating an imperfectly fake handbag cake should still be an immaculately  crafted cake. Some cake charm could be added where appropriate.   For example adding a bit of curve even if is not present in the original may add character.  Some highlighting on the fondant may make the look more succulent and more cohesive with what the cake tastes like on the inside.

So what about imperfectly natural? This applies to things that generally have some flow or growth. Water, flowers, people, animals and fabrics would fall under this category.  You want your flowers to look like roses but not so real people think they’ve come from the florist. Perfection is usually viewed but not always touched or handled. Are you more likely to stroke a perfectly groomed rose with its perfectly tightly wrapped fleshy petals or, to run your fingers through long uneven grass. Its similar with a lot of our senses. Textures excite us. A texture is an imperfection from the smooth. Textures in food is the same. Rustic looking cuisine has been in fashion for most of this century and its strength is just growing. The naked cake is just an example of how imperfectly perfect society really likes it!

rustic cusine

Rustic cuisine

Another dimension to the imperfect natural look is found in the virtual environment in which we live these days.  Virtually created scenery, animals and people have made us accept the unreal as real.  A ribbon of fondant rolled up to look like a rose is now an acceptable rose to place on a cake. It doesn’t have a single petal on it but we perceive it as a rose because our minds register having seen that image regarded as a rose perhaps in a cartoon or virtual setting. Opposite to this, but still in line with being imperfectly natural, fabric rarely drapes perfectly in real life but on a cake we drape fondant perfectly with no creases and sometimes no regard for gravity!

To summarise, a cake should be extremely well executed whilst maintaining that cake charm. The client should want to cut it with delight. Our perception of perfection has changed to keep up with fashion and the world around us.  What was never imagined before even in our dreams have been bought to life by virtual images.  The internet and social media has enabled cake artists and enthusiasts, home bakers and anyone and everyone to share pictures of their wonderful cakes online and so the expectations of clients are higher now than ever before. Better cakes are being produced with better flavours. The client will go where they are being delivered what they want and this no longer only includes the local bakery.

Tiffany Inspired Cake Tutorial

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Tiffany inspired cake

I saw these colours being used in a wedding cake on a TV show and instantly wanted to design my own.  So the next order I got, they had no choice, they were getting a tiffany inspired cake! Luckily, the client who ordered the cake for his wife left the design to me (he also only gave me two days notice!) .

This is a decoration tutorial only,  You can use any cake flavours you like.  This one was vanilla cake with caramel buttercream.

I always sketch out my design. It’s a good way to visualize the cake and also plan how I’m going to go about making it.

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Sketch

I used Renshaw’s jade green (yes, jade green!) fondant mixed with an equal amount of white fondant to achieve the tiffany blue for the disc and the ribbon.   I bought a 500g  packet of the jade green and used only half. Remember the other half is white fondant making a total of 500g.

I also bought the Renshaw’s in black and added some tylose powder (one teaspoon tylose to 500g fondant) to make gumpaste.  This was for the filigree and scroll details on the side of the cake.

I made the bow a day in advance using white gumpaste. The tutorial I used was by Edna de la Cruz. She is an amazing cake artist and a real inspiration

http://youtu.be/LOTdwsbgDV8

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Fondant Bow

I am going to go through the stages of putting together this cake assuming that it’s already been crumb coated, the above blue fondant and back gumpaste have been made up and a bow has been prepared in advance

1) Roll out 1kg white fondant to approximately 16 inches ( the diameter of the cake plus two lots the length of the sides). So my cake was 9 inches in diameter with sides of 3.5 inches so 9 + 3.5 + 3.5 = 16

Cover the cake with this, smooth it out and cut off the excess.  There are countless videos online that demonstrate this.

2) Next roll out half of the tiffany blue fondant so its about 2-3 mm thick. Using the base of an 8 inch cake pan as a guide, cut out an 8 inch circle. Brush a minute amount of water onto the cake top and stick this blue disc centrally onto the cake.

3) Next roll out the black gumpaste as thin as you can handle (1 mm) and using a Stanly knife, free hand, cut out scrolls and filigree shapes. Use online images to pick what you like. I used a variety of designs.  After cutting a few, you may end up coming up with your own designs making your cake even more unique. Let these dry on a tray as you cut out.  Do not stick them directly onto the cake while they are still flexible and moist. They need to dry a little. Remember we are using black on white and black fondant is unforgiving if you place it wrongly as it leaves marks. Drying it a little make it easier to position it before sticking it down. Plus there’s less risk of it tearing as you’re holding it vertically to attach it. After they’ve dried a little, use a TRACE amount of egg white or fondant glue (water and tylose) to stick onto the sides.

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Royal Icing writing and pearl borders, blue fondant disc, blue fondant ribbon and black gumpaste filigree/scrolls free hand cuts outs

4) The next stage is to apply the blue fondant ribbon along the bottom edge of the cake. Roll out a long strip (as long as you can) and use a ruler to cut a strip two cm wide. It doesn’t have to be a continuous strip.  If you are precise, you can cut two strips and make a neat join so your cake will have two joins instead of one. Attach with fondant glue or egg white.

5) The writing on the cake is done with royal icing. To make royal icing,  mix one egg white with a teaspoon at a time of icing sugar until the mixture is at soft peak consistency. Mix one-third with black paste colour and store the rest under cling film or a damp cloth to stop it drying out. I used a small 2mm round tip for the writing and the following writing design

http://youtu.be/MfxBYKxq_ws

6) Mix any left over black royal icing into the rest of the white royal icing to make a grey colour. You can add more black colour paste if u want a darker grey.  Load this into a piping bag fitted with wilton number 5 tip (or a 4 mm round tip) and pipe a pearl border where blue disc meets the white fondant and along the bottom of the cake where the cake meets the board.  You may find this tutorial helpful on how to pipe a pearl border (start watching from 1min 30 sec)

http://youtu.be/ABegbq7hV30

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Give the cake 30 mins to dry up. Then position the bow and make some ribbon ends using white gumpaste.  You can angle the bow (just support the angle with some gumpaste discretely placed behind the bow) and make the ribbon ends as long and flowy as you like.  I went for a clean look so kept the ribbon ends short and the bow flat on the cake. Attach with fondant glue or egg white. I liked the way it looked matt and so didn’t use any polishes or glitter.

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I think the cake turned out better than I’d imagined! It really was beautiful.