"A lot of cooking and baking seemed to happen during Lock-down. How many people have become sourdough experts?!"
Go easy on yourself.
Before we get into the specifics it's important to remember that sometimes a decorating job might not be completely even, or it might not look the way you pictured in your head. And that is totally fine. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. While we do eat with our eyes, we do a whole lot more eating with, well, the eating part. You made someone something delicious and that's what counts.
Sprinkle as if your life depends on it.
A great way to disguise, distract and generally add colour and luxe layers is to sprinkle things! Mix sizes and textures for the best effect. Edible petals, chopped chocolate and nuts, various sprinkles - all have their place in your decorating arsenal. Don't forget that sprinkles aren't just for the top - pressing them up the sides of a cake can give it a great fun look.
You can even make your own sprinkles and customise the colours to match what you're decorating. All you need is some royal icing, food colouring, a piping bag and a looooooong piece of baking paper - find the recipe here.
It's a great project to do with kids - you can take turns piping out the lines of icing! Experiment piping small shapes like hearts, stars and flowers and letting them dry so you can use them as decorations on cupcakes.
And drizzle too.
Sometimes all your cake needs is a little bit extra, and making a full buttercream is too much. Sometimes your cookies or small cakes need a little pop of colour or contrast to lift them up. A drizzle of glaze is all you need.
If you're topping cookies or loaves with a glaze, test a bit first to see if it settles the way that you like - if it's a bit thin and it's soaking in then add more icing sugar and try again (you can eat that test cookie and no one will be the wiser) and if it's too thick you can add a little more liquid. And if it doesn't come out as neat as you had hoped, refer to the previous tip about sprinkling!
When you want that ganache feel but don't have any chocolate try this quick fudge glaze - it's perfect for topping a bundt cake that doesn't need much more, or making a drip or swirl pattern on top of a buttercream base.
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons unsalted Westgold butter
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons dutch cocoa
Dash of vanilla
Melt all the ingredients together in a small saucepan, whisking all the time. Let the mixture bubble for 30 seconds before taking off the heat to cool. When the fudge has thickened but is still pourable, drizzle as desired.
Whip it, whip it good.
Sometimes what you really need is fluffy buttercream and there is no way around it. There are two easy tricks to silkier basic buttercream. More butter than you're probably used to. And whipping the living daylights out of it.
Try the recipe below for a simple american style buttercream, but try whipping it for a long time. If you have a stand mixer then it's a bit easier, but patience is the key here. Let it run a full five minutes longer than you normally would and try it. You'll find that over time it loses its graininess, gains a lot more volume, and needs less liquid overall. As it whips the butter absorbs more sugar and dissolves it, and air is worked in which makes the texture more mousse-like and spreadable.
80 grams unsalted Westgold Butter
250 grams icing sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
Dash of vanilla
Beat the butter on its own first to make sure it's smooth and there are not cold lumps. Add the sugar and beat slowly to combine before slowly adding the milk. When everything comes together add the salt and vanilla. Turn the speed of the mixer (stand or hand-held) up and whip for several minutes until fluffy and soft.
Brush loose crumbs off your cake before starting, and if you have enough icing, do a very thin coat of icing all over the exterior surface to stick any crumbs down before doing the final icing. A crumb coat will keep the final cake looking smooth and tidy.
Don't forget that practice makes perfect so keep at it - I'm sure your delicious treats will find a welcome audience as you experiment!
Have fun; Kearin Armstrong, Wellington Bakehouse