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Emma’s Iced Cake with Teddy!

In preparation for my daughter Alice’s first birthday in May I booked myself onto a beginners sponge cake covering and character modelling course run by Inspired Creations.

The class is an intensive, technical workshop where  Hannah Collison (the founder of Inspired Creations) teaches you the art of splitting, filling, crumb coating using butter cream and covering sponge cakes with sugarpaste, to a perfect, professional standard.

My previous attempts to cover a cake in sugarpaste have always left me feeling frustrated and dissatisfied.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has desperately tried to cover the cracks in their christmas cake with iced snowflakes or flowers(!)

In preparation for this course we were asked to bring:

15cm (6″) round Madeira cake

1 batch of Butter cream

1kg white sugarpaste

23cm (9″) round drum board

23cm (9″) box

1m length -12mm width ribbon to put round the edge of your cake board

Double sided tape (to stick ribbon onto board)

25g CMC (powder that firms up sugar paste for modelling)

Small freezer bags

Cocktail sticks

Parcel String (50cm length for measuring your sugar paste)

15cm (6″) round tin (in which your cake was baked)

My first mistake was to leave getting everything I needed for the course to the last minute. Don’t assume you’ll be able to get everything you need from one shop. My local Lakeland had sold out of 23cm round drum boards but luckily I was able to purchase one from the college on the day. I went to a haberdashery and they only had 15mm ribbon (not 12mm ribbon) err! Basically I was stressed before I even set foot in Hannah’s beautiful Caterham studio on the Saturday morning of the course. So note to self for any future courses – get list of equipment needed for course ready a few days before the event Never leave it to last minute!

How to split a cake.

Split the cake using a serrated knife or cake leveller. When splitting cakes with a serrated knife your cut will not be perfectly level. You need to know which way to replace the top laver. A tip I picked up is to insert one cocktail stick into top and corresponding bottom layers on one side and two into the opposite side to act as a guide.

Hannah’s top tip for levelling off the top of a sponge cake was to place a coaster (two if the cake is very shallow) in the bottom of the tin it was baked in, then cover the coaster with a square of baking parchment to prevent contamination and place the cake back in the tin. Now the cake is raised to a height where you can accurately level off the top with a knife. Reassemble the cake so that the bottom layer of your cake is now the top layer as it gives you a perfectly flat finish. Once reassembled each cake should be at least 7cm (3inch) deep.

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butter cream

How to Cover the Cake with Butter cream

Using a palette knife cover the cake with a thin layer of butter cream. Coat the sides and top of cake with butter cream, smooth over and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up and the butter cream to crust over. Take your time with this stage as the smoother your buttercream is the smoother the finishing of your icing will be. The secret of a perfectly iced sponge cake is all in the preparation.

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Cake covered in butter cream

How to cover a cake in sugarpaste

Pre colour all the sugar paste using colour paste of your choice or leave it white as I did. On a clean dry surface, work/warm up the paste until soft and pliable. The reason sugar paste cracks when rolled out is it that it has not been worked enough beforehand. (No more cracks in  Christmas cakes – yey!) Avoid folding in air as you ‘knead’ as this will create air bubbles in your paste. (You are not kneading bread.)

Take your cake out of the fridge and using a palette knife dipped in very hot water and dried with a kitchen towel, smooth over the butter cream on each cake making the surface tacky to the touch. Take your time with this stage. Remember perfect icing is all about the preparation!

Measure up one side, across the top and down other side of the cake using string; this will give you the diameter needed to roll out the sugar paste. Dust the work surface with icing sugar. Roll out the sugar paste evenly to thickness of 0.4mm. Ensure it does not stick.

Top tip! Corn flour should never be used instead of icing sugar when preparing and coating your cake. The finish will be smeared and more importantly fermentation could occur which would cause the cake to have a ‘blown’ surface with your paste bubbling upwards and eventually splitting.

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Flipping sugar paste onto cake

This is the tricky part(!) Flip the rolled out sugar paste carefully over your rolling pin.  Have your cake nearby. Lift the rolling pin above the cake, lining up the position of the sugar paste and gently unravel in onto the cake.

Rub a smoother over the cake top carefully eliminating and air pockets until you achieve an even, level surface. Using your palm in a gentle rubbing motion, smooth the sugar paste around the top bevel edge of the cake, this will prevent any stretching or cracking.

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Sugar paste smoother

To secure the paste to sides and remove any pleats – work on the side furthest away from you, lift up any excess and open out the pleats, cup your hand to form a scoop, use the side of your palm to stroke in an upward motion, working down the cake from just below the top bevelled edge.

Trim some excess sugar paste from the cake base, repeat the above step; remove all pleats. Using a smoother bevel side down, press inward to smooth sides. Then turn the smoother over, straight edge facing down, draw around the base of the cake to create a cutting line.  Cut off and carefully remove any excess paste with a palette knife.

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Teddy bear modelled from sugarpaste

Top tip! Rubbing the palm of your hand over the surface of the cake will help dissolve any excess icing sugar and will give the cake sheen. Ideally leave the covered cakes overnight to dry before attempting to stack or decorate.

If anyone has ever battled with air bubbles between their icing and butter cream you can remove them by inserting a sterile pin vertically through the sugar paste layer.  Remove the pin and use the smoother to press out any excess air, use your fingers to brush over some icing sugar to hide the hole.

Character Modelling

I’m not sure I’m OCD enough to ever become a master at covering cakes in sugarpaste. However I did fall in love with character modelling and am very proud of the teddy bear I produced in a short space of time at the end of the class.

I added GMC powder to my sugar paste to firm it up for modelling. The paste was died with a yellow and brown colour paste. I rolled a piece of sugarpaste into a cone for the teddy’s body. To add texture I gently moved the cone shape over a bead board so the bear would look like he had fur. Then I used smaller amounts to roll out two legs and two arms, again adding texture with the bead board. I attached the legs and arms using cake modelling glue. A 1/3 of a stick of spaghetti was inserted into the top of the bears’ body to hold the head in place. The ears and the nose were made from sugar paste I dyed brown. However I did use some already made up black sugar paste to make the nose and eyes as dying your own can leave it looking more blue than black.

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My Icing Teddy! (:

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Hannah Collison’s teddy bear

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You even get a certificate!

The beginners IC certificate includes three further modules:

Module 1b – Fruit Cake Covering and Simple Designs

Module 2 – Character Modelling Skills – Scarecrow Character

Module 3 – Wired Sugar Flower Skills

Module 4 – Royal Icing Skills – The Basics

Please see Inspired Creations website for further details.

I had a great day and learned loads. Hubby was very pleased the results of my efforts too!