I’m frequently asked about the equipment we use for baking and decorating our cakes in our professional London bakery. Other than a trusty stand-mixer, which is possibly one of the most expensive bits of kit to have in a kitchen, I have a can’t-do-without set of equipment with which I can rustle up the simplest, yet impressive cakes just at home, and best of all, they are inexpensive and readily available online or in high street shops. Oh, and believe it or not, they are also the same bits we use daily in the professional bakery!
You can create the most simple, yet professional looking layer cakes, and the most impressive and intricately piped buttercream cakes with just a few piping nozzles. Piped buttercream always elevates a cake from nan’s-house-basic to pro-baker-impressive style. My trusty go-to piping nozzle set includes 12 piping tips in various patterns and sizes and each member of our team has them in our cake-decorating arsenal in the bakery just so no one is fighting over them. They are great for piping dollops or swirls on cupcakes, and stars, blossoms or rosettes on layer cakes, and even other patisserie items like macarons, profiteroles and eclairs.
Use them with disposable piping bags (we prefer the biodegradable ones as you’ll go through quite a few!) and practice piping pressure and technique with a steady hand on some baking parchment before embarking on your perfectly frosted layer cake.
I can’t go on enough about cranked spatulas. I’m not even sure by uncranked ones are even sold! By cranked, I mean bent, or angled.
That little angle on a palette knife is the difference between an even edge, and a SUPER even edge. It allows for more control when spreading buttercream on to sponge cake layers to make an even flush level as without the angle you’re more likely to have uneven pressure along the spatula which will result in an uneven surface.
And even layers is what we need when building up layer cakes and tiered cakes, cuz wonky won’t hold up. Angled palette knives come in various sizes and you’ll be good to go with either a medium one for small 6” cakes, or larger for larger cakes.
To get that professional smooth look on buttercream cakes with ease and speed, you NEED a cake decorating turn table. It’s literally a turntable on a short pedestal that is manually rotated. Place a cake board in the middle and pop your layer cake sponges on and spread buttercream using a spatula in one hand and using the other to rotate the turntable. It’s awkward at first as you get used to the motion, but you’ll soon see how quickly and easily you’ll be spreading smooth and even layers of buttercream to build layer cakes. It is also used to get that perfectly smooth and even buttercream finish on the sides of the cake when used with a palette knife or cake scraper.
To get a smooth finish along the outer sides of the cake, first smooth on a crumb coat by slathering buttercream all over and scrape off with spatula or cake scraper in one hand and turning the turntable against the scraper with the other hand and repeat until smooth.
Rubber spatulas are great for scraping up bottoms of bowls, folding batter, mixing up colours in buttercream, spooning frosting into gobs, basically it’s the dog’s body of the cake decorating tools.
A lot of them aren’t heat resistant though so keep them away from your usual cooking utensils if you don’t want them ruined unwittingly! Having a couple of them is handy.
No matter the recipe, your cake sponge is likely to have a dome or curved edges. To get those super even tops and layers of cake, you’ll need a bread knife (if you have a steady hand and heaps of confidence in your ability) or a cake leveller.
A cake leveller is a tight wire cutter on a handle that can be adjusted against the notches on the handle for height of sponge. Your cake sponges would need to be baked and cooled completely before torting and levelling. Simply adjust the cake leveller evenly on either side of the handle to the height you’d like to even out your baked cake sponges too, hold the leveller at a dead 90 degrees angle to the work surface and the sponge steady with your other palm on top. Slice through with the leveller in a zig zag motion backwards and forwards from one side to the other being careful with your hands.
Baking is a science, and decorating in an art form! For the science bit, you have to measure out ingredients. A lot of cake recipes use cup measures but I’m averse to using cup measures as it’s quite often ambiguous, cups come is loads of different sizes, and it’s difficult to scale up or down - say if you’d like to double the recipe to make 24 cupcakes instead of 12 or make an 8” layer cake instead of 6” (the pedants will be like, how hard is it to count cups - it’s not hard, it’s just very easy to balls up!).
So get some digital scales in - they’ll take the guess work out of what needs to be pretty precise!
A teaspoon of this, a tablespoon of that. How many times have you wondered how full the teaspoon should be? Also, how many different types of teaspoons are there?! Having just bashed cup-measures and claiming I prefer measuring out stuff, having a set of measuring spoons is extremely handy and saves time. Most recipes are often a mix of metric measures and spoon measures eg: teaspoon of vanilla extract, tablespoon of cocoa powder etc. With a handy measuring spoon set you’ll be sure to always measure out the correct levels of key ingredients like baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.
To cool freshly baked sponges quickly whilst avoiding soggy bottoms they will need to rest on a wire rack.
Wire racks are often in a grid formation so they allow the sponge to distribute its weight evenly across the surface to avoid any deep compressed grooves on the sponge and also allows air to circulate over and under to help the steam to escape efficiently and as quickly as possible. Cooling the sponges on a wire rack is important to avoid soggy bottoms as the steam doesn’t turn into trapped moisture on the base making the sponge layer seem doughy and heavy. Most standard wire racks fit up to three 6 inch sponges comfortably but if you are baking more or larger sponges then you’d want to get a few more wire racks - and no, you CANNOT stack warm sponges on top of each other!
After many years of caking professionally I am a dab hand at levelling and smoothing with just the aid of my cranked spatula BUT to get that guaranteed perfect razor sharp finish I do like to whip out the cake scraper. I prefer the plastic ones over the metal ones and in a medium 5 or 6 inch size (too tall, and there’s room for error to scrape wonky edges that end up looking like leaning towers, so the tall ones are best saved for super tall cakes).
They are best used with the help of a turntable, you’ll feel like a DJ rocking out to your own cake-tunes and marvelling at how smooth and glorious your layer cake ends up looking. They are also great for getting stripes on buttercream and you can also find sets with patterns to comb onto the buttercream if you’d like to have ridges.
This one’s a cheeky one, only because our aprons look SO COOL. But any apron will do because let me tell you, cake decorating is MESSY bizness! Food colouring is notoriously hard to get out of clothing and smears of buttercream often go unnoticed until you sit down on your sofa with a cuppa for a break, recharge and drag yourself back up on your feet only to see a lovely blue stain the size of Kazakhstan on your upholstery (Kazakhstan is HUGE - it’s the 9th largest country in the world, and equivalent to the whole of Western Europe!). Unless your sofa is blue, it’s going to be a sore spot!
That’s literally what I use on a daily basis in the kitchen and at home to whip up beautiful cakes. You can have all the kit and gizmos in your drawers but the only way to really achieve beautifully finished cakes is through practise, because practise makes perfect! You’ll be able to scrape off and scoop up buttercream to re-smooth or re-pipe over and over again to polish up technique and I promise it’s like riding a bike once you’ve cracked it and these tools will not be sitting at the bottom of your drawer. So go on, have a crack at one of my tried-and-trusted recipes - there's a whole bunch to choose from such as Coffee Cake recipe, Mermaid Cake recipe, Carrot Cake recipe, or the perfect chocolate drip cake recipe and let me know how you get on. If you have any questions about my essential cake decorating tools or have any tools that YOU cannot bake without do let me know too in the comments below!
Lots of love,
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