Cake Stencils: No-Stress, Sure to Impress
Let me set the scene: you’ve spent hours in the kitchen, baking and assembling your cake layers. Fatigue sets in, and there’s no way you feel like piping filigree or gearing up for more intense time in the kitchen. But you don’t want the cake to fall flat when served because the presentation isn’t something you’re proud of. For a display to impress, a cake stencil might just be what you’re looking for. It’s an easy way to get a professional result and scores high on the “How’d you do that?” factor.
Supplies you’ll need include a cake; a stencil; a piece of plastic, small offset spatula, or small bench scraper; and whatever you’d like to use for your image: royal icing, cocoa powder, or colored sugar are some suggestions.
First, you’ll need a cake. I know—what a fantastic thing to have on your to-do list: make a cake! But what kind? It’s really up to you. Cakes with a flat surface will work best, so I’ll show you tips for both a fondant topped cake and a cheesecake to give you a few ideas.
Next, you’ll need a stencil. You can go with a commercially produced one. Generally, these will come in round, square, and side motifs. If you like just a portion of the design, you can always cut it out from the ready-made version and choose your own adventure.
You can even make your own stencil. There are plenty of downloadable patterns to be found online. You can scale the pattern up or down to the size you desire, print it out on card stock and cut out the shaded parts using an X-acto knife. However, this type of stencil will really only be good for one or maybe two uses. If you want something more permanent, use a plastic such as mylar, which is readily available at craft supply stores. Or you could make free-form cutouts, as I have for part of this tutorial. Just be aware that these won’t be as precise looking, although sometimes depending on the tone of your cake that is OK. Or–here’s a tip–I also sometimes like to use paper cutters to get clean shapes.
Time to get to work! For a fondant covered cake, if you’re decorating on the top and sides, I suggest using soft royal icing as your medium. You can make traditional royal icing a little softer by stirring a small quantity of water into it after it has attained a stiff consistency. Consistency is especially important: if it is too dry, the icing will leave a raised design around the edges, which can be distracting. But you also don’t want it too wet, because then it can bleed or drip. I think the ideal consistency is sort of like that of pancake batter.
If you’re decorating the sides of a cake, you can affix your stencil with toothpicks. Dab the royal icing on the end of a spatula or bench scraper and spread it quickly and evenly across the stencil in a thin layer, being careful not to let the icing run off the edges. Once the area has been “painted,” gently peel off the stencil from one side to the other (rather than pulling from both sides at the same time).
Here’s a great tip for decorating the sides of a multilayer cake: decorate a section on the bottom, then middle, then top; by the time you are ready to go back to the bottom tier, your cake will be drier, making it easier to work.
If stenciling on the sides of a round cake, you may need a “spotter” to hold your stencil in place, or use this tip passed on to me by a wedding cake decorator: get some “hurt free” stretch wrap (a sterile stretchy wrap you’d use to wrap an injury like ACE Bandage; available at most drug stores). Tape it to both ends of the stencil and use this to “wrap” the cake in position. Remove the tape on one side, peel away, and let the icing dry until it is no longer tacky (about 15 minutes) before shifting the stencil to cover the next section of cake.
Stenciling the top of a cake with royal icing is pretty easy by comparison: hold the stencil in place with one hand, and repeat the spreading of a thin layer of icing over top. Once again, peel off the stencil gently, starting from one side.
Another simple way to stencil the top of a cake is by dusting it. Some fun options include cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, pearl dust, or colored sugars. In this case, simply place the stencil on top of the cake and dust a layer of powder on top using a shaker or a fine-mesh sieve; then gently lift the stencil up so as not to disturb the clean line of the design. Try to pry one edge up first with a toothpick. Be sure to bring the stencil up carefully so that excess powder doesn’t drift on to your finished design! The stenciled look can also be attained by placing a cookie cutter on top of a cake or dessert and dusting over it. Check out an example of what dusting a cheesecake with cocoa powder looks like, in these photos.
Overall, cake stenciling is low stress and yields highly impressive results! Enjoy people’s reactions as you present your masterpiece!