You've got what it takes to bake--but now, it's time to decorate your cakes! If you're ready to take your cakes to the next level by learning the art of cake decorating, you're going to need some supplies. But if you've hit your local cake decorating supply store, all the professional cake decorating supplies that are available can seem really daunting--and really expensive! In taking a look at my own cake decorating essentials, as well as quizzing other professionals on theirs, I've assembled the following supply list in hopes that it will demystify some of the more unusual tools and help you determine the ones that will be of the most service to you as you begin your journey down the delectable road of cake decorating.
Cake Boards: Sculpted cakes simply look best on boards that are cut to fit. Made of strong corrugated cardboard, theses boards can also be easily trimmed to fit any basic shape using your cake pan as a pattern.
Cake Lifter or Cake Spatula: It looks like a big, fatter version of the type you'd use to flip your pancakes. This one is used to move the cake (say, from your work surface to a cake board) with minimal stress or mess.
Cake Stencils: A cutout guide used for transferring an image. A simple way to get a professional effect. You brush or sprinkle the coloring substance through the perforations, and the design remains on the cake in the negative areas of the stencil. Cake stencils are great for adding a pattern to fondant topped cakes, but they also create a great effect on cakes that need visual oomph--think, a lovely white design stenciled in confectioners' sugar on top of a flourless chocolate torte.
Couplers: This is a two-part tool consisting of a base and a ring which allows you to change piping tips without changing the bag.
Piping Tips: For use with pastry bags, these tips in different shapes and sizes can create the style and personality of your cake. They're available in star, round, and french and in a few different sizes.
Digital Scale: If you're a baker, you know that weighing ingredients helps you achieve more reliable results. So it's definitely good to have a digital scale for decorating, as it can be helpful when measuring ingredients for icings and such.
Flower Nail: Shaped like a nail with a wider, flat head, use this like a mini lazy Susan. With one hand spin the nail while your other hand does the piping. It is a good working surface that gives you freer access than working directly on a cake, and the flat surface makes transferring to the cake simple. This is very useful on cakes that you plan on decorating with buttercream flowers--very nice for birthday cakes!
Fondant Roller: A non-stick rolling pin specifically designed for fondant. Guide rings will often make it easy to roll out to even thicknesses. Though, you don't absolutely need to buy a rolling pin if you already own one; you can use that as long as you're careful about sticking. In addition PVC pipe makes a great (and cheap!) alternative.
Fondant Smoother: Visually, these paddle-like tools make me think of defibrillators; they can be a lifesaver when it comes to smoothing out rough edges--literally. They are used to smooth the fondant once it has been draped over the cake for a professional, finished look free of air bubbles or bumps.
Impression or Texture Mat: Perhaps not a necessity, but again, an easy way to create an impressive result. By placing the mat over rolled out fondant, and applying even pressure across the surface, when you peel away the mat, you have a beautiful recessed design to place on your cake. A very lovely effect on simple white cakes.
Food Coloring: For the best variety of vibrant colors, invest in some gel paste food coloring or food coloring powder, also known as dusting powder. You'll never go back to the liquid kind! Ideal for tinting icings, coloring fondant, and hand painting your cake.
Gum Paste Cutter: The idea is similar to a cookie cutter, and really, some cookie cutters can be used for gum paste. However, some versions have a plunger release, which I highly recommend: you can place your cutter on the fondant, cut out your shape, and then press the release button for a clean cutout.
Modeling Set: Kit of several food-grade sculpting tools. This is a fantastic thing to have for modeling and shaping gum paste, as well as finessing or adding detail to fondant and modeling chocolate. Very nice for adding definition to flowers, leaves, and other small fondant or gum paste adornments. A basic modeling set will include a variety of tools which upon first glance may resemble dentists' tools, but really, each has valuable uses for the cake decorator. Examples include the flat-on-one-side Bone tool, which is ideal for smoothing curves, the Ball tool, which resembles a tiny ball bearing and is very helpful in making rounded indentations and lines--think veins on leaves and flowers, and the Blade tool, which, as the name might imply, is something like a scalpel and perfect for cutting out small shapes.
Offset Spatulas: An offset spatula is a slim metal spatula with a blade that has a bend, allowing the blade to sit below the handle. Use it for spreading and smoothing icings and fillings. Have a variety handy for different sizes of cakes and different colored icings. Although some prefer flat spatulas, many enjoy the greater mobility offered by offset spatulas.
Pastry Bags: These are cone shaped bags which taper to a small opening, through which various icings or fillings can be piped through a variety of different decorating tips. They are attached with couplers (see above). If you don't want to make this purchase, you can use Ziploc bags for simple piping or even make your own pastry bag out of parchment paper.
Practice Board: Think of it as the "doodle pad" of cake decorating. Generally a clear overlay which lies on top of reusable design sheets to practice various patterns and shapes.
Rolled Fondant: For a beautiful finish, many occasion cakes are topped with rolled fondant which is a pliable, dough-like topping. It is made of sugar, water, gelatin and food-grade glycerine. Its smooth appearance gives cakes a polished look, and rolled fondant is also flexible and workable enough to mold into shapes. It's readily available at craft and cake decorating supply stores.
Turntable: Why turn a cake while you frost if you can use one of these lazy-susan style turntables? It makes frosting easy as, well, cake! It's also helpful when decorating, making it easy to rotate the cake to attend to all sides without the possibility of damaging the cake while lifting and shifting.
Of course, while it's not a necessity, it's nice to have a decorating caddy (available through most cake decorating supply companies) to tote all of this fantastic gear!
While those supplies will certainly suffice, if you'd like to get even more adventurous you might enjoy some of these "wishlist" tools:
Cake Strips: A beautifully decorated cake reflects what's under the frosting, so you've got to bake your cakes right. Up your baking ante with cake strips. Just soak these strips of aluminum-coated fabric in water and then place them on the edge of a cake pan; they will slow the heat that reaches the edges of the pan, making for even baking and reducing uneven browning or too-crispy edges.
Parchment Circles: When baking in bulk, it's awfully nice to have pre-cut parchment circles handy so you can concentrate on the baking, not the setup and cleanup. They come in a variety of sizes to match popular baking pan sizes.