Ask an Expert: Dig into Modeling Chocolate with Mike McCarey

Join us for this week’s Ask An Expert, as we share advice from expert Mike McCarey, in response to popular questions asked by our community members within our Facebook Club I (Heart) Cake Decorating. If you have a question you’d like to see answered be sure to submit it here– whether you’re interested in knitting, quilting, cake decorating, cooking, art or more– and tune in every week to see if it’s been answered.

Now, onto this week’s intriguing questions and answers from Bluprint instructor of Advanced Cake Sculpting, Mike McCarey!

Cake Expert Mike McCarey, on Bluprint

I (Heart) Cake Decorating: What advice would you give to a decorator who is about to open up their own business?

Mike McCarey: Word of mouth is your best advertising. Don’t be afraid to do a wedding show. Meet and get to know every venue, planner, etc. you can!

Was there ever a cake you couldn’t figure out and just wanted to toss off a cliff and give up?

Mike McCarey: I never give up! I’m a Cake Marine!

What was your first cake?

Mike McCarey: First sculpted cake was the head of a cartoon cow.

Is there any type of cake you hate making?

Mike McCarey: Anything in “Barney” purple! It’s SO hard to make that color with food coloring!

What is your favorite medium to work with?

Mike McCarey: Modeling chocolate.

I (Heart) Cake Decorating: If you were tasked with making your own birthday cake, what would it look like?

Mike McCarey: It would be made out of gelato, and would look like a gelato container! I’m all about gelato (and ice cream in general).

I (Heart) Cake Decorating: What cake decorating technique took you the longest to learn?

Mike McCarey: Piping the perfect buttercream rose.

I (Heart) Cake Decorating: Do you have a favorite cake that you’ve made? Was it for family, friends or a client?

Mike McCarey: The ukelele playing, hula dancing zebra LOL. Made for my daughter’s birthday.

Cake Sculpted as Hula Dancing Zebra

What five tools would you not be able to do without?

Mike McCarey: Paring knife, exacto knife, ruler, oversize copier at Kinkos and my wooden clay-sculpting tool.

What is the best cake to use for carving? And do you carve them frozen?

Mike McCarey: I don’t freeze my cake. I use a made-from-scratch buttermilk cake that is denser than a cake mix but less dense than pound cake. And I use flavored buttercream for the filling, as this helps keep it stable.

Would you share your recipe?

Mike McCarey: It’s the same recipe that is included with my Bluprint Classes, actually! Click to get it here!

What did you find most difficult as a cake decorator in decorating cakes?

Mike McCarey: Dealing with a diverse group of demanding clients.

I’m a big fan Mike, loved your Bluprint car class… My question is.. how would you support a cake if you wanted it to look like a big bee flying?

How would you best create the illusion of it (like it’s buzzing in the air) without a straight PVC pipe covered in fondant in the middle… is there a better way? What is the best support for that kind of cake because it’s round, you said you don’t use Rice Krispies, how would you support it and still have it shaped like a ball?

Mike McCarey: It would have to be touching something. You could disguise your support in a big flower or something. As for making the ball shape, I would make a flat, round “base” out of wood, and connect to the support. I would make the underside of the “ball” shape using modeling chocolate, formed into a dome shape, the same size as the base. I’d get the flat side of the dome a bit tacky by moistening it and then it will stick to the underside of base. Add your cake on top, shape it and then finish the whole thing!

Everyone says that ball-shaped cakes are hard to cover in fondant, do you have any helpful tricks?

Mike McCarey: Cover it in halves. Cover one side (top to bottom) then the other side. You can blend the seam with fondant that you thin with water to make kind of a sticky paste.

When you sell a decorated cake, should you earn 100% of your costs or more? What do you recommend?

Mike McCarey: Your cost for materials should be approximately 30% of your price.

Customers asking for special structure in a cake, in how much time in advance should they place their order request?

Mike McCarey: I generally ask for at least two weeks.

Your car class was amazing!!! What fondant did you use?

Mike McCarey: Carma Massa Ticino Tropic

How do you color it dark brown?

Mike McCarey: I add brown liquid gel food coloring.

When I am asked to create a gum paste hi heel, I almost refuse the order.

I have no issues except keeping the shaped sole from breaking in half once the heel is attached. I’ve let them dry out for as long as 4 days, still the sole breaks (at least 75% of the time. Could it be I’ve rolled it too thin? I try to roll the gum paste to about 1/8 of an inch…thanks!

Mike McCarey: I usually just make them from polymer clay, since it’s non-toxic and no one will be eating the figure anyway. It also minimizes the drying/prep time. I think you’re on the right track, though. Try making the sole a bit thicker. Perhaps even rolling a couple of wrapped wires into the gum paste for added support (kind of like adding rebar to concrete). Good luck!

How do you make crisp sharp edges with buttercream on round cakes? I chill my cakes and put the fondant on and then it sags.

Mike McCarey: We use a buttercream that is all butter (no shortening). We ice the cakes as smooth as possible and then chill them. Once the buttercream is cold, we use a spatula to scrap the top, and bench scraper to scrape the sides, then clean off any little bits around the edge.
This WILL NOT work with a shortening icing!

The cake is chilled again before adding the fondant, which allows for a firm surface to hold the fondant. Also, the Carma Massa Ticino Tropic brand fondant I use can be rolled much thinner than many other brands, so it’s not as heavy and doesn’t pull or sag, especially on the cold buttercream.

How long have you been decorating cakes?

Mike McCarey: About 25 years now…. I need to sit down.

What do you use to color the modeling chocolate and which brand (of color do) you recommend?

Mike McCarey: For most colors, I add liquid-gel color to softened, kneaded modeling chocolate. For dark/deep colors, like black or red, I add powdered color to the melted white chocolate before adding the corn syrup.

I have one other question, Mike… We all look up to you because you do things really amazing but is there anyone you look up to?

Mike McCarey: Lauren Kitchens is the best all around cake designer I know in terms of classy wedding cakes, running a successful business and creative sculpted cakes. I love Michelle Wibowo’s work. I love all that I see on the Cakenweenie Web site and Threadcakes Web site.

For more help from cake designer Mike McCarey, be sure to sign up for Advanced Cake Sculpting, and gain exclusive access to his insights and answers to all your questions!

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