Tools of the trade and the language of cakes….

Fondant, gumpaste, offset spatula, turntable, crumbcoat, ball tool, coupler, piping bags……….just some of the terms and tools that come with the territory of baking and decorating cakes.  We’ve also added our own addition to our list of terms; ‘caking,’ which is a term that we have coined that describes more than just baking, but includes the whole process from making gumpaste components to baking, crumbcoating, putting fondant on and finishing construction…………..

Sound familiar?  If you’ve been following our blog, you may have heard us use some of these terms.  If you have been in a conversation with us in the last year I’m positive that you have heard these terms, and if you live with us, you’re probably sick and tired of hearing these terms.

When Megan and I first started doing cakes, I would pretty much use the tools that I already had in my kitchen.  I learned pretty early on that, even though we could improvise from time to time, there were some tools that we needed and didn’t have, and eventually came to depend on once we had them.  It took the better part of a year to accumulate even the most basic tools that we need to craft the cakes that we make (please don’t ask my husband what the den looks like).  I’ve said many times before that there are so many tools that we would love to have but we try to stay focused on the cake that we are doing at the time and what we need to finish that particular cake, and besides, if we buy anymore tools with the small amount of storage space that we have, one of us will have to move out of the house.

If you go to some of the local, large chain craft stores you’ll find usually one or two aisles that are devoted to cake supplies.  They’re very basic in the cake tools that they carry so once you’ve exhausted their supply you’ll need to look for a more specialized store if you can’t find what you need.  I always prefer little mom-and-pop stores anyway and there are a couple of nice, small cake stores in my area.  I’ve also been able to find things on line when I have plenty of time and notice.

As I mentioned a paragraph ago, I heard a very good piece of advice when we first started this process and that was, “only buy what you need for the cake that you are working on at the moment.”  As much as I would love to buy everything in the store, I do try to stay focused on the cake at hand and only buy the equipment that I need for that cake.  Sometimes it’s a special cookie cutter.  In the beginning, Megan and I would cut out carboard templates and use exacto knives to cut shapes out of fondant.  I can’t believe how we spent hours doing it that way.  Now, we try to get special cookie cutters when there is a particular shape that we need and, what took hours, now takes minutes.  Remember, we are self-trained and had to learn the hard way.  I would also recommend a few sets of basic shapes; round, square, star and flowers are especially invaluable.  One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was a basic set of Ateca round cutters.  I looooooove them.  There is such a difference between them and the cheaper ones that I used to use.

We’ve always had to improvise and, quite often, still do.  Before I got the set of circle cutters for Christmas, the only cutter that I could find that was the perfect size to cut fondant for cupcakes was the lid to my antique salt shaker.  You guessed it.  I would take the salt shaker apart, wash the lid, use it to cut fondant for cupcakes, re-wash it and put it together and back on the shelf.  That was a pain.

I had an offset spatula in my drawer for years and never used it.  I had no idea what to use it for.  For a time, many of my friends were having Pampered Chef parties and I bought several of their basic tools  (I kind of can’t resist kitchen gadgets).  Now, my offset spatula is my best friend and the tool that I use to crumbcoat.  I also have a smaller one that is one of my favorite tools.  I use the smaller one, many times, when I am making a square cake to get nice sharp corners.

We really didn’t know how much we would use it at the time that we bought it, but we thought that the Wilton set of fondant tools would be a practical purchase, and so it was.  We had no idea at the time that we bought it how much we would use it.  We wouldn’t be able to make gumpaste roses and flowers without the ball tools that came with the set, although one of the tools that I really covet when I go to the cake store is a metal ball tool.  It’s just too expensive though.  So far, I’ve done fine making flowers with my little plastic ball tool, but maybe I’ll have to ask Santa to bring me one next year.

Gumpaste and fondant dry out very quickly and when you are working with them you have to keep them from drying out.  For example, recently Megan and I made an 80’s themed cake and the top layer of the cake was a Rubik’s cube.  I baked the cake, carved it and covered it with black fondant.  I passed it off to Megan to cover in multi-colored squares and she was working with six different colors at one time.  We put drinking glasses over the fondant so that we can see the colors but also keep it from drying out.

One of Megan’s favorite tools is her wooden roller.  She uses it for gumpaste only.  We have different rollers that we use for fondant.  Megan also loves her piping bags.  I had acquired a few of the cloth piping bags over the years and we used them when we first started doing cakes but we found that, with the volume of piping that we do, the disposable plastic bags work much better.

I must mention, once again, my favorite tool of all and it wasn’t purchased at any craft or cake store.  It’s my trusty styrofoam drying rack.  Because of its corners and shaped edges, it is probably the tool that we have used the most.  I wish that I could patent it and sell it.  It has propped up gumpaste people, supported hanging roses, and dried stalks of grapes and chocolate trees.  It’s silly, isn’t it, that something so simple can be so valuable to us?!

You’ve seen by now that we take lots of pictures and if you look back at our early pictures, you can see that they have evolved somewhat.  We try to take a lot of pictures, first of all because we can’t believe that we are doing this, but also because we’ve been told time after time how much people enjoy looking at pictures of our cakes.  You can probably also tell that we take a lot of what I call ‘process’ pictures.  I try to, as much as I can, record the process, although many times construction gets intense and it’s difficult to stop what I’m doing to take pictures.  It’s much easier to take pictures when Megan and I are sitting at the kitchen table working on gumpaste.

There is one more tool that I need to mention…..

This is Silver……as in “Hi, ho, Silver and away.”  I know that I am horribly dating myself here but this is my mixer and his name is Silver.  For those of you who are too young to know that phrase, it’s from The Lone Ranger, a 50’s western television show.  I loved the Lone Ranger.  He always showed up in the nick of time and his trusty horse, Silver, was always his faithful companion.  Much like Silver carried The Lone Ranger wherever he needed to go, no cake has come out of my kitchen without first passing through Silver.  He’s such a trooper.  Together, we’ve had days where we’ve done six batches of cakes and, unlike me, he never gets tired.  We couldn’t do what we do without him.  He deserved his own close up.

My Dad used to say that the right tool makes the job easier.  So true.  My Dad was a tool and die maker and always worked with his hands.  He didn’t earn a whole lot and to add some extra money to his budget, he would work on cars after he was done with his regular job.  I adored my Dad and, in order to spend time with him, I would go with him while he cleaned out a carburator or put on a set of brakes.  I was his helper and would hand him his tools as he needed them.  I spent hours in cold garages, watching him work.  My Dad was a talker and we would talk to pass the time.  He was always interested and always engaged.  We talked about everything under the sun but mostly about life and he always wanted to hear what I had to say.  My Dad did so much more for me than just take me with him to keep him company………I would always hand him the right tool that he needed at that moment.

“Hey, Megan, hand me that ruler.”

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2 responses

  1. I love this blog. I have started doing cakes too and have used some of the same ‘tools’! I love the cookie cutter idea – brilliant! What kind of fondant do you use? Thanks!

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