Adventures in cake decorating (part 4)

Handbag cake topper

Handbag cake topper

This is the final post in my cake decorating series (sob!) and covers the last two weeks of the course, both of which involved novelty cake toppers.

The penultimate class saw us attempt to make some handbag cake decorations using Mexican paste and some rather nifty templates. The premise is pretty simple – carefully cut out a handbag shape for folding up, stick the edges together with glue, and decorate. Unfortunately my Mexican paste turned out rubbish again (despite following my tutor’s advice to grind up the tylo powder first), and it cracked quite a lot. The bag I made in the class was a disaster and wouldn’t hold together, so I made another one when I got home (in the picture above) that was slightly better, but not much.

Some of the other women went all out and made lots of perfect bags complete with long straps and piped lettering, but I settled for a simple purple clutch instead, as I imagine that’s what would go on any birthday cake of mine! I would like to try this again with some Mexican paste that actually works, so I may resign myself to buying some so I can make a perfect bag too.

String footballer cake topper

String footballer cake topper

The final week saw us attempt to make a ‘string person’ using the dreaded Mexican paste and strawberry laces (we did have to sample some of the strawberry laces first in the name of research, of course). I loved making this model – perhaps because I used some paste my tutor had made! – and it was probably my second favourite part of the course after the Mexican paste lily.

As you can see, the feet, socks, shorts, top, hands and head were all made from Mexican paste, with holes carefully hollowed out in the relevant places for the insertion of the strawberry laces. The body was kept upright with the help of uncooked spaghetti thrust vertically down the neck – we could then snap off most of the protruding bit of spaghetti and stick the head on top. The eyes are little holes filled with royal icing.

This was really fun to make and I’d quite like to have a go at making other string figures – especially a cow!

So, that was the end of my adventures in cake decorating. It was an extremely positive experience overall. I think I surprised myself with some of the things I was able to do, although there was definitely room for improvement in a lot of areas. I’ll try to get some practice in at home when I get time, and maybe think about enrolling on another course in future to make sure my newly acquired skills aren’t forgotten!

I would definitely recommend looking up your nearest cake decorating course if you think you might like to give it a go. Mine took place at my local community centre and is run by one of the colleges in town, so maybe have a look at what your local college has to offer!

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Adventures in cake decorating (part 3)

Mexican paste lily

A few weeks ago we tackled what was probably my favourite part of my cake decorating course (which finished this week) – creating a lily with a sort of 3D effect out of Mexican paste.

First, we made the round base for the flower to go on and crimped it around the edges. Then, we used a lily patchwork cutter (this one) to make a slight imprint on the base to show us where to place the petals and leaves.

Next, we rolled out some Mexican paste mixed half and half with sugarpaste. It had to be really thin to create a delicate flower effect. We used the patchwork cutter to cut out the entire image and stuck the different parts to the base, which was a little fiddly – especially the pollen! We then used some dusting colours to lightly colour the lily.

The final bit was cutting out some more of certain of the petals and leaves to create the 3D effect. These were stuck to the flower already on the base, but we only put glue along one or two of the edges of the petals/leaves and kept some rolled up tissue under the loose parts to make sure they dried in the right way (if we hadn’t propped them up with tissue, they would have just dried flat). Finally, we brushed on another coating of colour.

Mexican paste lily

Mexican paste lily close-up

I’m really pleased with my effort – it was by the far the best thing I did on the course! I really liked using the dusting colours and will definitely be looking to do something similar again soon.

Adventures in cake decorating (part 2)

I’m about a month into my cake decorating course now, and I don’t feel like I’m getting much better at it! I am, however, coming to appreciate just how difficult it is to create those wonderful feats of decoration that you see on lavish wedding and birthday cakes. What really drove this home was when we recently made a little figurine out of Mexican paste.

Mexican paste is basically a type of icing that dries really, really hard – ideal for fiddly models, but not so much for eating! Making the Mexican paste itself shouldn’t be that difficult, as long as you can source gum tragacanth (or a substitute, like tylo/CMC powder) and liquid glucose. I found my tylo powder on eBay and the liquid glucose in a large Morrisons.

When you come to mix it, you’ll find it stays quite dry and powdery for ages before it comes together to form something quite similar to sugarpaste. However, something went wrong with my mix and I had to add much more water than the recipe called for to get it to come together. It was still a bit too dry after it had matured for 24 hours, so I made another batch last week – and the same thing happened again! My tutor said it’s possible there’s a problem with my tylo powder, so just be aware of this when buying yours.

Anyway, I managed to do some work with the original batch of Mexican paste despite all that. We spent the entire two-hour lesson making a model of a girl, complete with a dress, hat and all limbs intact. I found it pretty difficult because we had to concentrate on making several very small parts, which had to be the right size and had to be affixed to the model in the right way. Unfortunately, I fell behind a little and had to accept help from the tutor to get it all done on time, which I hated but it had to be done.

Mexican paste model

Mexican paste model

You can see the results of my (or our) efforts above. We made the legs first, then the dress, head, hair, hat, hands and shoes. Mine doesn’t look as delicate or detailed as some of the other women’s models, but I’m still pretty happy with it! I’m not sure if I would do this again off my own bat, especially because I seem to be unable to get on with making Mexican paste, but I certainly appreciate the hours that expert cake decorators put into making bigger, more elaborate models!