Fiona Cairns’ cake decorating tips

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  • Baking expert Fiona Cairns has been selected to make the Royal Wedding cake for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding – a multi-tiered fruit cake with edible flowers!

    The author of Bake & Decorate (published by Quadrille, £12.99), has given us her tops tips for decorating cakes.

    From sculpting and shaping to making colourful sugarpaste characters, Fiona’s tips are invaluable for anyone looking to liven up their baking creations.

    Sculpting and shaping
    If cutting up a cake, a short spell (1 hour) in the refrigerator or freezer makes it easier to shape.


    Be generous. You’ll always need more marzipan or sugarpaste; start with the amounts specified. Always make sure the cake is absolutely cold, or it will be soggy and the icing will not stick.

    Get the foundations right
    Turn the cake upside down so the base becomes a flat top. Cracks or blemishes can be filled in with buttercream, sugarpaste or marzipan.

    Food colour
    Use food colour paste, not liquid, where you can. In either case, food colours can be a little unsubtle, so mix them up for a more interesting palette. A pinprick of brown, even black, works wonders. They are intense, so you’ll only need a very small amount.

    Adding ribbons

    Stick ribbons with a dab of icing at the back only, as it will dry to leave a mark which should be hidden.

    Hiding flaws
    Many of my cake designs are very forgiving. Any blemishes can be covered with a decoration.

    Transporting decorated cakes
    Cakes are more robust than you may think and most transport easily. When taking a cake to a venue, err on the side of caution and take a repair kit – a bag of royal icing and a few spare decorations – in the rare event that something has fallen off or broken. It is really important that cakes are stored in dry conditions at room temperature.

    Cutting a fruit cake
    There’s an art to cutting fruit cake, as it can crumble. Use a very sharp or serrated knife. Place the knife right across the cake and, with a gentle sawing action, cut into slices. Wipe the blade between each cut with kitchen towel. The knife won’t become sticky and the icing will remain clean.

    As a rule, a cake is at its best freshly baked, although many will keep well for a few days and fruit cakes need time to mature.

    Knead to make it pliable and, if it is too sticky,
    dust your hands and work surface with icing sugar. If it dries, add a
    tiny amount of white vegetable fat. Use a food processor with a dough
    hook, as it saves your muscles. Store in a sealed polythene bag at room
    temperature (never the refrigerator).

    Rolling sugarpaste
    When rolling it out, dust a dry work surface and rolling pin with icing sugar and be sure to frequently run a palette knife underneath. It’s very frustrating if it sticks to the surface. Never store asugarpaste-covered cake or decorations in the refrigerator.

    Covering a cake

    When covering a cake with sugarpaste, ensure your rolled-out sugarpaste is slightly larger than the cake and sides, and wrap it loosely around the rolling pin before smoothing it on to the cake. If there are air bubbles, prick them with a pin and rub away the hole.

    Storing a sugarpasted cake
    Once a cake is covered, store in a cardboard box, not an airtight container as it will sweat. Avoid contact with water, which will mark it.

    Colouring sugarpaste
    Colour the sugarpaste the day before you need it, as it will be easier to roll and mould. Dip the end of a fine skewer into food colour paste and drag it across the sugarpaste. Knead until it’s an even colour and you achieve the desired shade. If you need different tones, make the darker first then lighten with white sugarpaste, or it’s hard to get the same shade. With strong colours, wear gloves to protect your hands.