The top 5 things I’ve learnt about cake decorating


My Frozen castle cake for a gorgeous girl


I spent a couple of hours last weekend creating a Frozen castle extravaganza for my friend’s 4 year old. It’s over 10 years since I attempted the same cake for MGG, and I remember it taking many hours, and quite a lot of swearing.

Possibly some gin.

Put it this way, I really felt the book was mistitled. I had taken “No Time Cakes” to mean ready in no time, not no time to do anything else. This time it took me a couple of hours to do the decorating. Which I think is down to a few things that I’ve learnt doing a cake a year for MGG for the past 14 years. So for all those who think they can’t (and I was definitely there at the start, and probably even now) then these are the key things I’ve learnt:

1. Cheat


No, I don’t really mean a Helen Mirren in Calendar Girls mussing up an M&S sponge to enter a competition kind of cheat, but don’t think you have to make everything. The version of this cake in the book had lots of piped vines and things on it. I bought snowflakes from Amazon. Much better for the theme, much better than I could do, and the kids don’t care. Squires Kitchen are my absolute godsend for these cakes, if I’ve been organised and thought about ordering in time.


2. Beg, borrow or steal a turntable.


Not for your cat to play on, or motorised, or any music playing capacity, but just a bog standard cake turntable. Could be the best fiver you spend to help with cake decorating. Certainly takes out the risk of moving the cake on the board as you work your way round the cake.


3. Have patience


I’ll be honest, I’ve never done one of these cakes in less than 4 hours start to finish, from the cake making through to the finished thing. And the worst thing you can do is think you’re going to do one of these in an hour. And then stress when you’re nowhere near finished in that time.


4. Be realistic


Not a good place to start for a beginner in cake decorating

Let’s face it, a 5ft high version of Maleficent in cake is probably not the best place to start if you’ve never decorated a cake before. I’m all for having ambition, but you will just stress yourself out. If you need some inspiration I would say a) stay off Pinterest and b) buy a good book. Whilst I joke about No Time Party Cakes, it is actually pretty straightforward, or you could try something like the Australian Women’s Weekly Kids Birthday Cakes book, which relies a lot more on buttercream.


5. The kids don’t notice the small stuff


They’re still going to react like that, and will be so thrilled. In fact there are only two harsh judges in this: other parents (screw ’em, it’s jealousy) and yourself. Be kind to yourself. The kids will remember these cakes, not for the missing detail, but for the fact that you did it. And really that’s all that matters.

So, if you’re inclined, then try it. And if you’re not at all inclined, then don’t feel like you must. I’ve generally done one a year for MGG, and very, very occasionally made one for someone else. Which is quite enough in my view. But it was worth it, as it has been each year with MGG, for that moment when the kids first see the cake. Makes it all worthwhile, for me.


Gifs from GIPHY


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Helen Tarver

Collector of great gifts and fabulous food, mum, cake baker & eater, wine opener. I write about food and the gift of it in its many forms.

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