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How to decorate cakes - easy fancy finishes

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Deborah Reddihough Deborah Reddihough | 15:51 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2012

After last week’s blog discussing alternative ways to get a smooth finish on cakes without using fondant, here’s a round-up of alternative fancy finishes that are different to a traditionally iced cake.

There are many incredible ways of decorating cakes that don’t rely upon icing, as any French patisserie window will prove. However, most of them are also extremely difficult to make at home. If you’re a skilled baker you might like to try a fraisier, a typical French birthday cake that deserves a special mention for being both outrageously edible and exceptionally pretty. But sometimes you’re under pressure, so here are some ideas for when you need to produce something special quickly.
    
Chocolate cigarillo cake 

Chocolate cigarillos

Cigarillos are ready-made columns of rolled chocolate that are used to dramatic effect in Lorraine Pascale’s ‘I can’t believe you made that cake’ recipe. You can buy them online or from cake decorating shops and, although they can be expensive, they’re also extremely easy and quick to use - making them an excellent option if you’re short on confidence or time.
 

If you’re tempted, firstly cover your cake in a generous layer of buttercream. Next apply the cigarillos vertically to completely cover the sides of your cake. Pile soft fruit, chocolate curls or edible flowers on the top, and hey presto you have a stunning cake in next to no time.

Sponge fingers
Cakes can be decorated in the same way using sponge fingers instead.  They’re the easily available cake/biscuit hybrid that you frequently find in tiramisu and at the bottom of trifles. 

Sponge fingers can either be made at home or shop bought, depending on the time and expertise you have at your disposal. One advantage of making them at home is that you can flavour them to match that of your cake (the disadvantage being that they’re a devil to get perfectly uniform unless you’re a dab hand with a piping bag).

They’re simple to use, just attach them to the sides of your cake with buttercream. I like them best when they’re used to decorate simple sponge cakes that are topped with fresh fruit or nuts and tied with a pretty ribbon. A similar effect can also be achieved with chocolate fingers.

Chocolate transfers
These are acetate sheets embossed with a pattern made from edible colourings or cocoa butter. You’re unlikely to find them on the high street, but they are widely available online in a wide variety of designs and colours. Prices aren’t exorbitant and you don’t need any special equipment to use them.

To use, pour melted chocolate over the patterned side of the sheet, spread thinly (approximately 2-3mm) and allow to cool. Once the chocolate has set, peel off the sheet and the pattern will be left on the chocolate. Now the chocolate can be applied to your cake, either cut pieces to size or, more simply, break into shards as Edd Kimber demonstrates in our How to use chocolate transfer sheets video. If you really want to go to town here’s some inspiration for what can be achieved with practice and patience.

And finally…
My last suggestion is to almost abandon icing altogether. Different coloured layers of cake look fantastic when precision cut and stacked. The top of the cake can be decorated however you wish - you could try covering it in matching flowers, a bright fruit curd or sprinkles - but I like the simplicity and gloss of glacé icing (made with water or sieved fruit juices mixed with icing sugar).

When baking the cake, try using a génoise or Madeira sponge recipe instead of the usual victoria sponge cake as they have a closer crumb, making them easier to cut neatly.

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