Cake it Pretty: Getting Started

gettingstarted-tools So you want to make a beautiful cake?  You might think dropping hundreds of dollars on the newest kitchen gadgets will yield to the most gorgeous, decadent desserts out there. However, not understanding what tools and equipment are right for your needs and how to use them might leave you disappointed.  Surely the world's best pastry chefs might be able to whip up a soufflé out of a cardboard box, but let's try avoid avenues that lead to hair pulling and sleepless nights.  Instead, I am here to guide you through some of my favorite and most utilized tools to help ease your way into baking bliss.

Stores like Sur La Table and even the baking rows at your local craft store might be daunting to the novice chef.  Cake decorating online shops even make my head spin sometimes.  Let's take a deep breath, and start with the essentials-

The Tools:


From left to right:

  1. Candy Thermometer*: used to make Meringue Buttercreams, Caramels, and more.
  2. Pastry Bag: for piping frosting, filling cupcakes, and decorating cookies
  3. Bench Scraper/ Icing Comb: smoothing frosting or creating texture
  4. Fondant Smoother
  5. Wire Cooling Rack
  6. Baking Pans: various sizes and shapes- start building a set with a medium, 8" round
  7. Baking Sheets: quarter and half sheets- make sure your oven in large enough for a full sheet before investing in one
  8. Silpat Mat*: great for keeping baked goods from sticking (like parchment) and fondant when making decorations
  9. Measuring Spoons
  10. Paintbrushes*: new brushed for baking only- use with petal and luster dusts
  11. Piping Tips: large and small- for piping cupcake icings, details, and boarders
  12. Gumpaste Modeling Tools*: to create sugar flowers and decorations
  13. Craft Knife: for making fondant cut-outs and cake toppers
  14. Measuring Cups
  15. Ball Tool*: for softening edges on ruffles and flower petals
  16. Pairing Knife: to trim fondant-covered cakes
  17. Pastry Brush: to add extra flavor with simple syrups
  18. Large Rolling Pin: for fondant, cookies, pies, pastries
  19. Off Set Spatula: for spreading frosting and cake batter
  20. Straight Spatula: for icing cakes and cupcakes
  21. Rubber Spatula: heat resistant are more versatile
  22. Cupcake Liners
  23. Disher or Mechanical Cookie Scoop: use to measure cupcake batter and uniform cookies
  24. Apple Corer*: to remove centers of cupcakes to make room for filling
  25. Small Fondant Rolling Pin: to roll fondant and gumpaste for smaller decorations
  26. (not pictured) Turntable or Lazy Susan

(*) non-essential items to getting started

If you don't already have them, it's a good idea to stock your kitchen with mixing bowls, whisks, spatulas, and a good set of measuring spoons and cups.  I prefer heat-resistant rubber spatulas.  They might come in handy later when working on the stove-top.  I really tend to favor off-set metal spatulas as well.  The small ones give you great control when frosting cupcakes, while the large ones a good for smoothing out cake batter in sheet or large round pans.  If you are looking to add something new to your arsenal of supplies, definitely go for the disher- or mechanical cookie scoop.  I always use my size #24 disher for perfectly uniform, medium sized cupcakes.  My biggest splurge (besides my stand mixer) was an Aetco turntable.  I live for this turntable!  When it comes to icing cakes, you won't know how you ever lived with out it.  Lastly, if you plan on covering your cake with rolled fondant, I insist on purchasing fondant smoothers.  Your hands are bumpy, and do not yield smooth, fondant finishes.


The Unnecessary Details:


Not every cake decorating tool is appropriate for every project.  If you never, ever plan to work with fondant or gumpaste, then you probably don't need modeling tools.  As you gain more experience, and wish to update your basics or expand your collection, I would recommend starting with the following:

  1. Candy Thermometer: After years of baking, I still wouldn't trust myself to make Italian Meringue Buttercream or caramels without one
  2. Silpat Mat:  Great for keeping cookies from sticking to baking sheets, but also useful for rolling out fondant and gumpaste
  3. Paintbrushes:  The large, fluffy ones are great for adding luster dust, while I prefer square, flat brushes (better control) for adding color to gumpaste flowers.  Fine tip brushes are great for painting! (mix gel food color with alcohol or extracts)
  4. Gumpaste Modeling Tools and Ball Tools: A basic set will do you good, especially if you plan on making gumpaste flowers
  5. Apple Core: The easiest way to remove the center of a cupcake to make room for yummy filling!
  6. Basic Cookie or Gumpaste Cutters: Sets of rounds, squares, stars, and letters.
  7. 5-Petal Cutter: perfect for learning how to make sugar roses or simple flower motifs
  8. Leaf Veiner: Usually made of silicone, leaf seiners are super easy to use and give beautiful, like-like impressions on your fondant or gumpaste
  9. Grove Board: Another good surface for rolling out small pieces of fondant, plus the groves are essential for creating wired petals
  10. Food Coloring: Gel food color to tint fondant and icings, petal dust for life-like sugar flowers, and luster dust- Super Pearl is the best!

The Personal Touches:


The idea of making special treats from home are to give it that personal touch, right?  If we wanted them to look commercial, then we'd buy them out of the box.  There are so many ways to express your personality or reflect the style of your recipient.  I have drawers full of colorful cupcake wrappers, patterned ribbon, sprinkles for every holiday, and every color of gel food paste and petal dust ever made.  Feel free to stock your supply cabinet with things that you love and that will ultimately inspire you to make your next creation.

Next up on "Cake it Pretty"- Baking Basics!