There actually are ‘secrets’ to being a good baker!

My new goal - the perfect rainbow cake!Secrets to being a good baker. Top tips for perfect sponges. Handy hints for creative cupcakes. You can be a cake decorating dream! Whenever I read those words I think, “Sure, sure. It’s just practice, experience and time. Anyone can do it”. But that’s not exactly true. And on the other hand, it sort of is true. Allow me to explain…

The spectacular rainbow cake! Boy, I really AM a good mother! Matilda’s fifth birthday is coming up soon and I’ve got my heart set on making this rainbow birthday cake for her, from one of my favourite foodie blogs Oven Love. It’s been doing the rounds for quite a while and I’m sure everyone has seen it. Visually, it’s dynamic. I would decorate this one differently to the one in the picture. I think I will use smarties to cover it completely and utterly in rainbow coloured smarties over the top of the white fondant. Naturally, you’re thinking what I’m thinking. And no, I’ve never worked with fondant in my life and I understand it’s quite tricky. So, yes, I’m a little nervous. Luckily, I have a dear school friend who is a cake queen and makes extraordinary cake creations for a hobby. So I’m turning to Cathy in my hour of need for her tips and tricks for working with fondant.

Matilda's fourth birthday cake - a ladybug!I’m not a great baker, but what I lack in skill I certainly make up for in enthusiasm. I will happily tackle things that are out of my abilities range, figuring if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know. And in doing so, I often learn plenty, which helps the next time I tackle a project. That’s how we all learn, right? For Matilda’s fourth birthday, I attempted my very first Ladybug Cake, which is pretty simple but was a step up for me.

I buy lots of baking cook books and while I rarely enjoy making dinner, I do enjoy making cakes. I guess this makes my skill level an advanced beginner. I think I’m verging on intermediate level with my ladybug creation (see right) that I made for Matilda’s birthday, taken from the awesome Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake bestselling recipe book. It looks like a ladybug, doesn’t it!?!

I’m going to get plenty of practice in ahead of Matilda’s big day (November 9) so will have a crack at it this weekend.

Pirate face cake from KidspotAnd I think, if I can conquer the rainbow layer cake, I might tackle this awesome pirate face cake for the boys’ birthday next year. The pirate face cake recipe is on Or, if the rainbow layer cake is a disaster, I’ll just buy them a Spiderman cake from the shops! But the pirate face looks pretty simple, right? Just a round cake covered with fondant. No cutting or shaping involved. Will keep you posted!

Here are Cathy’s top tips for tackling the rainbow cake:

  • Use a cake mix that is fairly white. The planet cake white choc mud cake recipe is pretty good – or go a vanilla type cake. Yellow buttercakes will make it hard to get the colours right.
  • I would use good food colouring (Wilton or Americolor) gels/pastes – not the watery supermarket food colours.
  • Fill your cake pan to about the height for each layer. It is really important to line your tins properly, and place baking paper on top of the cake batter too. And never bake a mud cake/butter cake above 150C. You want slow baking so that it stays moist and cooks evenly. It takes longer – but is worth it.
  • Trim the tops of the cakes, to get level layers of the same height. Bruce and I use a large sharp knife resting on a small measuring cup, and turn the cake as you cut.
  • Fondant and ganache is tricky when you don’t know how, so I would use a yummy buttercream to sandwich the layers and coat the outside. My favourite is Italian Meringue Buttercream – happy to give you a link to the recipe. For kids cakes I do half of it, and half standard buttercream mixed together.
  • Don’t use too much buttercream between the cake layers, or else things might start to slide.

For more on Cathy and her awesome cake creations, check out my profile on her, found here.

And finally, in newsagents now is the magazine series from DeAgostini: Cake Decorating – Learn how to create beautiful cakes. This series comes with a sensational set of freebies to help you build your cake decorating mad skills and it really does reveal secrets to becoming a better cake maker. Also, they give you the idiot’s guide to making fancy-pants accessories to put on your cake masterpieces. It’s great.

Cake Decorating: Learn how to create beautiful cakesI’ve got two sets to give away. Just leave a comment below describing your greatest baking triumph, or your greatest baking disaster for a chance to win.  Sorry, this competition is open to Brisbane readers only.

12 comments for “There actually are ‘secrets’ to being a good baker!

  1. Carley
    October 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I used to think I was reasonably good at baking until I started attending some friends bday parties for their little ones, wow these girls can turn out some stunning kiddies cakes!
    So far my best effort was a tennis racquet & dinosaur and my least enthusiastic efforts involve baking a packet cake (gasp) and leaving the youngest in the family to decorate with lollies, icing & anything edible in arms reach.

    I am still haunted by the casserole I made years ago with so much love & care, it wasnt just a throw it all in and off you go casserole it had lots of steps & various techniques which I battled though and finally put in the oven. The table was set there may have even been candles, feeling rather proud I removed it from the oven straight to the table ready to be dished out, I turn to get a spoon to serve when it explodes… literally glass & casserole all over the table…. Something to do with the hot glass being placed on cold according to hubby, he found it hilarious until he realised none of it could be salvaged because of the chance of ingesting glass!

    I like to bake, mostly, am just not that great at it! 🙂

    • October 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      I’m a bit the same – love baking, but not great at it. Congratulations Carley! You’ve won an awesome cake magazine set from DeAgostini!

  2. Harry
    October 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I love to bake, just last night I made an apple & rhubarb crumble which was delicious and my best effort yet!

    Cupcakes, muffins & cake decorating are my speciality!

    I have a great recipe book that am slowly picking things out of to cook/bake, if only the pantry & fridge were stacked full of ingredients then I could really get cooking!

  3. Caroline Ryan
    October 12, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Great article. I remember making a baked cheesecake for my father-in-law but I have put the base of the springform tin in upside down and the contents spilled on to the floor as I picked it up!!

    • October 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Oh no!! That’s a little bit funny! Congratulations Caroline! You’ve won a magazine cake decorating set from DeAgostini!

  4. Yvette
    October 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I have to agree Felicity takling kids cakes is fun. I am not a cook by any stretch of the imagination, I have a handful of dinners I am good at (maybe ok it a better description) and seem to rotate between them, sometimes exploring something a little different.

    But when it comes to kids birthday parties, it brings back fond memories for me. I would spend months looking through the cake cookbook (the classic women’s weekly which I proudly own now to!), to pick the perfect cake, my Dad happily boosted “any cake you want honey, any” and he would make it and to me it was always perfect. Now I do the same for mine, and while they are not perfect I do my best, and in there young eyes I am sure they think it’s perfect. Best of all it’s fun!

  5. Crazy Cat Lady
    October 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I made cake pops for my younger son’s birthday last year with mini ice cream cones rather than using sticks. Everyone loved them, and as they were dipped in white chocolate to look like ice creams, they kept for days afterward.

    If you like the whole rainbow theme, something really cool that I have seen is oranges cut in half, the flesh removed from the skin, then the skin filled up with jelly and put in the fridge to set. You can do lots of colours, then cut them into wedges once the jelly has set and make a jelly rainbow out of all the coloured wedges. You can also add vodka if you are having an adults only party and want to do something a bit different.

    • October 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      I love it!! That is *awesome*!! And I”m totally stealing the ice cream cake pop idea for Matilda’s party. AND I’m going to do the jelly vodka wedges for my birthday bash next October! Totally cool. Thanks CCL!

      • Crazy Cat Lady
        October 12, 2012 at 5:21 pm

        I’m glad I was able to help. My younger boy turns 2 this month and I was thinking of making them again, but colouring the white chocolate on the outside so that they are rainbow coloured. I meant to do them for my older boy’s birthday last year, but his birthday is on NYE and we had moved 2 days before Christmas, so he got a bought cake instead. Maybe this year I will be more organised. 🙂

  6. penny
    October 13, 2012 at 5:28 am

    OMG parallel lives! I made the ladybird for my daughter’s third birthday and I made the rainbow layer cake for her 9th! It turned out really well and no one guessed it was a rainbow cake inside (only problem was french kids hate icing but I knew that already after 5 years!). Good luck! I love making my kids birthday cakes. I recently made an album of all the photos on FB as they were each special in their own imperfect way. I’ve lent my Woman’s Weekly birthday cake book to an acquaintance here and I hope I get it back! have fun 🙂

    • October 13, 2012 at 10:06 am

      That’s so cool! Thanks, Penny. Will post my progress on here. All tips gratefuly accepted.

      • penny
        October 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm

        Its quite an easy cake really, easier than the ladybird. A few tips: I made a batch of cupcakes a few days before and separated the mix and made them all different colours to check I was happy with the colours I had (I wasn’t so I bought some extra colourings). If when you cook your cakes they have any browning on the top, slice it off. I didn’t and when I cut my layer cake, you could see a faint outline of brown around some of the colours (which of course, no one noticed but which pissed me off!). And if you end up using butter cream instead of fondant (coz honestly, fondant looks great but tastes like crap!), always do a crumb coat of icing first and put it in the fridge for a while before doing your proper coat of icing. Have fun! I’ll be interested to hear how it goes.

I would love it if you would tap out a few words here!