Secrets to baking the perfect cake – from an expert (hobby) cake maker!

A perfect pink ruffle cake by Cathy KingstonEarlier I posted about my dreams of making a perfect rainbow layer cake for my daughter’s fifth birthday. In it, I mentioned an old school friend, Cathy, who is mastering the cake-making secrets to a perfect cake. Here are her top tips, and a few examples of her unbelievably intricate work! She kept insisting that she was a ‘hobby’ cake maker but to my untrained eye, she’s pretty expert to me.

Why did you get into cake decorating?

Cakes by CathyPartly because I am someone who likes to and wants to make my children’s birthday cakes – and I am also a bit of a perfectionist. Bruce and I have always done Bethany’s and Henry’s cakes together, and we have created some pretty ok cakes for novices (Humpty Dumpty was probably our favourite, and the smurf house after that). But I always felt I could do better – that is the perfectionist part of me. For a while there, I tried to find out where I could do a cake decorating course, googled TAFE etc, but didn’t find anything local. Then, as chance should have it, Bruce’s cousin did a one-on-one cake decorating course, and produced a stunning 2-tier cake in a single day. I asked her where she did it, and she gave me the details.

The teacher is actually a lady who was a class ahead of us at school back in Mackay (Eleanor Heaphy), so I contacted her, enrolled in a 6 week (7 night) beginners course, and loved every minute of it.

Has it been harder than you expected to master cake making and decorating?

Another awesome Cathy Creation!Yes – in that there is so much more to learn than I even thought possible. My current skills are only a fraction of what I would like to know.

And it isn’t just the decorating part. I bake my own cakes (and no packet mixes), so even trying to master baking the perfect mud cake is a challenge. And it is far more time consuming than I expected.

Plus, it costs heaps to do it properly, because the method I use requires quite a bit of chocolate – and chocolate is not that cheap!


Can you explain in a few simple steps, how you create one of your masterpieces?

A beautiful birdcage baked delight!Masterpiece might be a bit generous. I have only done 12 cakes! OK, simple steps:

  1. Sketch out a simple picture of what I want to make
  2. Day 1 – bake the cake(s), and make the ganache
  3. Day 2 – layer the cake and sandwich with ganache, then also cover the sides and top in ganache to get a perfectly level top + parallel sides, all perfectly smooth. Sounds easy, but this was probably my biggest challenge in the early days – happy to say I think I am on top of it now.  The ganache then needs to dry hard.
  4. Day 3 – cover the cake with fondant, and cover my board with fondant, and allow to dry.
  5. Attach the cake to the board and decorate – the fun part.
  6. Work out where the flaws are, and modify the design to try and hide these 🙂

Is it difficult learning to work with fondant?

Beary beautiful cake!The ganaching process was more difficult for me, but having said that, I am still learning about fondant. Every day is different, depending on the temperature and humidity. (Not looking forward to summer!) And because I am still learning, and I take longer and make mistakes, I am known to overwork my fondant, which it doesn’t like. Tends to dry it, and then you get cracks.

Do you have three top tips for creating amazing cakes like yours?

  1. Have a plan, but don’t be scared to modify it along the way, so that mistakes can be hidden.
  2. Don’t rush and allow time between the main steps, so that the cake can cool and “settle” – the ganache can set and dry, and the fondant can harden.
  3. Sometimes less is more.

Thank you so much, Cathy, for sharing your tips with us! I’m in awe of the skill level you have achieved in such a short time. I’m sure you could sell these beauties and have a tidy little side business going! And thanks for your tips to get me started on my own rainbow layer cake! Will keep everyone posted here!

By Cathy the Queen of Cakes

Tip top hat cake

Ta daah! Magical Mr Men cake!

3 comments for “Secrets to baking the perfect cake – from an expert (hobby) cake maker!

  1. penny
    October 16, 2012 at 5:36 am

    Wow! Those cakes are beautiful. Now you’ve really set your barrier high Felicity 😉

  2. Brooke
    October 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Those cakes are just gorgeous! I thought the Buzz Lightyear cake I did for my four-year-old’s birthday this year was pretty good, but not a patch on any of those!!

    • October 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      You know what they say, Brooke. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I’m sure that to your son, the Buzz Lightyear cake was the most awesome cake under the sun. And that’s all that matters.

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