Gluten-free Cakes 101 - Pt 2 Icing
By Chef Lori Grien.
Here's Part 2 of our series on the basics of baking birthday cakes, in celebration of our 30th. Check out Part 1 Building & Baking superb sponge cakes.
Your cake is the canvas and the icing is your paint-palette. Turn your cake into a masterpiece of simplicity or multi-layered artistry with these simples do’s and don’ts for classic icings.
Basic Buttercream or American Buttercream
The most widely used and basic icing, made from butter, milk, icing (powdered) sugar and flavouring (vanilla or a flavoured extract/essence). The beauty of this icing is it’s easy to make and very forgiving.
There’s one major negative. It sets hard and tends to dry out and crack. To avoid that, cover the iced cake with plastic wrap to trap the moisture in.
Common problems come up if the butter is too cool or too warm.
Butter needs to be at room temperature (left out for about an hour depending on where you live!) and should be firm to the touch but soft enough to leave an indent with your finger.
Too warm...and the icing will split and look curdled. Too hard...and it won’t mix properly. Luckily both problems are fixable.
The trick is cream your butter first. Beat with a mixer until smooth, remembering to scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time. If your butter was too hard to begin with it’s going to take time. Don’t beat it too quickly as the friction will melt the butter causing a runny icing.
To create a smooth, aerated icing that’s evenly mixed with less chance of a split, a great tip is to divide the ingredients into 3 parts dry (sugar) to 2 parts liquid (milk) and add alternately. So start by adding a third of the sugar to the butter. Mix well, add half the milk, mix well. Repeat, remembering to scrape down the sides in between.
If your butter was too soft and the icing curdles slightly when you add the liquid, add more icing sugar right away and mix on low speed until it blends together.
You can play with the consistency by adding more liquid: I prefer a slightly thicker icing for my crumb coat and a thinner icing for my final coat.
This recipe is super easy to make dairy-free. Swap out butter and milk with your favourite non-dairy substitute. Keep in mind if you use a dominant flavour like coconut, the icing will taste like coconut.
Easily add extracts or essences to flavour the icing when using soya or rice-based substitutes which don’t have a strong taste.
Icing Cakes 101
Get your tools ready. I always use a small offset palette knife, a large offset palette knife and a large flat scraper. Pipping bags and a cake turntable are also extremely helpful. It is key you work with clean tools. Always scrape off excess icing and keep a damp cloth on hand. Lots of excess icing makes it challenging to create a smooth finish.
Crumb Coat is a thin coat of icing, like a mask, that helps create a smooth layer before the final icing goes on the cake. It fills any cracks or holes and gaps between layers. It works like a seal and stops crumbs from getting into your final coat. Crumb coat also holds the filling in on multiple tiered cakes.
Start with the top layer using an offset palette knife to spread the icing evenly from the centre outwards towards the edge. The sides next, start covering with icing at the bottom of the cake, working your way up to the top. When the side is fully covered, remove excess icing with a large scraper pressed against the cake while turning it on the turntable.
A tip to keep in mind is put a little extra pressure on the bottom of the scraper to keep it flush with the side of the cake. Remove enough excess so you can still see the sponge through it. Keeping the icing thin also keeps the sweetness level down.
Always set crumb coat in the freezer or fridge before adding the final layer of icing.
This is the base upon which to build your masterpiece. The goal here is to have a smooth, seamless canvas for your design and decorations.
There’s one rule that really helps icing a cake. Start on the top of the cake, then do the sides and finish back at top. This will all come clear as you read through the steps, and will save you a lot of grief, I promise.
Start on the top by spreading the icing evenly from the centre out towards the edge, using the offset palette knife. It’s totally okay if the icing goes over the edge. But, don’t use a lot of icing on top because later when you scrape the sides the icing pushes upwards and you’ll have to scrape off the excess, which wastes time and effort.
For the side, use a large offset palette knife or a piping bag, apply icing evenly around all sides of the cake from the bottom to the top. Then place the large flat scraper flush with the side of the cake and rotate it on the turntable, scraping off the excess in a smooth continual motion. This is when the icing tends to push up towards the top of the cake, so apply pressure towards the bottom of the scraper to help keep it flush.
After the first scrape, fill in any gaps. I like to use a piping bag for this part. Then go round the cake again with the scraper to create a smooth finish and smooth any icing at the top edge of the cake over onto the top to create a smooth finish.
Remember, little imperfections can always be covered up with your design or a simple rosette of icing. It’s always best not to over-correct.
Ganache Chocolate Drip
I always recommend using a high grade chocolate, white or dark, for best results.
White chocolate is pale yellow, so if you want to turn it white, add a ¼ tsp titanium dioxide (food grade) or food colouring specifically for chocolate. The pastes are great as it’s easy to control how much you add. I tend to lean on the side of caution with food colouring and usually use a toothpick to add colour a tiny bit at a time. It’s so easy to overdo it. Never use liquid food colouring – it contains water which makes the ganache seize or split.
There’s different ways to add a ganache, either by piping bag, squeeze bottle (my preferred method, it’s easier to control), spoon or free-flow; spinning the cake slowly on a turntable and pouring the ganache on the centre, spreading it with an offset palette knife towards the edge and dripping over the side.
With ganache it’s all about timing. You can’t make it ahead of time, because as soon as it it’s ready you have to move fast or it sets. Because it’s so time sensitive ganache can be intimidating even for professionals.
Here we go. Melt the ganache. Let it cool in a measuring cup or bowl (makes it easier to pour). As the ganache thickens and is cool to the touch, test the consistency by piping/squeezing a little along the lip of a glass blow.
If the chocolate drips slow and stands up on the side, it’s ready to go. If it’s thin and runs straight down to the bottom of the bowl, you need to wait a little longer. This is very important as there is no second chances with a chocolate drip. Keep checking because the ganache changes consistency quickly.
|You can fill the top of the cake with ganache also if you like. Add to the middle and spread out evenly towards the edge of cake, taking care to not let it drip over the edges. Voila.