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The short life of a decorated birthday cake

Updated on April 10, 2012

My grandmother learned how to decorate cakes in a bakery owned by someone who had been an art major in college. That bakery's cakes, and consequently Grandma's, had something special that the average decorated cake lacks. Grandma taught my sister Diana everything she knew about cake decorating, so the tradition continues. A couple of years ago I had a chance to take pictures while Diana was decorating a birthday cake for another sister.

My regular readers on Hub Pages know that I continue another of Grandma's traditions and make chocolates. I have never attempted to decorate a cake in my life. Fortunately, the same catalogs that have my candy making supplies also carry cake supplies--and contain all the information I need to supplement my experiences watching Grandma and Diana.

Decorating cakes

Decorating cakes requires a serious commitment. For one thing, it takes a lot of equipment. The following list is not exhaustive. It's not enough for making wedding cakes, but seems like a reasonable minimum of equipment for birthday cakes.

  • A mixer and mixing bowls (not to mention lots of ordinary bowls, spoons, etc. for mixing different colors of icing)
  • Various sizes of round cake pans
  • Various sizes of square and rectangular cake pans
  • Maybe some fancy-shaped caje pans
  • Angel food cakes require another special pan
  • Cooling racks
  • A leveler for layer cakes
  • Cake boards of appropriate sizes
  • A spatula to spread icing
  • Pastry bags with couplers and lots of different tips for piping, writing, making roses, etc.
  • Broad "nails" to construct roses on--and a rack to put them on when you're finished
  • Appropriate-sized cake carriers

Besides equipment, decorating cakes requires good hand-eye coordination, well-developed fine motor skills, good sense of color, lots of imagination, and perhaps above all, lots of patience.

Buying a decorated cake

So obviously, not everyone will become a cake decorator. If you need a decorated cake and can't do it yourself, where do you get them?

The first obvious answer is the bakery. Chances are a bakery will have decorated cakes on display. You need only pick one you like. Be careful, though. Know your bakery and its standards, or you could be disappointed.

Diana worked in a bakery for a while. The chief baker was always after her to work faster and not be so concerned about making it look perfect. Fair enough for a commercial bakery. But one day he took a cake that had been on display for a few days, scraped off all the icing, and told her to decorate it again. She quit not long after that and told all her friends why. Maybe it's just a coincidence that that bakery closed within a year!

If you like the looks of cakes in a bakery, you can special order a personalized one. But apart from bakeries, every community probably has someone who occasionally bakes and decorates cakes at home. I have no idea how the cost compares with a special order from a commercial bakery, but really good home cake businesses ought to be fairly easy to find through word of mouth.

At any fairly large gathering that features a decorated cake, count on at least one person taking pictures of it. After all, once the first piece is cut from the cake, it quickly stops looking pretty. Consider for a while the years it took the decorator to get good at it. Consider the amount of time it took to bake and decorate that one cake. Consider the few minutes it takes to turn the masterpiece into a forlorn hulk. Then consider that it tastes as good as it looks. Enjoy!

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