When first I began my cake decorating course I had the idea that the real skill in cake decorating lay in a person’s creativity. But as time has gone on I have begun to see that dexterity, or finger finesse as I like to call it, plays a far bigger part.
One of the projects we recently completed in class provides a good case in point. For the purposes of learning some traditional techniques associated with creating wired roses and leaves, we made these simple flower sprays. The leaves, roses, buds and small blossoms were all made with modelling paste, while the ribbons, wires and stamens are of course all non-edible.
Although I am not much drawn to the more traditional floral aspects of cake decorating, I did quite enjoy this project, not least because of the lesson learnt about finesse, and the progress I felt I made in developing some of it!
Let’s start with furry edges. Whenever you cut a shape out of sugarpaste with a cutter or scalpel, you are typically left with a slightly furry edge rather than a clean cut. While in some parts of the world this is generally held acceptable, it seems that in Australian cake decorating circles, particularly in the competitive realm, it is most definitely not acceptable. In class we were shown very early on how to remove furry edges from cut shapes by gently running a finger down over the edge, effectively rounding the edge over and removing the furry bits. Easier said than done.
I remember at the time our teacher saying “don’t worry if it looks like it isn’t working, just keep doing it and eventually you will get it.” I also remember thinking this was not helpful advice, because it did indeed look like it was not working, and how could I get it right if I was consistently doing it wrong? Nevertheless I pushed on through various furry-edged projects until one day at home, while completing homework for the flower spray project, I was going through the motions of running my fingers off the edges of my petals when, what do you know? the furry edges were coming off! My teacher was right – eventually I got it! And I could only conclude that somehow, through repeated practice, I had developed the necessary finesse with furry edge removal.
Finesse was equally required in covering all the wire stems with florist’s tape, as well as in taping the whole ensemble together. It needed a deft twirling of the stem with the fingers of one hand, while stretching out the tape on the other without breaking it. Likewise with taping all the elements together into one stem. The weight of the leaves and flowers together had the annoying habit of constantly spinning the whole around to the back. Much patience was also required.
The flowers and leaves in this project were not made with coloured paste, nor through being painted with petal dust, but rather through dipping. This is a technique I haven’t tried before but will definitely do again in the future.
I rather like the variations in depth of colour produced by the coloured dipping solutions. The handy thing is that if you run out of the white alcohol used in this technique, a quick trip to your liquor cabinet can provide an easy replacement. Clear alcohol such as gin or vodka serves just as well. In my case I sacrificed some Sapphire gin I had in the cupboard to provide an un-tinted wash I could dip my tinted blossoms into to lighten the colour a little. The silly post-script to this story is that I was left with about 40 ml of pink-tinged gin that it seemed a waste to tip down the sink. I thought “what the heck” and took a slug, forgetting it was neat! After the burning in my mouth subsided I carried on with my project sporting quite a rosy glow! (no pun intended, but it works rather well…).
I did try the technique of dusting parts of my roses with a dark petal dust prior to dipping, but hadn’t chosen a colour sufficiently more dark than the dipping solution and so the roses came out fairly uniform in colour.
Finesse played a tiny part in the dipping process. Immediately after having dipped the flower/leaf into the solution you must twirl it inside a tall jar (or the jar of solution itself, if of a sufficient width) to fling off the excess liquid. It required a certain amount of careful skill not to wallop them against the sides of the jar. (This was one stage at which it helped to have made spares).
Although I haven’t yet seen any obvious use for the flower spray, as an artefact of my learning it serves as a visual reminder of the progress I am making, and the finesse I am most definitely developing.