Loose, wet icing scoops easily into a pastry bag and flows smoothly from an icing tip. As that icing spreads over the cake however, it can slide right over the surface and into a puddle around the base of the cake. Stiffen your icing with additional ingredients to achieve the right look for your cake. From buttercream to fondant, a stiffer icing will allow you to wield greater control in the shape and form of your decoration.
A fluffy buttercream made from confectioners' sugar, egg whites and butter or shortening is a delicious and attractive way to decorate a cake, cupcake or other dessert. When buttercream is too warm or runny, you will find your perfectly piped creations slipping down the sides of the cake into sad oblivion. Stiffen a warm buttercream icing by placing it in the fridge for a couple of hours, then mix thoroughly before using. If the icing is still too wet, add confectioners' sugar a tablespoon at a time and beat to blend. You may also add a small amount of meringue powder as you beat to give your icing more body.
The trick with royal icing is to avoid humidity and heat at all costs. This icing is commonly made with confectioners' sugar, egg whites and an small amount of water or lemon juice. The game is up when the icing becomes too warm, as decorations will not set and dry as they should. When you are making your icing, make sure all utensils and bowls are completely clean with no grease residue. Place the bowl and mixing tools in a refrigerator for several minutes to make icing cold and stiff. Beat in small amounts of confectioners' sugar until the icing forms stiff peaks. Cover icing with a damp towel when you are not using and wrap a container with cling film to keep icing from drying out when storing.
Fondant is a special kind of icing in which sugar is cooked down with water to the softball stage or dissolved and crystallised. After it has cooled, it is kneaded together until it forms a soft white dough that can be rolled and shaped to create various decorations. Dust a work surface with confectioners' sugar and add more sugar to stiffen loose dough. Chill the dough slightly before working with it, if it seems runny. Rub a small amount of shortening in dried out dough to make it more pliable.
Like royal icing, heat is the enemy to cream cheese frosting; too much of it and you will find your icing at the base of your cake rather than at its surface. When making the frosting, use cold cream cheese, softened butter and confectioners' sugar in a cold bowl. Add more icing sugar as necessary to make the icing stiff. If the icing tastes too sweet, add a quarter teaspoon of salt to balance the flavour. Do not over-mix the icing, as the mixing can make the icing too soft to work with.
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