Practice Practice

If you want to bake a cake for a special occasion, it's a good idea to practice your cake baking and decorating skills on a few sample cakes before you bake the actual special occasion cake. The first thing you need is a good recipe book.

Recipe Books

There are probably hundreds of thousands of cake baking books on the market so choosing the right cake baking and decorating cookbook can be hard. One thing that is important to consider with baking and cake decorating recipe books is that it is worth spending extra money to get a book with step-by-step color photographs. This way you can see exactly what they mean at each stage of the recipe. Jane Asher, the British actress well known for her party cakes, has a wide selection of beautifully photographed easy cake decorating books.

After you buy an easy to use cake decorating recipe book with lots of photographs, the next thing you need is a recipe.

The Recipe

Choose one or two standard recipes that don't have complicated instructions or difficult to get ingredients and use them as your basic recipes. Have a standard recipe for a light sponge type cake and a fruitcake recipe for a more substantial cake and adapt them as necessary. That way you will get familiar with the recipe and you won't feel pressure when it comes to making that 'special occasion' cake. You may even want to copy the recipe into a personal recipe book or onto an individual recipe card. This makes it easy to show any adaptations you make to the recipe, e.g. adding less sugar, or turning a plain cake into a chocolate cake by adding cocoa.

Even if you're using a recipe a lot, it's still possible to forget a vital ingredient so always check you have all the ingredients in the recipe before you start to make the cake. I work in a restaurant and I've been using the same recipe for about 6 years to bake a lot of muffins and cakes. And I even though I know the recipe by heart I still once managed to forget to put any baking powder in my muffins!

The Cake

Once you have the basic cake recipe down pat, and I'm sure you will have lots of volunteers to help you eat your first efforts.  You can then seriously work on the design. Of course, there is nothing to stop you making or even bulk buying plain cake and storing them in the freezer so you always have a cake available to decorate.

Decorating

Once you start decorating cakes you will want to practice the various techniques involved and get them down pat. For example, get confident with one or two of the basic types of icing , before thinking of progressing to complicated sugarcrafting techniques. If you practice your skills in advance, you will feel confident when it comes to making that special occasion cake. In fact, if you are just making a practice cake there is no reason why you can't use several different techniques on the one cake. It might look a bit strange, but you are just practicing after all! Another way of practicing and comparing methods is to decorate two or more cakes at the same time using different techniques but the same theme. That way you can compare the cakes and see which technique gives you the effect you prefer.