Prepping Cakes for Decoration

One of the secrets to creating a beautiful, decorated cake is in proper preparation of the cake prior to decoration. But before you even start, make sure you have the proper equipment for the job. To prep a cake, you'll need:

*Simple sugar syrup or melted fruit jelly (seedless currant, seedless raspberry, or apricot work well)

*A very large medical syringe or pastry brush    

*A long serrated knife

*Inset spatula or icing spatula

*Cake plate, large cutting board, or lazy susan

Thinnest Layer

Start by using the knife to trim the top and bottom crusts of your cake rounds. This helps to level your cake but also removes the crust prior to brushing the cake with the simple syrup. The syrup helps add moisture to your cake. But if you leave the crusts, they will turn pasty when brushed with the syrup. Remove the thinnest layer of crust possible. A good knife will ensure that you merely scrape away the bottom crust. It should easily separate from the cake.

Trimming the sides is a good idea, too. The cake should be placed on a steady surface such as a cake plate or flat cutting board during trimming. A lazy susan is ideal for this purpose. Using your knife hand, score the edge of the cake where you want to start cutting. Turn the cake so you can score it around its diameter. Keep your knife as level as possible, as you use a gentle back and forth motion to remove the side crust, a bit at a time, working your way around the cake. Turn the cake around 45 degrees prior to each cut.

Syruping Cakes

Next you'll sprinkle or brush the cake with the simple syrup. This is also known as "syruping." Professional decorators prefer not to use a brush for this technique when applied to sponge-type cakes since a brush tends to create and spread crumbs. A large syringe is ideal for applying syrup to the cake as long as it is reserved for this use. If you prefer the melted jelly, a pastry brush may be preferable because of its thicker consistency. After spreading or sprinkling allow the cake to dry until it is tacky before continuing. This technique not only adds moisture to your cake but once the coating dries, prevents crumbs from messing up the beauty of your icing application.

Crumb Coating

A thin layer of icing is next applied and allowed to dry. Don't worry about the look of this coating. The entire purpose of this layer of icing, much like the syruping, is to prevent crumbs from ruining the surface appearance of your iced cake. Icing is placed on the top of the cake and spread from the center out in a circular motion. The excess icing is then brought down over the sides of the cake with your inset or icing spatula. Spread the icing onto the sides of the cake, going in one direction only. Allow the icing to form a thin crust before continuing with your final, decorative coat of icing.