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Demo: Sharp edges on cake layers

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#1 lovkel

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Posted 10 July 2005 - 09:45 PM

I have been lurking for weeks, but this is my first real post. I've been free-lance decorating for about 4 years now, but I need some 'skill enhancement' (a.k.a. HELP).

I have just accepted a wedding cake for this August that sucks. It is 4 square layers smooth frosted.

That's it.

Oh, O.K. the layers are slightly separated and roses are stuffed in between, but from a cake decorator's (a.k.a. MY) perspective, this cake sucks. The cake layers are UNDECORATED! There's nothing, no piping, no flowers, NOTHING at the corners underwhich I can hide my mistakes. I can't include a pic of the cake because I can't figure a way to get from the website (it's in a Shockwave animation), but it's at www.cake-jewelry.com.

My problem is that I am not at all good with make sharp corners on square cakes. Does anyone have any hints, suggestions, ideas?

#2 chiantiglace

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Posted 10 July 2005 - 09:56 PM

make sure you make a seal first layer on the cake to hold all the crumbs and quick freeze. Then drag your buttercream all the way off the corner in one motion. Bring the spatula back the other way to cut the excess around the corner. You might need to do a couple thin layers to get the hang of it.
Dean Anthony Anderson
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#3 kitchpig

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Posted 10 July 2005 - 10:05 PM

Your cake sounds like the wedding cake Martha Stewert did in Julia Child's book 'Baking with Julia'. It's an illustrated step by step with many helpful hints, including sharp corners. It might be on Martha's web site also. Good luck!

#4 JeanneCake

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 03:45 AM

Regardless of whether your cakes are two, three or four layers of cake with buttercream filling, make sure that as you're building the cake, the corners are level and straight (it is easier to correct any sagging as you're building it). Spin it around so you see it from each side - make sure the table you're working on is level, too. I use a #8 Ateco tip to fill cakes with, and start by putting a big blob of buttercream in each corner first, then piping lines to fill in. Do you bake in 3" or 2" high pans? If you use 2" pans, and torte each one in half, you have two bottom layers to work with - it may help to use one of those as the top of the cake.

Use a paint scraper or bench scraper to smooth the sides and top (there's a picture in chefpeon's thread on the flower pot baby shower cake of the paint scraper thing - I used to use a bench scraper but got a paint scraper at her suggestion - it's longer so it is better/easier than the bench scraper). smooth the icing on the sides first and there will be a top edge of icing that extends above the line of the cake. Use the scraper at the corners and swipe it toward the center of the cake to eliminate that top edge. If you haven't used a scraper before, it is good to practice to get the hang of it - maybe make some 6" square cakes to practice with before you do the client's cake. Good luck!

#5 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 08:28 AM

I agree, getting perfect square cakes is a challenge. Two things that really help me are:

Using a wide spatula, I use a drywall trowel that's as wide as my cake is tall.

Icing it once (I'm not talking about a pre-coat), refridgerating it, then going back over my cake with more frosting to really hit the edges and corners that tended to sag or be off the first time I frosted my cake. So the first layer of frosting has set up firm/hard (something a unfrosted cake doesn't do) then my second coat perfects my corners. Oh also and the second coat..... I don't pipe that frosting on. I apply it only where needed with my trowel.

P.S. Welcome to the eGullet Society For Arts & Letters Lovkel! I'm happy to see you've decided to post........I hope any other lurkers will follow your example and post away........we're a friendly group and enjoy seeing new members participating.

#6 lovkel

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 10:06 AM

Thanks for the suggestions so far.

2 other questions.

1. Presently, I only have the Wilton 'square' pans. They have rounded edges. Should I jettison these for pans that are actual squares?

2. I have been using a shortening/powerder sugar/egg white frosting for the simple fact that it's white and gets crusty. This cake is to be ivory and is undecorated, is there another frosting which may simplify the task of getting sharp corners?

My fillings are usually based on the Neoclassic buttercream from "The Cake Bible" and completely inappropriate for frosting the outside of a cake in summer.

#7 chiantiglace

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 10:47 AM

Rolled fondant will make your life much easier for a squared cake, with rounded edges too. There are many more fillings that you can use, that i think are more professional than cake bible, but I won't say too much about it because theres a lot of people that get touchy when it comes to RLB :blink:
Dean Anthony Anderson
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#8 bkeith

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 11:17 AM

I learned this technique from a retired bricklayer. It's something that would take me about 5 seconds to show, but I may not be able to describe adequately at all. Here goes:

After your base coat has set up, get your icing nice and smooth and bubble free. Spread icing on the sides and top of your cake. Now, we're going to work on this corner of the cake (pardon the ASCII graphics -- not a treat in HTML):



__________________| <-- apply icing here
hold spatula here ^


Hold a small straight spatula in your left hand (assuming you're right-handed) vertically, just at the spot where you want the corner to be, blade parallel to you. Hold it still - you're using it as a brace or dam. With a spatula in your other hand, apply dabs of icing, adhering to the corner of the cake that's running away from you. With each application, pull your right hand back toward you and scrape the icing onto the stationary vertical spatula. Build up the corner like that all way up the cake side. When you've got a nice-looking corner, remove the stationary spatula by sliding it gently to the left so that you're not pulling away icing but rather doing a slight smoothing motion on the near side.

Hope that makes sense. If not, I'll see if I can photograph the process after I'm done with class tonight. I should only need 3 or 4 hands to do it. :wink:
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#9 lovkel

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 11:37 AM

Rolled fondant will make your life much easier for a squared cake, with rounded edges too.  There are many more fillings that you can use, that i think are more professional than cake bible, but I won't say too much about it because theres a lot of people that get touchy when it comes to RLB :blink:

View Post


I use the Neoclassic because I like the flavor with the cakes that I use. It pairs wonderfully when mixed with Strawberry conserve and banana cake. However, I am not a huge fan of RLB, I like her philosophy, but I have never been a huge fan of her cakes.

I LOVE to experiment, what other fillings would you recommend. I read egullet (especially this forum) avidly because I want to LEARN and from what I've seen I have a LOT of that to do. :laugh:

#10 lovkel

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 11:42 AM

After your base coat has set up, get your icing nice and smooth and bubble free.  Spread icing on the sides and top of your cake.  Now, we're going to work on this corner of the cake (pardon the ASCII graphics -- not a treat in HTML):



__________________|    <-- apply icing here
hold spatula here  ^


Hold a small straight spatula in your left hand (assuming you're right-handed) vertically, just at the spot where you want the corner to be, blade parallel to you.  Hold it still - you're using it as a brace or dam.  With a spatula in your other hand, apply dabs of icing, adhering to the corner of the cake that's running away from you.  With each application, pull your right hand back toward you and scrape the icing onto the stationary vertical spatula.  Build up the corner like that all way up the cake side.  When you've got a nice-looking corner, remove the stationary spatula by sliding it gently to the left so that you're not pulling away icing but rather doing a slight smoothing motion on the near side.

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Okay, I've read this several times and I think I understand ... kind of. The spatula in the left hand, is the flat of the blade flat against the side facing you, OR is the flat of the blade acting as an extension of the side that's running away from you? I believe it to be the latter, but I want to be sure. :biggrin:

#11 chiantiglace

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 12:42 PM

well, wedding cakes can be tricky with fillings. You want to make sure that your filling supports the size of the cake. for small cakse german buttercream is awesome to work with because it has great flavor, but not good to use for an outer icing. Swiss and Italian buttercream are both good for large cakes because they are much more stable, but you need to make sure you make the swiss properly being it less stable than italian. Ganache is always popular aswell
Dean Anthony Anderson
"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This
Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

#12 bkeith

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 01:13 PM

Okay, I've read this several times and I think I understand ... kind of. The spatula in the left hand, is the flat of the blade flat against the side facing you, OR is the flat of the blade acting as an extension of the side that's running away from you? I believe it to be the latter, but I want to be sure. :biggrin:

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Nope. The one in your left hand is flat against the flat side facing you (vertical - handle up). The one in your right hand is flat against the side running away (horizontal, handle towards you).
B. Keith Ryder
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#13 chefpeon

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 03:16 PM

I was going to attempt to reply to this, but I wasn't sure I had it in me to actually describe how to do it.
Like bkeith said, it's much easier to show than tell.
Kudos to you Keith for doing the description thing!

I suppose I could add my methods on to this thread for perfect square cakes but I think it would only confuse. Best to stick with one way and practice it than to frantically try a bunch of different ways.

Coupla tips though.....

When you build your cake, put extra filling in the corners. As you stack the layers up, the corners will actually be a little higher than the center of the cake. That's OK. When you put the last layer on top, gently push the corners down so they are level with the rest of the cake. If a little filling squeezes out just scrape it off with the spatula, or push it into the sides with the spatula.
When you start with a cake that is perfectly level and square, you don't have to work as hard with your icing to make it appear that way.

Always do a crumb coat, and refrigerate well before adding your second coat. Why is the crumb coat so important on a square cake? Because those pesky corners always have a way of showing through....especially if your cake is chocolate. Life is much easier with a crumb coat when you work with square or sheet cakes. (This advice given assuming you are using buttercream).

And lastly, I do love my paint masker thingy. If you want to see a pic of a homely PC using it,
go here.

#14 bkeith

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 06:57 AM

OK, mini-demo on square corners. Hope this helps to clarify my explanation above. This was done rather quickly, so forgive the imperfection. You ought to be able to get the technique, anyway.

First, a square "cake" (sorry -- didn't have a real cake around to mess with). Slapped some icing on a square pan, and when I went to clean some icing away, I came up with a perfect square corner without even trying. :angry: So I took an intentional swipe at the corner to mess it up a bit so you could see what's what:

Posted Image


With your left hand, hold a spatula vertically in front of you so the right edge of the spatula is where you want the corner to be.:

Posted Image


With another spatula in your right hand, start adding dabs of icing on the side of the cake running away from you, building up the corner against the "dam" spatula in your left hand:

Posted Image


Work the corner all the way up to the top of the cake, then use your right hand spatula to clean it up, scraping against the left hand spatula to make a nice clean line. Make sure to clean any icing off the back of the left hand spatula too, otherwise it may decide to stay behind when you go to take the spatula away:

Posted Image


Now gently slide the left hand spatula to the left, slowly bringing it away from the cake side to minimize the lift-off mark:

Posted Image


Once the corners are built, I generally go back with my bench scraper and clean up the sides between the corners.

Same method works to do the corners on top of the cake too, just hold the left hand spatula horizontally (use a larger, elbow spatula to get a longer, cleaner edge):

Posted Image



Hope that helps.
B. Keith Ryder
BCakes by BKeith

#15 Kathyf

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 06:59 AM

[quote name='lovkel' date='Jul 11 2005, 12:06 PM']


1. Presently, I only have the Wilton 'square' pans. They have rounded edges. Should I jettison these for pans that are actual squares?



2. I have been using a shortening/powerder sugar/egg white frosting for the simple fact that it's white and gets crusty. This cake is to be ivory and is undecorated, is there another frosting which may simplify the task of getting sharp corners?


You can use the Wilton pans if you freeze the tiers and trim the edges so they're square. Freezing the cake reduces the crumbs when you cut it. If you have time, buying the better square pans will save you the hassle and square cakes are popular right now.

If you're used to a crusting icing you might not want to switch just before a wedding. For the ivory you can use half butter/half shortening - tastes better and is easy to smooth. Frost the cake, getting the corners as squared as possible. To get them nice and sharp fold a piece of heavy white computer paper so it has a sharp crease in it. Lay that crease on your corners and run your knife or fingers along it to smooth it. I have better luck using my thumb and forefinger on each side of the crease. Good luck - it's a pretty cake.

#16 lovkel

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 09:01 AM

bkeith, I truly appreciate the effort that must have taken. Thanks so much. It is MUCH clearer now (a pictures worth ... and all that). :smile: I finally understand the ASCII picture now, it's a top down view! I feel kinda stupid. :huh:

Out of curiosity, where did you get the third arm to take the pic with you holding two spatulas. Impressive. :laugh:


Kathyf, thank you for your suggestion as well. I think that between bkeith's demo, your suggestion, and the other hints, I will be able to make an adequately square cake. The wedding isn't until August 6th, so I have some time for experimentation, thankfully.

I suppose it's pretty overall, but I just can't work up much excitement for making four ivory bricks. :rolleyes: Apparently, the brides are all about picking out cake designs that please THEM! :rolleyes: Jeez. What about MY wants! :wink:

#17 bkeith

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 10:23 AM

Out of curiosity, where did you get the third arm to take the pic with you holding two spatulas. Impressive. :laugh:


Well, my feet weren't busy at the time.... :raz:


Apparently, the brides are all about picking out cake designs that please THEM!  :rolleyes:  Jeez. What about MY wants! :wink:

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Business would be a lot easier if it weren't for all the darned customers!
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#18 gfron1

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Posted 14 November 2007 - 11:29 AM

I'm going to back this demo up a bit. As I'm sure many of you have noticed I am not a good decorator. I'm too busy playing around with flavors and techniques to take the time to have a clean finished product. But, I'm working on that especially with cakes and tortes. So I just finished a 6 layer cake and I made the cake in loaf pans as per the recipe. I did my horizontal slices with one of those wire guided thingies. But I didn't want the angled sides, so I figured a way to get sharp edges on the cake. This is old hat to many of you but I was pretty proud of figuring out this technique.

I sandwiched the cake between two small boxes. I gently saw cut the chilled cake using a sharp bread knife. Rotated the cake and did the other sides. In the end, I have perfect 90 degree angels all around except a small bit on the top corners which will be resolved with frosting. I'll be using the previous demo later today when I frost.
Posted Image
Posted Image

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#19 Chris Hennes

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Posted 14 November 2007 - 11:38 AM

This is a great demo -thanks. That cake looks great - what is the filling?

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#20 gfron1

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Posted 14 November 2007 - 12:09 PM

Its a cassata cake (currant and ricotta) from Amernick's book. I'll be posting it HERE after I get the gut shot tonight with dinner.

Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM


#21 Tri2Cook

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Posted 14 November 2007 - 01:50 PM

As I'm sure many of you have noticed I am not a good decorator.

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You're not serious with that right? I think your stuff you post here is awesome. That's a cool idea for squaring off a cake, I usually don't bother because my decorating skills aren't the best to start with and drop off greatly when it comes to icing cakes. I remember a demo I saw somewhere years ago where you draw whatever shape the cake is but ~1/2" bigger than the cake on parchment, tape the paper to a board, fill it in with buttercream, center a cake layer on it and chill. Build the cake up from there upside down, then cover the sides. Chill, invert and peel off the parchment and you get a perfectly flat top with square edges. I've done it and it works great but it's kinda time consuming.
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#22 gfron1

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 04:24 PM

I haven't properly thanked you for the complement - so thanks - flattery will get you everywhere with me :wink:

The reason I poo poo my decorating skills is that they really are rather poor. I like the stuff I make, but in comparison to true decorators (like many in this forum) I am slapping frosting on versus the artistry I see from others. I bake, they decorate.

Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM


#23 devlin

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 12:03 AM

....I did my horizontal slices with one of those wire guided thingies....


um, what's a "wire guided thingie"?... :unsure:

#24 gfron1

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 07:16 AM

Its THIS thing. A thick wire handle with a couple of thin, serrated wires running between the ends.

Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM


#25 devlin

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 03:26 PM

....I did my horizontal slices with one of those wire guided thingies....


um, what's a "wire guided thingie"?... :unsure:

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Thanks. That's sort of what I thought you must mean, although I've never used one and so I wasn't sure. And on that note, how reliably does it work? And how exactly DO you work it?

I'm assuming it must be better than a long knife.

#26 gfron1

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 05:56 PM

How well does it work...well, for me I've had it for over 5 years and this is the first time that it did what I wanted. But I've always assumed it was my skills or my baking, not the tool itself. No matter how many times I've tried, I can not make a horizontal cut on my own - frozen, not frozen - that is truly horizontal. As I've said, this not my strongpoint.

It works by gently sawing back and forth with the serrated wire. I think that once it breaks the crust, it works much better.

Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM


#27 reenicake

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 05:56 PM

2. I have been using a shortening/powerder sugar/egg white frosting for the simple fact that it's white and gets crusty. This cake is to be ivory and is undecorated, is there another frosting which may simplify the task of getting sharp corners?

My fillings are usually based on the Neoclassic buttercream from "The Cake Bible" and completely inappropriate for frosting the outside of a cake in summer.

View Post


If you have a lot of whites left over from using the yolks in fillings, you might want to try a meringue buttercream, as a previous poster suggested. I like swiss for smaller amounts, italian for bigger ones, although I have made a 3-quart eggwhite batch of swiss meringue in a 30-qt mixer.
Basic technique: 1 part eggwhites, 2 parts sugar, 3 parts butter. (this is cups, pounds, whatever. it is marvelous this way, you can just make exactly what you need.)
put the whites and sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Bring a pan of water to a simmer and whisk the whites/sugar mixture over the water until it is hot. No need to constantly whisk, just enough to prevent scrambling. (I usually add a pinch of salt at this point too.) Feel with your fingers to see if the sugar is completely dissolved. I usually go to 140 degrees for safety's sake.
Take the bowl off the hot water and put it on the mixer with the whip. Beat on high speed until the bottom of the bowl has cooled off and you get a billowy meringue. Meanwhile cut the butter up in 2" cubes.
Stop the mixer. Add about a third of the butter; at first the meringue will fall, this is fine. It will help get it out of the innards of the whip. Switch to the paddle and beat in the rest of the butter in two or three lots. Then beat on medium speed until it is very light. if your butter is soft you may need to set the bottom of the bowl in ice water; if the butter is very cold set the bowl back in the hot water briefly. Beat a good 10 minutes. it may break but it will always come back together. Flavor and enjoy.
I ice pretty much all my buttercream cakes with meringue buttercream -- www.reenicakes.com. A nice idea for an ivory color is using part brown sugar.





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