I have a confession to make: I am a recovering shopaholic. Not in the traditional sense you understand, but a cakeage shopaholic.
When I first discovered my exciting new hobby, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of exciting tools, gadgets, tutorials, magazines and more besides that were available. Naturally, I had to have everything! Cake shows were the worst place for me – because everything is RIGHT THERE! And usually with a show discount! Deadly! They’re enablers!
Innovators and entrepreneurs are constantly inventing ways to make the process of cake decorating ‘simpler’ and while many of these creations genuinely are fantastic (and they really are), if my three years of cake artistry have taught me anything, it’s that for the most part, a lot of practice and mastery of the essential cake decorating techniques cannot be replaced by a gadget. If only I’d realised that before I bought them all! Or the subscriptions to multiple online cake schools that I literally never accessed. Or the Craftsy tutorials that I bought and never completed. Or the… -well, you get the idea.
So in the interests saving some poor soul somewhere the small fortune I must have laid out over the last three years, I’d like to present my (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) essential kit for the aspiring master decorator…
And trust me, I must know what I’m talking about – I have all the gear!
Starting at the beginning, I strongly suggest you invest in a stand mixer. Now, naturally you will want a Kitchenaid – I think most cake makers want a Kitchenaid. They’re beautiful, they’re available in a variety of wonderful colours and shades and they’re also very expensive. I don’t actually have a Kitchenaid. I have a rather sturdy-looking Kenwood Chef Classic that I bought during an Amazon flash sale. It may not be the most attractive mixer, but it tolerates a lot, from meringues to bread, and has yet to fail me. There are also many entry level mixers around these days that cost under £100 and will do the job just fine. But if you have the opportunity to have a Kitchenaid, then you should probably get it. You’re much more likely to feel like a pro AND they look great in the background of your artfully-posed cake snaps.
Once you have your mixer, you will need some good quality cake tins. I love the PME seamless tins – with a good spray of PME Cake Release Spray and some greaseproof paper to line the base, you are guaranteed an even bake that won’t stick. Sadly I only have a couple of these – my most used tins are actually from the local supermarket. But one day, one glorious day, I will have a complete set of PME tins.
Now this next item is probably a bit controversial and definitely the most expensive bit of kit that I have, but I honestly wouldn’t be without it. The Agbay is a cake levelling tool, but unlike the more common wire-based cake levellers, it features a height-adjustable, razor-sharp, stainless steel serrated blade for effortless torting. I’ve used mine to slice through everything from delicate angel cake to (allegedly impossible to level) rich fruit Christmas cakes and it has never let me down. With a price tag somewhere in the region of £200, it isn’t for everyone (even me – mine was actually a very generous Christmas present), but if you make a lot of cakes, I would highly recommend it.
When it come to actually decorating one’s cakes, it gets even more complicated – there are literally thousands of options available!
Firstly to fill and cover a cake, you will need some basic essentials: a palette knife (either flat or offset – I’m an offset man myself), a turntable, an edge scraper, a good quality non-stick rolling pin, a couple of fondant smoothers and some flexi-smoothers. Fortunately, most of these items can be picked up relatively cheaply online and I have linked my favourites where appropriate.
However, another big area of expense for the cake artist is the variety of modelling tools available. I also have pretty much everything available on the market when it comes to modelling tools (quelle surprise) including some stunning Cerart numbers, a variety of the Sugar Shapers by Innovative Sugarworks and goodness knows what else besides. While I love all of my tools and they all have their uses, I can confidently tell you that around 90% of all my cake art, from the realistic dog sculptures to wacky loaded cakes and even some sugar floristry, is created with my beloved PME dresden tool.
This one tool is simply perfection in design (I say one, I actually have four of them – I live in fear of losing one) and in spite of my dalliances with other tools, I always come back to it. It just works… Perhaps I should’ve just called this post, “An ode to my dresden tool”?
There are cheap versions of the PME tools available, but these are usually made of flimsier plastic and often have seams that can leave additional, unintended marks on your sugarpaste, so I’d strongly suggest picking up the real thing – discernible from its imitators by the distinctive yellow handle. You’ll thank me!
Finally, for the serious cake artist, one needs an airbrush. Creating flawlessly good cakes has never been easier since the advent of the many entry level cake airbrush kits available on the market and for the perfectionist, an airbrushing kit will allow you to produce the most stunning results. I’m on my third airbrush kit now, having worked my way through three of the most popular entry-level models on the market, and I have to say my latest, the Clairella Cakes airbrush and compressor is my favourite of the three. It is so simple to use and has five different modes for extra control, which is great for achieving soft gradient effects with gradual build up or for covering larger areas.
Now, I must be clear, none of the tools mentioned or suppliers suggested are sponsoring this post or paying for these recommendations (although, if any of them would like to give me some free stuff, then I wouldn’t say no!) – these are my own genuine thoughts and recommendations. It’s also important to note that what works best for one sugar artist won’t be right for another. Believe me, I know!
But all jokes aside, the real message behind this post is to take your time when building up your decorator’s kit. There are so many options available out there and it is tempting to buy everything all at once. But by allowing yourself to really get to know your tools and only buy what you know you’ll need, you’ll avoid filling your house with tools that will likely never see the light of day and ensure that what you do have is right for the job at hand.
Which reminds me – moulds and cutters: try not to get into the habit of buying them for specific projects (once upon a time, I might have occasionally done that – ok, a lot). But quite often, they aren’t particularly transferable to other designs, meaning you end up with drawers and cupboards full of the things. Often you can create the same effect using a homemade or printed stencil and a craft knife.
But don’t let me have the final say on this. Let’s open up the floor to the other decorators: What’s the cake tool you would never be without? And what is the one tool you bought and never used again?
Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to share with your shopaholic cake buds… 😉