Known worldwide for her gravity defying sculpted cakes, Avalon Yarnes’, of Avalon Cakes, passion lies in turning the cake decorator into the cake artist. She continuously challenges herself to go above and beyond to create unique and creative cakes and innovative techniques. She was named Best Novelty Cake Artist for Cake Masters Awards 2014. She’s answered your questions in our Ask the Expert hot seat!
Q: I am scared to build my first ever novelty cake, what 3 tips can you give to a beginner?
A: 1) Take it slow. Step back constantly and take a look at the cake as a whole. Look from every angle.
2) Reference material! I always have lots of pictures of my subject, with lots of different angles.
3) Give yourself enough time. Often we think we are super-human and don’t allow ourselves enough time to complete the project. No one wants to see the tired, raccoon eyed cake decorator with ratty hair and mismatched socks delivering their cake! Sleep is not overrated.
Cakes for Carving
Q: What is the best kind of cake to carve?
A: Cakes high in fat are usually the best for carving, as they usually hold a tight crumb and are sturdy enough to withhold a good amount of carving. These include: mud cakes, butter cakes, buttermilk cakes and pounds cakes. The best way to avoid the cake crumbling is to chill the cake first, but sometimes it’s just the wrong recipe for cake carving.
Q: Is it important to sketch first?
A: Sketches can help immensely with the planning process and keeping you on track. Sketch, then break down your sketch into a plan: the colours you need to make, the sequence of processes and other details. This will set your cake up for success. I should probably take my own advice (I’m a horrible sketcher)!
Q: Can any materials be used to make cake structures?
A: No. You want to stick with materials that are either food safe or can be easily sealed to be made food safe. Be sure to fully seal your supports with plastic wrap and/or white chocolate as a food safe barrier between your cake the base materials not meant for food contact. When in doubt, do your research.
Q: When building a cake structure that will support my cake, how will I know how much weight it can hold?
A: Always overbuild within the limitations of your design. Use your best judgment. If you’re creating an average size cake, you can feel safe with common support structures. If you’re creating an enormous cake use metal supports and wood bases. When in doubt, build it and put weight on it (bags of sugar paste, rice, flour, whatever you have around). Look for trouble signs, such as over-swaying, leaning, etc. and adjust accordingly.
Q: What is the best way to travel with a novelty cake?
A: With your fingers and toes crossed! Just kiddin’! If you’ve created a sound structure, you should have no problems transporting your cake. I put mine in a box that fits snuggly to the base board. Pump up that air conditioning! I also tape some ice packs around the inside of the box, if it’s an extra hot day.
Q: Are there any really good short cuts when it comes to novelty cakes?
A: One of my favorite tricks is to use a ball of sugar paste to smooth the sugar paste on the cake. A ball of sugar paste allows you to move with the curves and indentions of the cake, rather than trying to smooth with something flat and hard.
Q: When cutting and serving a novelty cake should I start from the top or bottom?
A: Always start from the top! Starting from the bottom can cause the entire top of the cake to collapse. There is never a good reason to sacrifice good cake!
Wrapping Odd Shapes
Q: How do you cover weird shaped sponge?
A: It’s best to always plan out your seams ahead of time. Go in with a plan of attack. Find your back or your underside, declare that the “seam” and wrap accordingly. Join your seams as clean as possible, and smooth.
Q: What is the best kind of dowels to use?
A: I prefer bubble tea straws. They have a large surface area, allowing for better support then regular drinking straws. When I go really large, I will use poly dowels. I usually stay away from wood dowels; I find they are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Q: What is the best way of charging for a novelty cake?
A: Do your homework, figure out how much your recipes, supplies and overhead are costing you. Then add your time to that (be sure to pay yourself what you are worth!). I have a rule of thumb, however long I think something is going to take me, double that. I always go longer then I expect.
Q: What is dirty icing?
A: “Dirty Icing” is another name for crumb coating. However, it has adopted different definitions through different bakeries. My definition of a “crumb coat” is a thin layer of icing that is applied to the cake to lock in the crumbs. You then follow with a “perfect” final coat of icing. Then finish it off with your rolled sugar paste!
To find out more about Avalon and her cakes, visit: www.avaloncakesschool.com