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Ask the Expert: Benny Rivera

Benny was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City about 20 years ago looking for a change. He got into cake decorating whilst still working as a Research Specialist. Then one day, he felt he needed to do something for fun and decided to go to culinary school. The business grew tremendously, from having his first TV show on TLC, Fabulous Cakes, to having several opportunities with Food Network. Benny has been able to travel all over the US and overseas to teach some of his workshops, has won multiple cake shows, and most recently, he has become a Brand Associate Partner for Renshaw in America with a few other selected talented artists.

Fondant Repair

Q: What is the best way to repair a tear in fondant?

A: It will be determined by the damage and the brand of fondant you are using. For example, Renshaw is easy to work with and fix if you happen to make a hole into it. This brand of fondant allows us to just stretch the fondant with a little water on your fingertip and it will look like nothing happened. I have worked with so many other brands and on occasions, I have been forced to even fill the damaged area with a little royal icing – smooth it out and it will be ready to go.


Q: How do you achieve the perfect cookies?

A: Creating the perfect cookie require a lot of work. For us at City Cakes, everything starts with an idea. Then we discuss the vision; how do we see, feel and taste the cookie. That is when we start trying to figure out the ingredients that will work best and of course, developing the recipe. Then it goes into the store front for sale. It is very important for us to get feedback from the people who usually order them. The baking process is also a magic part of the original Half Pound Cookies from City Cakes, but not something we talk about with others… something that makes them extra special!

Cake Trend

Q: What do you think will be the biggest cake trend in 2017?

A: Trends tend to come and go. Then when they eventually return, they return in a more updated, different version. 3D sculpted cakes keep getting stronger in the industry as there is always the wow factor with them. Also, I keep seeing a lot of painting work on cakes or the use of colours applied in different ways using different techniques, especially gold and metallics. We have seen a spike in skyline cake requests as well, which is fun for the City Cakes team to think up new ways to do these.


Q: How to deal with sticky fondant?

A: I have one word for you, shortening! This is an amazing product that can help you in so many ways. A lot of people tend to keep adding cornstarch or confectioners’ sugar and this is a huge mistake as the fondant will get dry quickly. Just put a light coat of cornstarch on the table where you will be rolling it out and put some shortening on your hands and a thin layer on top of the fondant when finished. This should help a lot.


Q: How do I achieve silky smooth buttercream?

A: The secret to have the perfect buttercream consistency is in the creaming process. Make sure the butter is really soft at room temperatures and it mixes well. Again, the creaming process is key in all recipes, the same as when you are making the cake batter. Personally, I prefer to use a hot metal scraper and offset spatula to make sure the top and the sides are completely smooth.


Q: Cornflour vs icing sugar?

A:To roll fondant, I prefer cornflour or cornstarch as we call it in the U.S. Personally, I feel icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar tends to make the fondant dry out faster.

Colouring Fondant

Q: What is the best way to colour fondant?

A: It depends on the shade of colour you are looking for. If you are looking for a deep colour shade of fondant, it is best to buy it if it’s already available in that colour. Adding way too much gel into the fondant will change the consistency of it, however, it is still possible. If you want to do that, I suggest you colour the fondant several days before using it as it will be more set and ready to use after one or two days. It won’t be as soft as it used to be when you made the colour. Another option is to use colours in powder form. In this way, you can add as much as you want without changing the consistency of the fondant. I tend to use a combination of both.


Q: How do you transport large cakes?

A: If the cake is small, we can use a regular car or an SUV. However, if the cake is big, then the process is different. We can use a van or a larger truck. It’s dependent on the size of the piece and how far you have to drive with it.

Wedding Cakes

Q: What’s your secret to achieving the best out of a simple wedding cake?

A:My secret to working with wedding cakes is just one thing, to keep it clean. Even when a design can be a little bit too much or is covered with a lot of flowers, painted work, sugar details etc, it is very important to keep the work neat and clean. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing but I’m an extreme perfectionist. Like I said, this could be a good or a bad thing. A good thing because you will be spot on with the work and the details. And bad because no matter how perfect the design is, you will always find something to change and/or fix.