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This article was taken from our December 2017 Issue Buy this issue now

Ask the Expert: Debbie Brown

Debbie Brown of Debbie Brown Cakes  is our expert of the month. She has produced amazing pieces, has authored over 20 cake decorating titles and is one of the best-selling authors of cake decorating books in the world. Find out more at

Sugarpaste for Carved Cakes

Q: I struggle with understanding how much sugarpaste is required for a carved cake, do you have any tips?

A: This depends on how thick you need your covering as not all sugarpastes are the same. Some rip easily so the covering needs to be rolled out to around 3-4mm thick, whilst others contain more gums that make the sugarpaste stretchy so can be rolled thinner. A typical novelty cake with covered board and models serving 15-25 would need around 2-3kg.

Revive Dried Paste

Q: What is the best way to rework dried paste?

A: Place a sterile damp cloth over the crusted sugarpaste and leave until the crust has softened enough to knead through again. Or you can just peel the crust off like a potato revealing the soft paste underneath.

Cake Business Problems

Q: A local business copies all my cake designs, down to placement of decorations and colour shades, can I do anything about this?

A: Contact them directly by letter and state your concerns and asking them to refrain from using your designs. Most often, people do not realise that they shouldn’t do this seeing no harm, so once advised, stop immediately.

Ripped Fondant Solutions

Q: What is the best way of fixing ripped fondant?

A: If it has just been applied, this can be pushed back together to close the rip using a little water or edible glue if necessary. Gently massaging the rip with your fingertips should make it disappear. I like to run a flexi smoother over the surface too. If the paste has dried and you have a crack, fill with softened paste the same colour and massage gently until smooth. There may seem to be a slight colour shade difference but this will disappear once dried.

Sealing a Cake

Q: It is better to seal a cake with ganache or buttercream?

A: I prefer ganache as this sets firm to give you a very sturdy surface to decorate with sugarpaste, perfect for 3D sculptures or high-sided cakes. Swiss meringue buttercream is good also as once refrigerated, has a firm surface, although not as firm as ganache.

Cake Decorations

Q: What is the best glue to use for decorations?

A: I’ve always used CMC gum glue (a pinch of CMC mixed with a few tablespoons of warm water) but many sugarpastes around the world will stick even with a tiny drop of water.

Cake Expiry Date

Q: How long does a fondant covered cake stay fresh?

A: This depends on how you have prepared it as your crumb coat needs to seal the cake completely. I like to sit the crumb coated cake on a sugarpaste covered cake board as once covered with sugarpaste, this encompasses the cake totally in sugar. Sugar is a natural preservative, allowing it to last much longer, usually around one week from baking and maybe even longer depending on how the cake is stored.

Carved Cake on the Move

Q: What are your tips for travelling with a carved cake?

A: Keep it as level as possible preferably in the boot of the car using a gripper mat underneath the board and box so it doesn’t slip.

Decorating with Ribbon

Q: Are you allowed to put ribbon around a cake?

A: I’m careful what decoration I add to the cake surface because of contamination. If you want to use a ribbon banding around the base of your cake, there are edible ribbons available.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Q: Do you have any tips for Swiss meringue buttercream – it just won’t work!

A: Patience is the key, don’t rush the process. Bring the mixture slowly up to temperature with a good sugar thermometer and watch it carefully. Swiss meringue is certainly worth it in the end!