Tal Tsafrir is our expert of the month with her extensive experience in cake decorating and creating unique figurines. Tal holds hands-on workshops in her studio, has written books, produced a DVD on the art of cake decorating and has her own line. Find out more at taltsafrir.com
Q: What is the best way of getting paste out of a detailed mould?
A: When extracting paste out, it is important to treat each mould separately. It’s worthwhile to invest in a few tries while working with a new mould, or read the instructions thoroughly. Using the mould correctly will make your job faster and easier, leading to more successful results. It is always important to use sugarpaste with CMC. While using deep moulds, I recommend placing the mould in the freezer for a few minutes prior to extraction. I also recommend filling my face mould in two stages; using just a little modelling paste to begin with in order to get it settled in the details properly, then filling the remainder of the mould.
Q: What supports are best to use inside figurines?
A: Supports should be adjusted according to the height and weight of the figure.
I usually use thin plastic supports or bamboo skewers. Support between lighter body parts (such as rabbit ears) can also be done using pasta (thin spaghetti).
Q: What tips can you give when modelling fondant into human structures in terms of making realistic features?
A: When I designed my body part moulds for male or female figures, I already planned them with authentic proportion but still with sufficient flexibility for versatility. Big ears combined with little hair will provide an older figure, while enlarging the head by adding hair combined with small ears and large eyes will result with a younger and sweeter figure, and so on… However, I believe there is no obligation to stick to realistic proportion – it is precisely the proportions that will provide figures which are more personal, and far more interesting and fascinating.
Strike a Pose
Q: What is the best way to create a model with movement or a difficult pose?
A: To create a figure in motion or in a complex pose, it is necessary to use more dowels than usual. The second option, which I prefer a lot, is to create the figure in stages while providing drying time between them. For example, with a ballerina on her toes, one foot in the air and her hands outstretched, I’ll take a dummy cake and make a hole with the dowel. Then I’ll slightly enlarge the hole so it will be easy to pull out the dowel after the figure is dry. I will create both legs from one roll of sugarpaste, support one leg with a dowel and the other with kitchen roll or any other external support, and let dry completely. Then I get rid of the external supports and get the legs in the position I want, one stands on a dowel, the other on its own. In the same way, to hold up raised hands, I will mould in the right position, support with outside supports and after drying, move the supports. When the figure is ready and dry, I’ll pull it gently out of the dummy cake and pass to the cake.
If time does not allow, I will have to add additional support. In such a case, be sure to inform the existence of dowels etc. so that your cake will be as safe as it is tasty and beautiful.
Q: How many dowels are needed to stack a two tier cake?
A: The number of supports/dowels depends, of course, on the size of the cake on top. Up to 20cm in diameter – 4 dowels, 20-28cm – 6 dowels, 28-36cm – 8 dowels.
The minimum number of supports is 4, and always place them crosswise. The thickness of the support also effects the stability of the cake. I prefer to fill a cake with layers of rich and high-quality ganache in a variety of flavours. For the outer coating, I use buttercream while adding a touch of the ganache so that flavours will blend well.
Ganache vs Buttercream
Q: Should I ganache a cake or use buttercream?
A: To me, the most important thing is that the cake itself will be very tasty, moist and of highest quality. My cakes are very tasty and not very sweet. We moisten the cakes with sugar syrup (1:1 sugar and water), usually with the addition of a suitable flavour. The sugar syrup also acts as a preservative, moistures and extends the life of the cake.
Q: How do you keep cakes moist?
A: Since the work of modelling takes time and the freshness of the cake is very important to me, I create almost all the sculptures and decorations in advance as toppers. Decorations that need to remain soft and flexible (such as a pearl necklace for the last touch and also to finish the decorations around the cake etc.) I keep in the freezer. I bake the cakes themselves just prior to delivering them. Then they are filled, wrapped and assembled.
In my studio, the air conditioning works 24/7, maintaining a cool and constant temperature. In addition, there is also a device that maintains constant humidity in the studio. In such conditions, a cake waiting for collection will be kept in optimal condition and I can be confident that it will be fresh and tasty!
Cake Topper Delivery
Q: I have been asked to post a topper – what advice do you have?
A: This is a request that calls for some courage but if you do decide to do it, here are some useful tips:
• The parts should be firmly attached to each other
• In some cases, a support should be used to strengthen the connection, even in places where there is usually no need to
• The toppers should be prepared at least a few days prior to delivery, in order to allow the paste to completely dry
• The topper must be firmly fixed to a board which is exactly the size of the box, and the board itself must be fixed to the box so it does not move or turn over
• The box must be made of extremely hard material such as wood or cardboard
• Write ‘FRAGILE’ on the box using bold letters
• Mark the bottom side, indicating proper handling position
• Send by special delivery, allowing fragile and delicate shipping
Q: My hands are too hot; do you have any tips?
A: Warm and moist hands might make the work difficult. In order to allow an easy and pleasant job, I recommend working in an air conditioned room and dusting your hands with cornstarch. Cut a square out of a disposable tablecloth, place 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch in the middle, close the corners together and tie with a ribbon. While working, pat this bundle on your hands and the little amount of soft cornstarch that comes out will dry your hands but not the paste.