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Ask The Expert: Zoë Clark

Zoë Clark of Zoe Clark Cakes  is our expert of the month. She has produced beautiful cakes and is known for her unique and elegant cake designs. She is also an author and teacher having published a variety of best-selling books such as Elegant Lace Cakes.

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Piping Lace Decor

Q: What is the best way to pipe lace decor on cakes using icing?

A: Firstly, I like to use soft-stiff peak royal icing to pipe lace details. I usually use a no.1 or no.0 piping tip to do this. My favourite piping tips to use are PME as they are much finer than tips of the same size in different brands. Other tips create a slightly heavier and less delicate effect.

Secondly, make sure you are in a comfortable position when you are piping. Raise the cake up on a turntable or cake dummy if necessary. If you are using the correct technique and are comfortable, the piping will be easier and you will get a nicer result.

Thirdly, use templates (even if it means making your own)! For me, it’s always important to have a guide to help with the positioning of the lace. Whether the pattern you are piping is symmetrical or irregular, it’s a good idea to know how the piping will look before you start decorating on the cake.

Cake Lace

Q: What is the best way to attach cake lace to my cakes without it breaking?

A: There are a few ways you can attach cake lace to a cake. If I’m attaching a large piece, I prefer to make the cake sticky first by brushing with vodka, then I stick the lace straight on. I prefer using alcohol to water as it evaporates quicker and won’t dissolve the cake lace. Cake Lace itself is flexible so it shouldn’t break, but it can tear. It’s quite easy to stick back together and match the pieces up when you place on the cake. If I’m attaching smaller pieces, I often wet the piece of lace and stick on the cake. You can use a paintbrush or a spray bottle to do this. Sometimes I find with this method though, the lace can start to come away from the cake after a while and it can be a little fiddly trying to stick it back.

Freehand Decorating

Q: What tips do you have to freehand lace decorating on cakes?

A: I rarely freehand decorate as I mentioned. I always recommend making a template first and working out your design. The only time I might do a little freehand piping is if I’m adding small embellishments to appliques and larger patterns made using stencils. Even then, I might test out how the piping will look on a spare piece of icing first.

Slicing Cakes

Q: A client has asked if I can help to slice the cake, what should I charge for this?

A: I’ve never been asked to do this! But I would say definitely avoid this one and tell your client the catering staff will do it! Otherwise, you either have to stick around or come back to the event later when you should be winding down!

Preventing Elephant Skin

Q: How can I prevent elephant skin when covering a cake?

A: Ideally, if you work quickly enough, it shouldn’t be a problem. This will come with practise and experience of course. The brand of sugarpaste/fondant you are using and the environment (humidity) will also affect how quickly the icing dries out. If you are struggling, try a fondant that stays soft a little longer such as Renshaw. Coloured icing, especially darker colours, will also dry out much quicker so stick to lighter colours if you are a beginner unless you are planning to add lots of decoration to the cake!

Stacking Wedding Cakes

Q: What tips do you have for stacking wedding cakes with over eight tiers?

A: If all the cake is real, make sure you are using enough dowels in the cake to support all the tiers, just as with any size cake. Make sure you have someone to help you set up the cake at the venue. Travel with only the bottom two or three tiers stacked. Transport the other tiers separately and assemble them on site. Try to convince the customer to go for a design that allows for any little dents and damages in the icing as you stack it, such as tumbling petals and additional scattered flowers. Carry a repair kit with you! You can also encourage the customer to replace few real tiers with dummy tiers. This will make the cake a lot lighter and assembling it will be a lot less stressful! If you need to cater for a large number of people, just make a few cutting cakes to supplement the main cake.

Wonky Wedding Cakes

Q: What tips do you have for anyone looking to create a wonky wedding cake? I don’t know where to start!

A: There are a few different ways of tackling wonky cakes. I would start by looking at a few YouTube or other online tutorials and perhaps flicking through a few books on the subject to see which technique is closest to the techniques you are familiar with for basic shaped cakes. You also need to make sure you can get hold of the materials. There are a couple of ways to construct a wonky cake; one is to use a centre pole to hold everything in place and the other is to cut out a wedge from the top of the tiers and set the next layer inside it. With the second method, it means the cake actually sits flat on top of the tier below, although it looks like its sitting on a wonky angle. When it comes to creating the sloping angle across the top of the cake, you can either layer a deep cake and cut it down or if you are careful, you can cleanly slice through the top on a sloping angle, flip the cut piece over and add it to opposite side of the cake, creating extra height and making the most out of the cake you have. With the first option, you have a lot more wastage.

Filled Cake Tips

Q: I have been asked to make a wedding cake that is filled with sweets and chocolate, how can I achieve this effectively with all the tiers?

A: Surprise inside cakes, where the sweets and chocolates spill out as you cut the cake, can be extremely effective if you give it a bit of thought. There are various ways of going about this depending on the sweets and chocolates you would like and how many tiers you are having. For example, you could create an ombré effect with coloured sweets if you are having multiple tiers. Or you could have different flavoured chocolates in each tier, perhaps complementing the flavour of the cake. The main thing you need to be careful about is if the moisture in the cake starts to discolour or soften the sweets. Unless you are making the cake very last minute, it might be a good idea to use sweets or chocolates with coloured wrapping to prevent this from happening.

Wedding Consultation Charges

Q: Should wedding consultations be charged?

A: That’s up to you! I do charge for consultations for a number of reasons. I find it eliminates anyone who isn’t really serious or interested in ordering a cake. You might find brides just want to come along for some free cake with their bridesmaids just because they are getting married! The consultation fee can also cover some of your costs for making samples if you are also offering a cake tasting too. I also find you are less likely to get last minute cancellations. You can take the payment in advance and tell customers the payment is required in order to book the consultation. It’s a good idea to have a 24/48 hour cancellation policy in place too. There are a few exceptions though. For example, if the couple are a client of a wedding planner who I work with regularly, or are one of my past customers, I often waiver the fee. If the client goes ahead with the order, you can take the consultation off the final price of the cake, so really for those people, it’s all included in the service!