Saturday, March 25, 2017

Want cakes with flat tops and perfectly straight sides? Use Acrylic Disks

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I was never very good at getting the sides of my frosted cakes perfectly straight or the tops completely flat. I tried, and tried, but my cakes always seemed to lean to one side and look lumpy.

But then I discovered a wondrous thing called Acrylic Disks (aka known as Discs or Rounds). These disks make frosting a cake quicker, easier, and a lot less stressful.  Less stress is a good thing, and so are cakes with vertical sides and razor sharp edges. Ta Da….

If you search on YouTube you will find several videos on different ways of using these acrylic disks. Some are good, some are not so good, and some are downright scary. IMO the scariest method is the Upside Down Method. WTH! In this method you actually frost the cake upside down and then flip it over when it is finished. How flippin’ crazy is that??? In my clumsy hands the Upside Down Method is a colossal disaster waiting to happen.

So after much YouTube viewing (and horrible nightmares about flipping cakes), I finally settled on a method that uses Glad’s Press and Seal Wrap. This process seems the easiest and most forgiving method for a novice cake decorator like me. Here is a peek at the cake near the end of the "Acrylic Disk" process. It is a double barrel cake and stands almost 9 inches tall. I’ve fallen in love with double barrels. They are so tall, so elegant…

Sorry, back to the topic. The supplies you need to frost a cake using acrylic disks include:

And below is the process broken down into 19 EASY steps…

Step 1 – Cover one of the acrylic disks in Press and Seal Wrap. Cut a piece of wrap larger enough to cover the disc, place the disk on top of the sticky side, and then trim off the square edges to make it round. Note: cutting these edges will reduce the bulk and make it easier to fit the plastic around the disc.

Once trimmed, pinch a piece of the wrap between your finger and thumb and pull it up slightly to stretch the wrap. Press the stretched section of the sticky wrap against the edge of the disk, and then flatten and stick the tail end you were holding against the top of the disk. Make sure the sticky wrap fits flush and snug against the edge of the disk. In later steps you will be running the bench scraper along this plastic wrap covered edge, so you want it as snug and flat as possible.

 Work your way around the disc, sticking the plastic wrap to the edge. When you are finished, run your finger around the edged to make sure it is secure and smooth.

Step 2 – Frost the smooth side of the covered acrylic disk with a thick coating of ganache. Make it about 1/4 + inch thick. Use a scraper to clean off the edge of the disk. Place the ganache covered disk in the freezer for a 10-15 minutes till it hardens.

 Step 3 – Next comes the stacking. You will need a turntable, 2 non-skid grip mats, the second acrylic disc, and your crumb-coated cake that is sitting atop a cardboard cake board. First you will need a turntable that is at least 4 inches larger than your cake.  If I am working on an 8” or smaller cake then my 12” turntable is large enough, but anything bigger than 8” you will need a turntable extender. Place a non-skid grip mat on top of the turntable and then place the second acrylic disk on top of the grip-mat. (I cut these mats from a big roll of shelf liner.  The mats work great and can be washed if you get frosting on them.  When you cut them, make sure the edges don't extend beyond the disks.)

Place another non-skid grip mat on top of the acrylic disk, and then place the cardboard cake board of your filled and crumb-coated cake on top of the grip-mat. Make sure the cake is centered on the acrylic disc. You want the same size gap between the cake board and the edge of the acrylic.

Here is an example of the stack. In this example I’m ganache-ing a double barrel cake. One cake is chocolate and one is vanilla. Notice that the cakes aren’t flat or straight. This is not “proper” cake decorating protocol, but wonky sides and a poofy top is not a problem with this method.

In summary the arrangement so far from bottom to top is: turntable, non-skid grip mat, acrylic disk, non-skid grip mat, cardboard cake board, cake(s). On these double barrel cakes I also put parchment paper between the cakes so it is easier to take them apart when I cut and serve.  Without the parchment, the cake board of the upper cake sticks to the frosting of the bottom cake and they won't come apart.

I also like to work directly on my turntable, but if you want to work on a rigid prep board just add it to the stacking order so that you have: turntable, non-skid grip mat, rigid prep board, non-skid grip mat, acrylic disk, non-skid grip mat, cardboard cake board, cake.

Step 4 – Once everything is stacked, frost the top of the cake with a thick layer of ganache. My cakes are never completely flat so I like to build up the outside edge of the cake so it matches the height of the center. I could slice off the top of the cake to make it flat, but I’m lazy, and I also don’t want cake scraps around that I would be tempted to eat!!

Step 5 – Take the acrylic disk with the hardened/frozen/chilled ganache and place it, ganache side down on the frosted cake top. Press down gently so it sticks.

Step 6 – Place a leveling device on top of the top acrylic disk and test to see if the cake is level. If not level, press the acrylic disk down till the bubble in the leveler is dead center. The thick layer of ganache will allow you to squeeze out excess ganache and allow the top acrylic disk to lay completely flat. Move the leveler around the top of the cake and check that it is level in several different positions.

Step 7 – Now use a large bench scraper to make sure that the two acrylic disks are perfectly aligned. (My bench scraper is just a rectangle piece of acrylic.  Please note that you need a bench scraper that doesn't have a lip on the handle.  A lip would stop the scraper from sitting flush against the turntable.) Put the flat base of the bench scraper against the turntable and then press the vertical edge against the bottom acrylic disk. If the top acrylic disk is aligned with the bottom disk, it will touch the upper portion of the bench scraper. If the top acrylic disk isn’t touching the bench scraper, nudge the top disk into position. Move the bench scraper around the cake, checking the alignment in several locations. Also watch the bubble in the Level to make sure the top remains flat as you nudge the top acrylic disk around.

Step 8 – Now that the disks are aligned and the top is flat, pipe ganache into the gaps between your stacked cakes and between the frosted top of the cake and the chilled, ganache covered acrylic disc. If the gap isn’t too large, you can just push ganache into the opening with an offset spatula. If you are good at trimming and leveling your cakes before you frost them, this step won’t be necessary.  But I need to push lots and lots of ganache into the many gaps.

Step 9 – Do one last check and make sure the top of level and the two acrylic disks are aligned.

Step 10 – Now the fun part. Generously cover the sides of the cake with ganache. Just slap it on. Let your inner Jackson Pollock emerge and paint the glossy ganache on the cake with wild abandon. You want to build up enough ganache so that it extends beyond the edge of the acrylic disks.

Step 10 – Position the bench scraper so that it rest flat against the turntable and perpendicular to both the top and bottom acrylic disk. Hold the bench scraper steady as you slowly rotate the turntable. Any ganache that extends beyond the acrylic disks will be scraped away. If too much ganache builds up on the bench scraper, scrape the ganache back into the bowl.

Step 11 – After the first pass of the bench scraper around the cake, fill in any holes or gaps with more ganache. Scrape the cake again. Do this step as many times as necessary till the sides are smooth.

Step 12 – When the sides are smooth, use a small pallet knife (or your finger) to gently remove any ganache still clinging to the outer edge of the acrylic disks.

Step 13 – Chill the cake to set the ganache. I usually let it chill for an hour or two.

Step 14 – Once the ganache is rigid to the touch, the top acrylic disk needs to be removed. Peel the plastic wrap away from the top and the outer edge of the acrylic disk.

Step 15 - Insert a small palette knife between the top acrylic disk and plastic wrap and lift the disk away from the plastic. You may need to run the palette knife between the wrap and the disk to get them apart. Once the acrylic disk is lifted, the plastic will remain on the cake.

Step 16 - Now gently peel the plastic away from the cake.

Step 17 – Fill any holes on the top of the cake with softened ganache.

Step 18 – To remove the bottom acrylic disc, warm a small palette knife and insert it between the acrylic disk and the cardboard round under the cake. The presence of the non-skid grip mat between the cardboard and the acrylic disk will give you plenty of room to insert the palette knife. Rotate the turntable and cut through the ganache with the warm knife.

Step 19 – Lift your cake (with its vertical sides and perfectly flat top) onto a waiting prep board or presentation cake drum.  Or leave it on the turntable and cover it with fondant.

See how easy it is to get a cake with a flat top and straight sides!  Hey, if klutzy Carol can do it, anyone can.

Happy Decorating,


Note on Acrylic Disks: You can buy disks that are either 1/4" or 1/2" larger than your cake. If your cake is 8” you can select either the 8-1/4” or 8-1/2” sized disks. I have tried both gap sizes, and I prefer the disks with the 1/4" gap. For me the 1/2" gap made the ganache layer much too thick, especially if your cake has shrunk or had to be trimmed.   I purchased my disks from several different manufactures, but I have to say that my favorite are from Cakesafe. Cakesafe has etched the size of the disk into the acrylic (which is very helpful when you have lots of disks in lots of sizes).  Their disks also have guide lines etched onto the acrylic that helps you to center the cake correctly on the bottom disk. And they offer lots and lots of different sizes and shapes; bench scrapers too.  They even have disks to match the fancy Fat Daddio’s and Wilton cake pans. (Note: I have no relationship with Cakesafe.)

So if you have a hankering  to make ganache (or buttercream) cakes with perfectly straight sides and completely flat tops - give the Acrylic Disks a try...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gunging - Sugar Spackle that Hides ALL Fondant Flaws

Do you ever get rips, tears, gouges, or holes in your fondant covered cakes?  ME TOO!!

But I no longer yank out my hair when my fondant starts misbehaving because I recently discovered the power of GUNGE.   Have you ever seen home repair shows where they patch holes in the walls with spackle?  Well gunge is like that.  It is sugar spackle for your cake.  You just smooth it on, scrape it off, and the flaws (almost) disappear!!!

So why am I talking about gunge?  Well it once again saved a cake, and my pride from total humiliation.  Here is my latest problem cake. Doesn't it make you cringe?  It is by far my worst attempt at covering a cake with fondant. 

And the problems continue on the other side of the cake...

I'm not sure what happened.  The rolling of the fondant and the cake prep went fine...

The cake is an 8" double barrel, but I have successfully covered cakes this high and narrow before.  I was also using a new fondant, so maybe that was the problem??  (Note: The fondant was Fondx Salted Carmel, and I bought it on the spur of the moment because the flavor description had me intrigued.  Well I'm sorry to say that it tasted neither Salted, or Carmel; it just tasted like marshmallow fondant.)

But back to the problem... So possibly the fondant was the problem.  Or could it have been the temperature of the cake?  The cake was very cold, so maybe that dried out the fondant??  I'm not sure, but you can see that I had problems from the beginning...

I tried covering the cake three times, and each time the fondant stretched and split at the top edge of the cake.  By the third unsuccessful attempt, I just accepted the tear at the top and moved on.  I figured I could conceal the flaws with my secret decorating weapon: GUNGE.

So gunge is just a mixture of fondant and liquid.  Some people say to use water, but I have found that using water causes the gunge patch to look shiny after it dries.   Kaysie Lackey from Innovative Sugar Works suggest using a mixture of half whole milk and half vodka, and this works great.  If you use just water or just vodka it will dry shiny but if you add some milk, the milk fats will cause it to dry with a matte look.

To make the gunge you just whip 200 grams of fondant with 15 grams of whole milk and 15 grams of vodka. (See Kaysie Lackey's full recipe with directions and notes at bottom of post.)  You can also make a smaller batch with 100 g fondant, 7 g whole milk, 8 g of vodka or even 50 g or an even smaller batch with 50 g of fondant, 4 g whole milk, 4 g of vodka.

First start out mixing 100 grams of the fondant with the liquid...

...and when the fondant gets incorporated into the liquid slowing start adding pieces of the remaining 100 grams of fondant until the mixture starts to look like stiff peak royal icing.  You don't need to add all the remaining fondant; just add enough till the consistency look right.  And FYI, it takes a long time to mix, so just be patient.

You can also make a smaller batch if you don't don't have that many flaws to cover.  And you can also use colored fondant so your gunge will be the exact same shade as the fondant covering your cake.  How cool it that.

Next start filling all the holes and imperfections on the cake.  Just goop it on...

And then scrape it off...

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You may have to do it a few times to get it smooth.  To scrape off the excess gunge I use these little scrapers called Sugar Smoothers.  They work great, and can be used for many different things, like smoothing the fondant, or protecting the fondant from hand prints as you move it, or cutting away the excess fondant from the bottom of the cake. 

So back to gunging.  You dollop it on, and scrape it off, filling the holes in the process.

And after a little gunge, and a few scrapes, the flaws are almost invisible.   Yes, if you look close enough you can still see the flaws.  But to me THIS version looks so much better....

... than THIS version ...

The gunge is also great for filling the the gap between two stacked cakes, or for filling the gap between the cake and the cake drum or board.  Just put the gunge in a piping bag with a size 2 tip, and pipe the gunge into the seam.  Use the damp tip of your finger to push the gunge into the seam and wipe away the excess. Or if you are into nifty tools you can use these soft tipped, food safe shaping tools to push the gunge into the seam and clear away the excess.  The food safe shaping tools are identical to the much cheaper (but not food safe) clay sculpting & shaping tools I use when playing with Fimo and Sculpey III clays.

So with the gunge the gap between tiers will go from this....

To this....

Again, my "after" fix is not perfect, but it masked the worst of the problems.

And here is the finished cake.  I thought it look kind of pretty till someone said it looked like a hat!  Actually more than one person said it looked like a hat.  Oh well, I guess I should have used a square cake board.

But my mom like it, and that is really all that matters.

Happy Decorating,


Gunge (recipe from  Kaysie Lackey at Innovative Sugar Works)

200 grams  Fondant
15 grams  Whole Milk  (Soy Milk works too)
15 grams  Vodka

  • Start out mixing 100 grams of the fondant will all of the liquid.  I use an electric hand mixer fitted with a whisk.  Be patient, this takes a while.
  • When the original 100 g of fondant gets incorporated into the liquid, slowing start adding pieces of the remaining 100 grams of fondant until the mixture starts to look like stiff peak royal icing.  You don't need to add all the remaining fondant; just add enough till the consistency look right. 

Tools Used:
  • Sugar Smoother/Scraper by  Innovative Sugar Works - This tool is great for scraping the gunge from the cake.  It is light and thin, but super strong.  The scrapper has other uses, but it is the go-to tool for gunge repairs.  You can get Smoothers with a ruler inked on the side or Ink Free.
  • Sugar Shapers are another great tool to use with gunging.  If you have a gap between your stacked tiers, you can pip the gunge in the gap and smooth it out using the Sugar Shapers.
  • An the best tool of all the the TurnTable Expander.  When draping the fondant over the cake, my regular turntable is not large enough to hold all the extra fondant that pools at the base.   The TurnTable Expander gives you an extra 8 inches of working space. The Expander fits my Cake Boss Turntable perfectly, but Innovative Sugar Works now sells their own turntable.
  • And, No, I don't work-for or have any relationship with Innovative Sugar Works.  As a hobby baker I just love their products.

Note 1: You can also half or quarter this recipe.

Note 2: If you use just water or just vodka as the liquid, the gunge patch will have a shiny appearance and stand out from the fondant around it.  The milk is used because the fat in the milk gives the gunge patch a matte finish that will make the repaired area blend seamlessly into the surrounding fondant. I have also used Soy Milk and it works just as well as the whole milk.

Note 3: The vodka is used because it quickly evaporates when exposed to air so it helps the repaired area dry quickly and lose its stickiness.  If you use water, the gunge will stay sticky for a much longer period.

So if your fondant isn't perfect, don't despair --- just GUNGE IT!