Make sure the ice is right
Published:  05 September, 2008

The icing on a cake can fulfil a number of requirements. It can be used to make a cake more aesthetically pleasing and can pull together the theme of an occasion. It can be used to keep a cake fresh and help products stand out from their competitors. But icing a cake is not always a sweet success.

Common icing problems encountered by cake decorators include dryness, cracking, icing which is too soft and too sticky, as well as difficulty in achieving specific colours. Another problem is that over time white icing can lose its snowy appearance.

"Occasionally we have problems with the product being too dry, difficult to roll or it cracks," says John Slattery of Slattery Patisserie, who explains that European regulations can also be an issue. "One problem we have to overcome is the restriction in the colours we can use, as we're not allowed to use certain ones anymore," says Slattery. For example, he says colours such as a bright Barbie pink colour are very difficult to match. "Sometimes we need to make changes to the product for more delicate decorations or if the icing needs to dry faster or harder than it would normally," he adds.

Iced Innovations' cake decorator Erica Galvin knows one of the biggest problems a cake decorator can face is cracking. "Occasionally the corners of the icing might dry out a bit, but you can cut them off," she says, "but cracking can be a big problem." She also explains that some icings that have been pre-coloured can create dryness. For example "red is always fine," she says, but "it tends to be the blues and greens," that cause the most dryness. Black can also cause problems as a lot of colouring is needed to get a deep rich colour.

Working with a larger cake means you are working with the icing for a lot longer, explains Galvin. This means the icing tends to be exposed to the air for longer and is more likely to dry out and crack. "Try to minimise the time you spend working with the icing," says Galvin. "You need to kneed long enough to make it pliable but no more. Don't fiddle with the icing. Handle it as much as you need to and then leave it. If it's a bit dry you can also add a bit of water with your fingers, but make sure you don't use too much."

Icing solutions

Flemings produce a wide range of fondant icings, roll out icings, speciality quick-dry icing and high-gloss icings, which contain no hydrogenated fat. "Bakers can take a block of fondant and turn it into three, four or even five different lines, whether it's butter cream or to be used as an enrobing icing," says Flemings' sales and marketing manager Douglas McCabe.

Flemings also offer bespoke solutions. "We talk through the customer's requirements, for example, if they need six months' shelf-life on the product, or a glossy or dull finish. We then take that criteria and manufacture against it," says McCabe.

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