Frequently Asked Questions

I have compiled a list of the most common questions that I am most frequently asked.

If you have a problem or query that is not covered then please feel free to e-mail me and I will try to help if I can.

Feel free to email me with any sugarpaste questions and I’ll do my best to help you.

Sugarpaste and  flower paste

Q Is sugarpaste the same as flower paste or gum paste ?

A Sugarpaste (also known as ready to roll icing, fondant, rolled fondant, easy ice and many other names) is not the same as gumpaste or petal paste. Sugarpaste is used for covering cakes and boards and for making relatively simple models.

Flower paste is completely different to sugarpaste. It is also called florist paste, petal paste and in America, gum paste. As its name suggests it is ideal for creating wonderful icing flowers or butterflies. It can be rolled much thinner than sugarpaste whilst retaining a lot of strength which means you can give your flowers wafer thin realistic petals and leaves. It sets quickly and once dry can be dusted, painted or gently sprayed with lustre.

Sticking sugarpaste on cake

Q What should I use to stick sugarpaste onto my cake?

A If you are covering a sponge cake, use buttercream or jam.

If you are covering a fruit cake you would first cover the fruit cake with marzipan. Use Boiled apricot jam to stick the marzipan to the fruit cake. Once covered, moisten the marzipan by dabbing it with cooled, boiled water using a pastry brush and cover with sugarpaste.

Air bubbles

Q : I keep getting air bubbles trapped under my sugarpaste. How can I get rid of them?

A : When you put sugarpaste on to a cake, gently smooth the top first before moving onto the sides. This should minimise your chances of getting an air bubble trapped. If one persists, then deal with it while the icing is still soft. Dip a dressmaker’s pin into boiling water for a few seconds to sterilise it then holding the pin at a slight angle, poke it into the centre of the bubble. Remove the pin and gently press the air out of the bubble.

Adding strength to sugarpaste

Q : Someone told me they always add something to their sugarpaste before using it to make it stronger but I can’t remember what it was.

A : They were probably referring to Carboxymethlcellulose which as no-one can ever pronounce it is commonly called CMC.

CMC can be bought from any cake decorating shop or online sometimes under brand names such as Tylopur, Sugarcel and Tylose. Gum Tragacanth can also be used. As a rough guide you will need to add 1-2 teaspoons of CMC to every 450g (1lb) of sugarpaste. It will start to thicken straight away so can be used immediately. If you are using Gum Tragacanth you will need to leave the paste for 24 hours before use. It is not essential to always use a strengthener it really is a question of personal preference. I rarely use one.

Streaks

Q: I covered my first cake last week but the sugarpaste  looked streaky. What have I done wrong?

A : I assume that you coloured the sugarpaste yourself as it would be unusual for commercial coloured sugarpaste not to be mixed properly. All that has happened is that you haven’t kneaded the colour into the paste for long enough. Next time use a bit more elbow grease and knead until all colour is thoroughly kneaded in.

Sticking models together

Q : What should I use to stick my sugarpaste models together?

A : I have always used plain water to stick my models together. However if you want to use a sugar glue that is perfectly acceptable too. You can buy sugar glue or make your own by simply dissolving a lump of sugarpaste in water.

Sugarpaste too wet

Q : I tried to colour sugarpaste for the first time  but it went all soggy.

A : I am guessing  that this happened because you probably used liquid food colours. If you use  food colour pastes or gels which are much thicker this shouldn’t happen.

Dusty marks

How can I get rid of dusty icing sugar marks on sugarpaste?

A: When you have finished, lightly brush away any marks with a soft damp paintbrush. The icing will look shiny at first but as it dries it will revert back to a matte finish.

Fondant Fancy

Q : I bought a fondant mix as I thought fondant was the same as sugarpaste but it was runny and not what I was expecting at all.

A :  Ah, in an earlier answer I said that sugarpaste had many names and yes – one of those is indeed fondant. However I suspect the fondant you bought was the pouring fondant – this is a liquid type of fondant icing that you would pour over a fondant fancy or sticky bun. Pouring Fondant cannot be used for making models.

 

Cracks 

Q : Sometimes when I cover a cake the edges crack. How can I stop this?

A:  This usually happens if the sugarpaste hasn’t been kneaded enough or the sugarpaste itself is a little too old and dry. Although you the cake decorator will probably feel dismayed at the sight of them,  the recipient probably won’t even notice. However if you want to hide them and you have covered the cake with white sugarpaste you can gently rub a little icing sugar over the cracks to fill them. Alternatively hide them completely under a decoration or piping.

If you have any questions about working with marzipan that are not answered here then send me your queries and I’ll do my best to answer.

Are they the same?

Q Is marzipan the same as almond paste ?

A If you are in the UK then yes the two products are almost identical and can be interchanged. However if you are sitting in America reading this then no, there they are two different products and you would always use marzipan for your cakes. In the US, marzipan has much more sugar in it than the product they call almond paste. This makes it softer and easier to use for making models and covering cakes.

Heated Question

Q Can I heat marzipan in the microwave to soften it before use?

A Yes you can but do take care. Only heat it in short 15 second increments as the oils inside the marzipan can get extremely hot and can burn.

Colouring Marzipan

Q What should I use to colour marzipan?

A Treat marzipan the same as sugarpaste and use paste or gel colours to colour it. Liquid colours can make the marzipan a little too wet to use properly.

Rolling out

Q Can I roll out marzipan on cornflour ?

A No, always use icing sugar as using cornflour with marzipan can cause fermentation. Sprinkle it on your work surface and rolling pin and roll it out just as you would pastry.

Marchpane and Frangipane

Q What are marchpane and Frangipane? Are they the same as marzipan?

The term marchpane dates right back to Tudor times and yes it is virtually the same as modern day marzipan.

Frangipane is more of an almond filling that would be used in deserts and pastries such as almond croissants. It is not suitable for making models or covering cakes.

Drying out

Q Once I have opened a packet of shop bought marzipan how long can I keep it ?

A Like sugarpaste, once it is out of its packet marzipan will begin to dry out and harden so keep any unused marzipan double wrapped in small polythene food bags. Shop bought marzipan does not need to be kept in the fridge. The marzipan should be okay for about a month but check the manufacturer’s dates and instructions on the packet.

Freezing

Q: Can I freeze Marzipan?

A: If you have only used part of a packet of marzipan and have no immediate use for the left overs, you can tightly wrap the unused marzipan in freezer bags and freeze for up to 6 months.

If your packets are unopened you will probably find you don’t need to as marzipan naturally has a long shelf life. Check the best before date on the packaging.

If you have a baking or decorating  question then do ask. I’ll do my best to answer.

That Sinking Feeling  

Q : My cake looked fine when I took it out of the oven then sank in the middle as it cooled.

A: This usually happens because the cake simply wasn’t cooked for long enough. When a cake is cooked it will usually start to begin pulling away from the sides. If you poke a skewer into the centre and pull it out, the skewer should look clean. Often another sign that a cake is cooked is that you won’t be able to hear it bubbling. If your cake looks cooked on the top but clearly isn’t in the middle it could mean that your oven is too hot. You can lay a little baking parchment over the top to stop the top from scorching further while it continues cooking.

Cracking on cake

Q : The top of my cake seemed to rise too much and then cracked.

A : Check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer. Many ovens are actually hotter or cooler than they should be. If your oven turns out to be running at a hotter temperature than it says on the oven controls then what probably happened is that the top of the cake cooked quicker than the middle and formed a crust. The middle of the cake then began to cook and rise and cracked the top. Next time you bake, use a cooler temperature.

However if your cake does crack then all is not lost as it will still taste absolutely fine. Simply slice the very top off the cake when it has cooled and decorate.

Increasing amounts

Q : We have a special family cake recipe which we always use for birthdays. However the amounts are only for a 20cm (8in) cake. I want to make a bigger cake than that for a wedding. Is it ok to simply double or triple the amounts?

A : Absolutely. Double or triple the amounts so you have enough to  fill the baking tin two thirds full. If you have a bit of mix left over, make a few fairy cakes. Remember the bigger cake will need longer to cook than the smaller one.

Layers and layers

Q : Because she is going to turn 6, my daughter wants a 6 layer sponge cake. I’m a bit worried about how to bake a deep enough cake to slice into six layers.

A : The answer is you don’t bake just one cake. You will need to either bake two cakes you can slice into three layers each or three cakes you can slice into two layers. Alternatively, use sandwich pans and bake six separate thin layers then sandwich everything together.

As this is for a child’s birthday cake you might like to think about colouring some of the layers to create a striped effect when the cake is cut.

FAQ Buttercream

Feel free to email me if you have any questions regarding buttercream. I’ll do my best to answer you.

Crumbs

Q When I try to spread buttercream around the top and sides of my cake I get loads of crumbs caught up in it.

A : To achieve a perfect buttercream finish, first spread a thin, soft coating of buttercream around the sides and top of the cake. This is called “crumb coating” your cake. Then place the cake in the refrigerator for about an hour. The buttercream will harden, “gluing” the crumbs to the cake. Take the cake out and coat your cake with another layer of buttercream.  Unless you are pressing really hard on the cake you shouldn’t pick up any crumbs in this final top coat.

If you are planning to cover your cake with sugarpaste you only need one coat of buttercream. Any crumbs caught up in that won’t matter as they will be hidden by the sugarpaste.

Non Stick Buttercream

Q:  I covered my cake with buttercream prior to covering it with sugarpaste but I found that by the time I was ready to put the sugarpaste on top, the buttercream had hardened and the sugarpaste wouldn’t stick to it.

A:  To keep the buttercream coating soft and to prevent it crusting over if there’s a bit of a gap before you cover it, place a sheet of cling film over the cake once you have covered it with buttercream and remove it just before you place the sugarpaste on top.

Freezing

Q : Can I freeze buttercream?

A : The buttercream recipe I use – butter, icing sugar and water is fine to freeze. Once made it can be covered and frozen for up to a month.

The Blues

Q : I tried to make blue buttercream but it went green.

A : This happened because buttercream is naturally yellowy in colour so the addition of the blue food colour turned it green. There are two ways you can help prevent this. The first is to give your buttercream a serious beating. You will need a mixer. Beat it on high for at least ten minutes . This should make the buttercream much paler and almost white in colour and less likely to look green when blue food colour is added.

The second method is to not use butter at all but to mix up a batch of “buttercream” substituting a white vegetable fat (eg Trex) which doesn’t really have much taste for the butter. Don’t use lard as that has too strong a taste. Add the icing sugar, a dash of hot water and splosh of vanilla essence as normal and you will have perfect white “buttercream” that will not distort your colours.

There are an incredible number of baking tins or pans available to buy. If you are just starting out it can look quite bewildering. What you will probably find will happen though is that you will end up with two or three favourite baking pans that you use all the time.

Always wash and dry your pans after use and they will last for years. I have a few of my grandmother’s metal pans that are still going strong after eighty years!

To limit the number of pans that you need to buy initially, use your baking pans constructively. For instance if you need to bake a 12 cm (5in) cake but you only have a 15cm (6in) cake tin, don’t immediately have a melt down in the kitchen and rush to your nearest store, simply bake a 15cm (6in) cake and once cooled, trim it down to size.

Large and Novelty cake tins

I am often asked how to work out how much extra cake mix you might need for a large cake. Here are a couple of methods. 

The Happy Go Lucky  Method

Simply double or triple the  ingredient amounts of your chosen recipe and allow for a longer cooking time. If you have a bit of excess cake mix left over, use this to make a few cup cakes. 

The Slightly more Scientific Method

Here is a more grown up method for those of you who hate waste and enjoy being precise.

  1. Fill a cup with water and tip it into the tin that you are planning to use.
  2. Repeat, counting the cupfuls until you reach the level that the unbaked cake mixture would reach. ( usually about two thirds full)
  3. Take a cake tin that you use all the time and for which you know how much cake mixture you’d need.
  4. Using the same cup, tip and count how many cupfuls of water would be needed to fill that tin two thirds full.
  5. If the number of cupfuls needed to fill the large tin is about double the number needed to fill your usual tin you know that you need to make double the amount of cake mixture.  If the larger tin needs three times as many cupfuls of water to fill it you know that you would need to triple the amount of cake mixture.

There are an incredible number of baking tins or pans available to buy. If you are just starting out it can look quite bewildering. In truth however what you will probably find will happen is that you will end up with two or three favourite baking pans that you use all the time. Wash and dry after use and your baking tins will last for years. I have a few of my grandmother’s metal pans that are still going strong after eighty years!

To limit the number of pans that you need to buy initially, use your baking pans constructively. For instance if you need to bake a 12 cm (5in) cake but you only have a 15cm (6in) cake tin, don’t immediately have a melt down in the kitchen and rush to your nearest store, simply bake a 15cm (6in) cake and once cooled, trim it down to size.

This advice also works in reverse. If you only have a 15cm (6in) square pan but you need a 30cm (12 in) square cake you could bake four small cakes and “glue” together with buttercream to create the large cake.

There is no hard or fast rule as to what type of baking pan is the best – it is entirely what suits you.

If you need a special one-off shaped tin such as a number shaped tin, it’s worth asking at your nearest cake decorating equipment stockist. They will often have baking tins which you can hire.

  • how to use sugarpaste
  • colouring sugarpaste
  • different effects
  • making models

 

  • how to use
  • covering cakes in one go
  • covering cakes in sections
  • colouring
  • storing
  • making models

Basic Rules

Marzipan is easy to work with but there are some simple rules to remember.

Like fondant, once it is out of its packet it will begin to dry out and harden so keep any unused marzipan double wrapped in small polythene food bags. Shop bought marzipan does not need to be kept in the fridge

Carol Deacon Cakes

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