Archive for April, 2012

Sydney Style vs London Style of Cake Decorating

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

As some of you know, I started my cake decorating career while I was living in England. By the time I moved back to Australia, I was well practiced in the basics of covering a cake with my home made fondant and I could do it reasonably quickly. When we came back to Sydney, I had to start the cake business up again pretty much from scratch and build up a new client base. But that wasn’t the only thing that had to be started again. I practically had to re-learn everything I knew about covering a cake!

What I hadn’t realised is that there is a definite difference in the style of cakes in Australia vs the UK. And the methods to achieve that Australian look are very different to what I was used to. There are some cake decorators here in Oz that do use the British style, but the more high profile ones such as Planet Cake or Sweet Art make their cakes in what I think of as the Australian style. And to be quite frank, I love the Australian style of cake decorating and I much prefer it to the British way. So I was determined to learn this new art.

So what are the differences between Australian and British cakes? One of the most noticeable differences is that the cakes in Australia are taller. In England, a standard cake is 3 inches high. In Australia, the industry standard is 4 inches! This made quite a difference to my recipes and costs, as I had to increase the amount of cake batter I was using per cake to achieve that extra inch. This changed cooking time as well. There was quite a bit of experimenting to find the right ratios for ingredients to get to 4 inches and the correct cooking time and temperature to cook the cake all the way through without over baking or creating a thick crust.

Another big style difference (and this for me was the biggie) is that the cakes in Australia tend to have a sharp edge. Cakes in the UK have rounded edges. What do I mean by this? Take a look at the image below.

Sharp edge vs rounded edge on cakes

The cake on the left has a sharp edge (Australian style), the cake on the right has a rounded edge (British style)

See what I mean? To achieve this sharp edge, there are several things that are done. Firstly, instead of a buttercream crumb coat underneath the fondant, a generous coating of chocolate ganache is used as it is much firmer and stronger than buttercream. Secondly, a much thinner layer of fondant is used to cover the cake. Thirdly, after covering the cake, two fondant smoothers are used to push the top edges of the fondant on the cake out to make a nice sharp edge.

So I had to learn how to ganache a cake. Ganache is great instead of butercream under fondant as it gives a beautifully smooth finish without the lumps and bumps. However, it is quite tricky to use! You are supposed to create a very sharp edge with the ganache coating as a base for your fondant’s sharp edge, not an easy process. It was a pretty steep learning curve for me, especially since I was so used to buttercreaming cakes. It takes me a lot longer to ganache a cake than it ever did to do a buttercream crumb coat. And chocolate ganache is a lot more expensive to make than buttercream! To get a good consistency you really need to use couverture chocolate with 50-60% cocoa solids, which is quite pricey compared to compound or cooking chocolate, and lots of pure cream.

Ganched cake with sharp edge

One of my ganached cakes. Perfectly ganached cakes are essential to achieving a sharp edge with fondant.

The thin layer of fondant wasn’t such a big deal to me. In the UK a pretty thick layer of fondant is used to cover cakes to help hide the lumps and bumps as it is much harder to achieve a smooth surface on a cake with buttercream. But I have always rolled my fondant much thinner than the industry standard in the UK as I got reasonably good at achieving a fairly smooth buttercream crumb coat. A lot of cake decorators who use buttercream don’t spend as much time trying to get a smooth finish and compensate with a really thick layer of fondant. I find cakes taste much better when less fondant is used, so I worked at my buttercream crumb coating so I could use a lot less fondant. Despite already having a pretty thin layer of fondant on my cakes already, to achieve the sharp edge I did have to go a bit thinner.

I did end up having to switch to a ready made commercial fondant. The icing sugar available here in Australia is made from cane sugar. The icing sugar readily available in England is made from beets. They have quite different textures and consistencies. My tried and true fondant recipe just would not work with cane sugar.┬áThe humidity and heat in Australia didn’t help matters. I finally had to concede defeat after several months of experimenting with my fondant recipe. It was taking up way too much of my time and was fast becoming commercially unviable. After trying out several different brands of ready made fondant, I chose the one that tasted the best and was reasonable to work with. I was actually quite surprised this fondant tasted as good as my home made one!

Another thing I found was that I had to use a lot more fondant to cover my cakes, as now they were an inch taller. So for some of my larger cakes of 10″ or more, I found my non stick rolling out board wasn’t big enough anymore. I ended up investing in The Mat by Sweet Wise (more on that in another post very soon).

It takes a lot more time to cover a cake when using ganache instead of buttercream as a lot of setting time is needed, up to 3 days. Ideally you make the ganache on day 1 and leave it overnight to set. Day 2 you do your ganache coating on the cake then leave it overnight to set again. Then on day 3 you hot knife the surface and the edges for a perfect finish, then leave it to set for yet another night. With buttercream, it was pretty much a case of making the buttercream then slapping on your crumb coat straight away then covering the cake with fondant all on the one day. I do cheat a little and cut the ganaching process down a day by putting the ganached cake in the freezer for 10 minutes then doing the hot knifing.

It took me aaaaages to learn how to create the sharp edge once the fondant was on the ganached cake. I eventually worked out that you have to kind of pinch the the edge of the fondant with one smoother on the top and one on the side.

So now it takes me longer and costs me more to cover a cake. But I do feel the look of my cakes is more stylish and sophisticated since adopting this style. I love the results, like this cake below!

Anemone wedding cake in the Sydney style

One of my Sydney style cakes with 4 inch high tiers and sharp edges