If you’re looking for a relaxing (and practical) craft to learn, cake decorating might be a good choice.
I was a professional cake decorator for twenty years, and I can tell you that there’s definitely a “zone” that you get into with the repetitive motions of piping icing and decorating cakes.
Decorating a cake takes concentration, and the benefit is that you can use the finished product for a party or just to share with friends.
Table of Contents
- Cake decorating is mentally relaxing.
- Cake decorating is creative.
- The downside of cake decorating to watch out for.
- The basics you’ll need to start decorating cakes.
- Buttercream vs. fondant vs. gumpaste vs. wafer paper.
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Cake decorating is mentally relaxing.
Decorating cakes takes concentration, so it’s not mindless, but it does force you to concentrate on something other than the usual day-to-day worries that most of us have.
When I decorated cakes it was my job, so it wasn’t as enjoyable as it would have been if I was doing it for fun, but it was also something that really made me be mindful of what I was doing in the moment.
If you have to pay attention to what you’re doing, it focuses you and keeps you from sitting around worrying about things.
Baking and decorating cakes is also a creative outlet for a lot of people, and it gives you a finished product that you can see in a relatively short amount of time.
That means that it’s different from other crafts, which can take a long time to finish the project and see the result.
Cake decorating is creative.
There are a ton of resources for cake decorating, including youtube videos, articles and books to read, tutorials, and in-person classes. Learning how to decorate a cake like a professional is fun, but you can also learn a lot by trying things out and figuring things out on your own.
That gives you a feeling of satisfaction, and since everyone decorates cakes slightly differently, your cakes will always be a little different from other people’s.
Adding your particular style to a cake design lets you express yourself in a creative way, and when you see the finished product it gives you a real feeling of accomplishment.
It’s really satisfying to see your finished cake, and sharing your cakes with other people can also bring happiness to other people, which is gratifying.
If you decide to do cakes that are shaped like other things, you can learn techniques to imitate the look of non-cake items, and that makes it a little more fun!
The downside of cake decorating to watch out for.
One thing I would warn you about is that if you really catch the cake decorating bug, you’ll start trying to find excuses to bring cakes everywhere you go.
One way to avoid overdoing it is to use a dummy cake, which is made from styrofoam, to use as a practice cake.
Dummies can be purchased from cake decorating supply companies, and you can ice them and decorate them like they’re real cakes.
This is one way to have fun without having to bake anything, and it also takes the pressure off, because that is NOT relaxing!
Another thing to watch out for is that when you start decorating cakes, people will start expecting you to make them cakes for free.
I would advise that if you want this to be something that you do for relaxation, you should NEVER tell someone that you’ll make them a cake for a specific event.
That makes it an obligation, and that’s not fun. It puts a different level of pressure on it than just making a cake on your own timeline.
Since I decorated cakes for 20 years, I learned to put very specific limitations on it, and I never did a cake for an event unless I offered to do it and the person accepted.
If they didn’t want me to do it, that was fine, and if the same thing happens to you, don’t take it personally. Sometimes people want you to come to the party without having to do any work for it.
And make no mistake, if you HAVE to decorate a cake, that’s work. If you want to keep this as a relaxing hobby, don’t do it for a business or as something that has a deadline!
The basics you’ll need to start decorating cakes.
If you want to start decorating cakes for fun, you can probably get everything you need at your local craft store. Decide if you want to learn how to pipe buttercream icing with piping bags, or if you want to concentrate on learning how to make fondant decorations.
I would start by getting a couple of cake decorating books or by watching YouTube videos that show the basics of how to do different techniques.
YouTube has plenty of videos that can teach you everything you need to know, so before you invest a lot of money into it, check out the free resources that are available.
I’d suggest getting some offset spatulas and a basic set of decorating tools that includes some piping bags and basic icing tips. You can usually find these in the cake decorating aisle at craft stores, but if you’re lucky enough to have a cake decorating supply store near you, talk to the staff there to get some suggestions.
Buttercream vs. fondant vs. gumpaste vs. wafer paper.
Cake decorating goes through cycles where one type of decoration is more popular with decorators than others. For years buttercream was the most popular, then fondant came into style, and now buttercream is back and wafer paper is being used more often.
It’s a good idea to start with buttercream to get the basics of how to ice a cake, then add other techniques when it’s time to do the actual decorating.
As far as different decorating materials, fondant and gumpaste are types of sugar clays that you can use to cover cakes or make flowers and other decorations.
Piping buttercream is a totally different skill, and it takes practice.
Piping is a repetitive activity and it really puts you in “the zone.” You tend to count to yourself as you pipe, because there’s a rhythm to the piping motions and it forces you to slow down and pay attention to detail.
I’m not going to lie, piping buttercream isn’t easy when you first start out. The first few times that you try it, you’ll probably be pretty frustrated, because you’re going to be comparing yourself to people you’ve seen who pipe quickly and precisely.
It takes a lot of practice to figure out the right pressure to put on the bag, and how you personally handle the piping bags most efficiently.
Once you put some time into practicing, though, you’ll get the hang of it, and your piping will look much better, it just takes practice.
Fondant and gumpaste are the sugar clays that are used to make decorations with cutters, and sugar flowers.
If you don’t enjoy piping (a lot of people don’t,) you can stick to fondant and gumpaste and end up with a really pretty cake.
Another advantage of making gumpaste flowers is that you can do them ahead of time and have them ready when it’s time to decorate the cake.
Making gumpaste flowers is fun because you can make them either stylized or very realistic, and it’s like making flowers out of play dough.
There’s also wafer paper, which is what I work with the most these days. I have a bunch of cake decorating tutorials on my youtube channel, and some are about using wafer paper to make flowers.
Wafer paper is made from potato starch, vegetable oil, and water, and you can form it into petals and other shapes.
It’s really sensitive to water, though, and it’s a little tricky to use for flowers, so I would start with gumpaste if you want to learn to make flowers.
Gumpaste takes longer to dry than wafer paper does, but it’s easier to manipulate without ruining it, so the frustration level can be higher with wafer paper!
However, a lot of people who know how to make gumpaste flowers really love wafer paper when they try it, because it’s so much lighter and the flowers dry faster so they’re ready to put on the cake sooner.
You can also use candy clay (modeling chocolate) and isomalt to decorate cakes, plus other edible items.
There’s a lot of variety in cake decorating, so try it and see if you enjoy it. Just remember that keeping it as a fun craft is one thing, but as soon as you make it into work, it’s not going to be relaxing anymore!
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