Trying Something New with Cakes

It’s been a while since I wrote a cake-related post, but since I had a chance to try a new technique for my sister’s birthday cake, I thought I’d share.

It’s also been a while since I decorated a cake so when the birthday cake came up, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to do something I’d never done before and that looked complicated: the frozen buttercream transfer. You can google that phrase and find tons of videos and images. In a nutshell, you use icing on an image like a coloring book, freeze it and then flip it onto a cake. Easy enough.

First you need to use your favorite graphics program to create a reverse image of the picture you want to use. See the above “flip it” part of the nutshell explanation. Tape it to something that can go in your freezer. I used the bottom of a rectangle cake pan. Then tape waxed paper over the image.

The tricky part is figuring out the order in which to ice. Because you’re working from the front back, you need to think about what falls in front and behind. For example, if you’re making a smiling face, you want to ice lines for the smile, eyes and nose before icing the skin. You should also think about what thin lines or small areas you want to fill first before you can’t get to them. For me, it was the white around the liberty bell and Phillies logo.

Confession – I made this logo twice because I wasn’t thrilled with how the first one turned out. I also needed to do the bell’s crack, stars and little tiny blue areas first.

Work on a layer or section and then stick the whole thing in the freezer. The buttercream will set up in a couple of minutes. You don’t need to do this, but I was more comfortable knowing my lines and such wouldn’t smear when the next set of icing went down.

Because you’re working in layers, you don’t need to worry about coloring outside the lines. When I put the red on, it could be somewhat messy because it was on top of the hardened white so the white would show in the final piece. When I got to filling in larger sections (the blue), the design no longer resembled the original logo.

Don’t go too crazy with thick lines or you’ll have a 2″ thick slab of buttercream when you’re finished. Lesson learned though, try to smooth out the areas as much as possible before going on to the next layer/section. Make sure you push the icing down on the wax paper (gently, please) so it fills any air pockets and abuts any outlines.

Everything I saw online said to finish the layers with a smooth layer of icing the same color as your cake. In my case, white. I don’t know if this is exactly necessary. I don’t think having a blue or multicolored background really would have made a difference. But do whatever. Just make sure the finished piece is all the same thickness. After all, you’re going to put this on your cake and you want it to be level.

I froze my first logo overnight. The second one froze for about an hour when it was done. You don’t need more than the hour. Just make sure it’s firm before you start peeking. Because you’ll want to. And since this means lifting up part of the paper, you run the risk of cracking, bending or completely f’ing up your work. You’re going to peek. I know it. You know it. Just do yourself a favor. The first time you want to peek, walk away. Give in on the second time if you have to. But wait for the third or fourth temptation if you can.

When it’s finished, the hardened buttercream should stick to the wax paper so you can get a good luck at what you’ve done and where you should have been more careful. Lessons learned for next time. Stupid blue star.

Figure out where you want the design on your cake. Take a deep breath and gently place the design (icing side down) on the cake. Lightly press the design so it sticks. Say a prayer and start peeling the wax paper off. It actually comes off pretty easily. Some people say build up the icing around the transfer so it’s flush. I say, that’s a ton of icing; embrace the 3-D look.

If the environment in your house is humid, the design could sweat a little. There’s nothing you can do about this.

The hardened buttercream will soften quickly (although it will hold the design) so you don’t need to worry about the guest of honor cutting through a plastic-like plaque on top of the cake.

I’d do this again. Maybe for intricate letters that I don’t want to cut out of fondant. It could be cool to duplicate someone’s favorite painting. And I’ve seen people use the technique to make a posterized version of a favorite photo.

Go ahead. Give it a whirl. It’s easier than it looks.

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