There are many ways to top a cake. You can drizzle it with a glaze or smoothly coat it with ganache or buttercream, for example. Getting the frosting right is not too hard, but decorating a cake for a particular occasion (e.g. a birthday or celebration) can present a bit more of a challenge. Most birthday cakes come with something fancy: icing perfectly lining the edges in neat little ruffles, elegant clusters of buttercream roses or screen-printed photos. Are amateurs destined to stick with store-bought plastic decorations or a random array of candles if we don’t want to fuss with piping bags full of frosting, trying to get our lines to vaguely resemble the perfection of the cakes we can buy?
I can ice a cookie like nobody’s business, but I have a hard time with the traditional piped icing for birthday cakes. Truth be told, I’m awful at making those little roses and I never even liked the “corner pieces” with all that extra frosting. So I looked for an alternative that would allow me to decorate the cake (no plain candles here), give me more control over the decorations and would be easy to work with. The answer was chocolate.
Many craft or baking supply stores carry easy-melt chocolates* and plastic squeeze bottles that are ideal for piping out melted chocolate. The bottles are easy to direct and you don’t have to worry about drawing directly onto the cake because all of the work can be done on a sheet of waxed paper. Once the chocolate – dark, milk, white or otherwise flavored (mint, etc) – sets up, it is firm and can be peeled off the paper, then pressed lightly into place on your cake. I use this technique for writing messages and for other designs, like the white chocolate horse pictured above. The only thing to watch out for is that the chocolate should be relatively thick to keep it from cracking when you handle it.
The cake pictured below is a Chocolate Layer Cake with Creamy Vanilla Frosting. The recipe can be found here.
*The easy-melt chocolates, a.k.a. “confectionery wafers,” are the easiest candy material to work with. They melt smoothly, flow evenly and actually taste good. On top of that, you don’t have to worry about the chocolate blooming and getting that dusty appearance because the wafers are made to melt. That said, you can also use regular chocolate for this type of decorating, although having a bit of extra chocolate-handling experience will come in handy to ensure a perfect result if you choose to go this route.