Cake decorating is an art form that is slightly more difficult to master than the televised cake-decorating competitions make it seem. Leveling cakes perfectly, getting a flawless layer of fondant and making a realistic looking rose out of sugar or icing are techniques that take more than a little bit of practice. The best way to learn the art of cake decorating is with a lot of hands-on practice, preferably with a skilled decorator looking over your shoulder to help you out. If you don’t have a master decorator on call, getting a detailed book written by one is the next best option.
Mich Turner’s Cake Masterclass is a book all about the art of cake decorating. Mich Turner is a highly accomplished baker and cake decorator who has put together a beautiful volume that will give anyone a solid course in cake decorating. The book starts out with some basic cake recipes, the types of recipes that provide good bases for decorated cakes. The next chapter is devoted to frostings and fillings, including recommendations for what types of frosting to use in what situations (and what can and cannot be refrigerated when you’re working in advance. The flavors are great and this is a chapter that, even if you’re not into decorating, most bakers will get great ideas from. The last few chapters are about the decorating, from preparing the cake layers to be covered all the way through the finished, artfully decorated, layer cake.
The decorating techniques described in the book range from simple to advanced, but each and every one is carefully explained and illustrated with many beautiful (and helpful) photos. It is as close as you’ll get to having a pro stand there and teach you in your own kitchen. There are designs for kids’ cakes and for elaborate wedding-type cakes, and they all seem accessible. If you do want a little bit more visual help, Turner has a few videos on YouTube that will give you some tips and basic techniques when you’re ready to get started:
Update: The US edition of the book is called The Art of Cake and it should be a little bit easier to find in bookstores and online. I haven’t done a side-by-side of the two editions, but they cover the same stuff with the same great tips.