Last week I made this really big (and really heavy) wedding cake. I have been asked a few times now how I cover cakes with sugarpaste and get it looking so smooth, so, I took some snaps as I went. My poor camera is now covered in icing sugar!
I started with each cake covered in marzipan. It gives a really smooth base coat. (To cover a cake in marzipan you do the same proceedure as with the icing- you just use jam or buttercream to attach it, not alchohol) I found out whilst making this cake that if you buy a 5kg box of sugarpaste you get 1kg free. It’s so much cheaper to buy in bulk! I buy from here by the way. Just look at the size of that sugarpaste! It’s massive and really heavy.
I break off big chunks and knead them until soft and pliable, then add the next chunk of sugarpaste, till I have enough to cover the whole cake. I use spacers when rolling to make sure that the icing is level throughout. This was a 12″ Madeira cake so the sugarpaste needed to be rolled out to a really big circle.
In order for the sugarpaste to stick to the marzipan you need to make it damp. For this use either cooled boiled water or brandy. You can guess which one I used! Well, it was a wedding cake! Use a damp pastry brush and cover the whole cake especially around the base.
If you are sugarpasting directly onto a cake (ie with no marzipan) add a thin layer of buttercream to the top and side of the cake for the sugarpaste to stick to. The smoother you can get teh buttercream the better the sugarpaste will look.
Carefully lift the rolled out sugarpaste over the cake. Support it from underneath as much as you can as it will stretch very easily- making it very thin in some areas.
Use a cake smoother to gently force any trapped air bubbles out and smooth the top layer of the cake.
I have this pink spirit leveller just for using with cakes. It’s an essential tool when stacking cakes, as if you get the bottom two tiers wonky it will throw the whole cake off. Most of the time you can keep using the smoother to get the level as good as perfect. Keep smoothing in a circular action and checking the flatness till it’s good.
Once the top is nice and flat gently use the palm of your hand to smooth down the sides. Avoid creases at the bottom by holding the lower piece of sugarpaste out away from the cake while you smooth it gently towards the bottom with your other hand. (It’s impossible to take a photo of this action when you are home alone on a Tuesday afternoon!) Hope it makes sence. Once the whole cake is covered use the palm of your hand to smooth the edges of the icing securely onto the cake. There is always some excess to cut off. I use a pizza wheel to cut away the extra sugarpaste. Don’t lean the cutter in towards the bottom of the cake. Keep it at a right angle and leave about 2mm sticking out. Use a flat smoother to tuck in the excess 2mm of sugarpaste all the way around the cake. Use the inside part of your palm- between your thumb and first finger, and smooth the top corner until it’s really soft and there are no bumps. The last action is to finish off with a cake smoother all over the top and around the sides till it’s perfectly smooth.
That cake is stunning! Well done Emma
Thank youuuuu X
That is absolutely beautiful. No wonder you were up to your eyes in iced flowers! Cx
That’s really helpful, thank you, as I’m just about to do my first bit of proper cake decorating. I’m not using marzipan this time so do I still use the cooled boiling water or brandy direct on the cake before putting the sugarpaste on?
Great question (I have added that detail into the post so thanks for that!)
If you are covering a cake without any marzipan you will need to add a thin layer of buttercream to the top and sides of the cake. Do one coat which is very thin and pop the cake in the fridge for 10-20 minutes for it to harden up. This is the crumb coating. Then add a second layer of buttercream on top. This layer will form a good base for the icing. The smoother you get the buttercream the better the sugarpaste will look.
Have a look at the post I did for the chocolate ganache which shows how I add buttercream crumb coating.
Hope that helps
Mine is a fruit cake though. Would you put buttercream on a fruit cake?
I’d put marzipan on a fruit cake.
If you don’t want to use marzipan you could add a really thin later of warmed and sieved apricot jam. That will make it sticky enough to hold the sugarpaste in place. Water or Brandy will just make it wet.
Hope that helps
Brilliant, thanks. I’d have marzipan too, but it’s a surprise cake and I’m not sure how much the person I’m making it for likes marzipan.
Looks really great
Beautiful instructions, thanks! Now… I have a number 80 cake to cover in fondant, any tips on where to start with that one?
Ooooh lovely! Lots of holes to decorate!
In my experience the best thing to do is to shape the numbers in the cake so you have as large a holes as possible then roll out the sugar paste quite thick. Say between 6-8mm. If you rub the sugar paste very slowly over each hole you won’t tear it and it will reach the cake board.
I know, probably the 2 worst numbers! Am hoping my number and letter came pan arrives In time – bit.ly/QqzprU – so wont get a say on the size of the holes.
Thanks for the tips, party is next weekend so hopefully good results to follow on the blog after that 🙂
Just had a thought! A few years ago I had to make a ’50’ birthday cake and I made a big circle cake then I cut out the middle ‘0’ with a cookie cutter. I then cut this in half and put it back into the cake so the hole wasn’t all the way through the cake. I then covered the whole cake with one colour sugarpaste then made a circle in a darker colour sugarpaste which I put in the shallow hole. It sorted out the problem of not being able to get the sugarpaste all the way down the hole to the cake board without tearing.
Just a thought……
Ooh, good plan, thanks! As I’ll have 2 little holes in the 8 and a big one in the 0 it might well be worth making perhaps a little sheet cake to fill in the gaps. Stocked up today on lots of fondant and will let you know how it goes next weekend!
Good luck X
brilliant instructions and a beautiful cake too. I am making a christening cake for my son’s baptism and wanted 2 tiers, any tips on stacking them so they don’t collapse or the top sinks into the bottom?!
When stacking a cake it’s important to put each additional layer onto a thin cake board. You can hide the board with the sugarpaste.
To stop the cakes from going into each other when you stack them you need to insert food standard posts into the base tier. Cake decorating shops sell wooden and plastic ones. You will need 3-4 posts, but I always pop an extra one in – just for good measure.
Start by inserting one post into the iced cake (the bottom one) and marking where the top of the post is. Remove the post and cut it to size.
Use this first post as a guide for the other posts so they are all the same length and your cake will be level.
Insert the posts around the cake but make sure you keep them away from the edges so they don’t miss the area where cake that is going to sit on top is.
Use a little bit of royal icing on top of the base cake and cover each post, then place the second tier on top. You will be able to move this cake into position.
Leave to set for a while then add ribbons or decorations. If there are gaps under the cake board of the second tier just fill with a little royal icing or hide them with decorations. No one will ever know!
Good luck and if you get a sec please pop a pic on the CakesBakesAndCookies Facebook page. I’d love to see the end result and share it with my followers.
Beautiful cake and really clear instructions, thank you. GG
Great tutorial and thank you so much for sharing! =)
Hi Emma. What is the difference detween sugarpaste and fondant, I know fondant. But am getting it mixed up, because I don’t know if they are the same.
Sugarpaste and fondant are exactly the same thing. They are the blocks of pre-coloured ready roll icing that you can buy in cake shops (and in white from most supermarkets) I try to only call it sugarpaste as it is quite confusing but every now and again I forget… sorry! I think they call it fondant in the US whereas here in the UK we call it icing or sugarpaste.
Hope that clears up the misunderstanding
For wedding cakes do you add brandy.
Fantastic, you have given me all the tips I need. My grandson wants Henry and Hetty (hoover) cakes for his birthday and I want to make them look good, here’s hoping! Your cake is stunning by the way (how do you make the gorgeous flowers?)
Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I love the idea of a Henry and Hetty hoover cake. There’ll be plenty of cake to eat in those designs!
I make the flowers with either a long, stretched oval piece of sugarpaste which is rolled up. Or I cut out 5/7/9 circles of sugarpaste and roll one up, then add another ‘petal’, then another till I have lots of layers.I curl each edge outwards as I go. I think you have just inspired a future post!
Good luck with your cake.
I need help. I have covered a fruit cake in marzipan and fondant and also covered the cake board in fondant. I do not know what to put on the fondant covered board before I put the cake on the board.
Thanks for your question. You can use royal icing to secure the cake to the cake board. This will give it a really strong ‘glue’ to keep it in place even when the cake needs to travel.
I hope this helps
Your cakes look beautiful, whenever I sugarpaste a cake I always end up with creases at the bottom and finger marks on the top. I just can’t seem to get it anything like as smooth as yours.
It has taken me a while to perfect the smoothing technique. The key to getting your sugarpaste smooth is to start by rolling it out to around ½cm thick. When you place it over the cake smooth the top part first with the palm of your hand. Then move your hand to the corner sides of the cake. As you move to smooth the sides gently pull the sugarpaste away from the bottom of the cake (where it meets the work surface you are working on) with one hand as you smooth from above with the other. Sugarpaste is very stretchy so you can persuade it into place with a little coaxing. It’s always harder to cover a square cake than a round (at least it is for me!). Just keep smoothing with your hands until it is all in place then use a Fondant Smoothing Tool Cake Decorate Smoother Polisher By BuyinCoins” target=”_blank”>smoother till it is perfect.
I hope this helps. Don’t give up. It took me ages to get it right. Something just clicks and then you can do it without thinking.
p.s. You can also practically hide creases by smoothing over and over the spot with your palm – then hide it with some flowers or other decoration. No one will ever know!
Thanks for the great fulsome reply. I do all of that but still end up with creases and imperfections, I don’t know why. Maybe the brand of sugarpaste used makes a big difference. I do find that I get a better result with a more expensive brand. I have to admit that even though i have done loads of cakes, I still face the sugarpasting with dread, and I have a 16 inch cake to do in a couple of weeks, which will be the biggest one I’ve made so far. I really am dreading covering that one!
Wow, a 16″ cake. That’s big. It wouldn’t even fit into my little oven.
There’s always at least one element to my cakes that I dread. Usually it’s making models without the legs falling off. (which is what I am avoiding today!) I tend to find that if you do the thing you’re worrying about first it’s never as bad as you think it will be! You can do it. I know you can.
Do you make sure that your sugarpaste is thoroughly kneaded and almost warm? I know that will be a full on arm workout when covering a 16″ cake. Warming the sugarpaste through kneading helps it stretch as you manipulate it into place over the cake.
My other suggestion would be to have a test run on a polystyrene 16″ fake cake. Then you can practice as many times as you want without sticking the sugarpaste into place. Try keeping the bottom of the sugarpaste away from the base of the cake. As you push down along the side it should just mould into place.
I hope that helps. Let me know how you get on and good luck
Great job emma.this is beautiful.
i made a gaint madeira cake but is very difficut to cover it please help me
I’m sorry to hear that you are having trouble with your giant madeira cake. The key to covering a large cake is to ensure that the sugarpaste is thick enough so that when you lift it and handle it, it won’t tear or rip. I roll out my sugarpaste to around 6-8mm. It is pretty heavy on the eating side but it’s the best way to get a smooth finish.
I hope that helps.
Hi Emma. Your cake looks beautiful- I am very jealous! I have been persuaded to do my brothers wedding cake and was quite looking forward to doing it until the icing stage! I have practised but can’t get it smooth. My main prob is the cake underneath seems so uneven so that lumps and bumps can be seen through both marzipan and fondant layer. I have got to do one fruit & one sponge and have so far covered both in Marz & fondant. Would I be better doing buttercream so that I can chill coating and get it smooth before I put fondant on?
I used to have the same problem. The key is to bake the cake (especially the sponge) the day before you cover it. Cakes are usually too fresh and crumbly the day of baking. Fill your cake with your buttercream/ jam etc then give it a thin layer of buttercream on the outside. Don’t worry about making it too perfect just make sure the whole cake is covered. This is the crumb coating which will prevent the cake crumbling when you add a smoother layer of buttercream. Put the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes so that the buttercream hardens up. After 20 minutes remove the cake from the fridge and give it a second, thicker coat of buttercream (around 5mm). Use a side scraper to make sure that the buttercream is flat and smooth then pop it back into the fridge again for another 20 minutes. When you remove it next it will be smooth and any lumps and bumps should be hidden.
Have a look at this post to see what I mean. http://wp.me/p35jFl-16X
The marzipan should be the next layer and make sure that it is thick enough to hide any perfections and give your sugarpaste a perfect base coat. Around 5mm is a good guide size (the depth of a £1 coin). Use your hands to smooth it then use a smoother tool. Brush the marzipan with cooled boiled water (or brandy for the fruit cake) then add the sugarpaste in the same way.
I hope that helps
Hi Emma. That sounds great – I will give that a go. My other issue i have is kneading and rolling marzipan & icing.it gets really sticky so I can’t knead it for very long which I know is important . And then it sticks to work top.can you advise what surface to do this on and any tips? I see from photos you are doing this on a mat?
Thanks for your help – my stress level is going down!!!
Marzipan is really sticky to roll out. I tend to wear silicon disposable gloves when I do it as the marzipan doesn’t stick to them so much!
I use pastry mats to roll out everything on- marzipan, sugarpaste, pastry. Mainly because I am obsessed with having perfectly clean surfaces and also I’m a bit of a nightmare when it comes to scratching surfaces with my knives/ pastry cutters/ scrapers etc. I recently discovered Extra Large Silicone Baking Sheet Blue FREE POSTAGE” target=”_blank”>silicon ones like this one and they are fab as they are really stick free.
The other trick is to use sieved icing sugar sprinkled on your work surface to prevent any marzipan or sugarpaste becoming too sticky.
Hope that helps with the stress levels! It’s all trial and error and working out what works for you best.
Hi Emma, you say about baking the cake the day before you ice it…where do you store the cake to ensure it stays as fresh as possible? I’m completely new to this but am making my son’s 1st birthday cake!! Also I used royal icing on the first trial but thinking about using sugarpaste as already coloured! Are they very different and should I do a trial sugarpaste one??
Thanks for your question. I Wait for my cake to be completely cool then I wrap it in cling film and leave it on the worktop overnight. I only put it in the fridge if it’s really hot out- which it isn’t here in the UK!
Royal icing is more of a paste that you cover a cake with using a spatula. Sugarpaste is like marzipan in as much as you can roll it out and cover a cake with it. You can colour Royal icing with food paste colours and you can colour white sugarpaste or but pre-coloured packs. It’s all a matter of preference! Both need a bit of practice but I’m sure you can get a handle on it. Practice means more cake to eat and I’m all for that!
I hope that helps. Let me know how you get on.
The bottom tier of the wedding cake in your picture doesn’t look like it was on the final cake board when you covered it in fondant. I was wondering how you got it onto the board without messing up the smooth sides. Do you have one of those cake lifter things that looks like a giant ping pong bat? And, does the board need to be covered in fondant before you put the cake on or can it be done after?
Yep that is the bottom tier of that wedding cake that is in the photos. This was a cake I made for my lovely sister-in-law. Gosh she’s been married 2 years now!
I do have one of those ping pong bat things (Cake Lifter
) but I tend to use a Wilton Cake Lifter
and just push the lifter under the front of the cake as far as it will go then with my other hand I support the back of the cake. I then swiftly place the cake on the cake board, make sure it’s central then smooth it again to remove any dents or hand prints. Because I do this as soon as I cover the cake it can easily be smoothed.
I always try to cover my cake boards with sugarpaste at least a week before I will be putting the cake on it. It gives it plenty of time to harden up and means it wont dent so easily. This means I can move my cake around without worrying about the base.
The cake (as it was for someone special) had two cake boards as I think that looks really lovely. I use pritt stick to glue the ribbon onto the cakeboard and when I apply ribbon to the cake I use pins to hold it in place and use royal icing to make it stick. The Royal icing does show through but I only use a little bit and as it’s at the back I don’t worry about it too much. Don’t forget to remove the pins! I always use big quilting ones with big heads so they stick out like a saw thumb!
I hope that helps
You say here you move the cake onto the board straight after icing. I had thought I’d move my cakes once the icing has dried out and hardened. Is this a bad idea? The thought of moving the cakes before the icing has set fills me with concern about fingerprints etc.
I move the cakes onto the board while the sugarpaste is still soft. This means that I can smooth any bumps and push the sugarpaste down onto the cake board without it cracking. You can also smooth out any fingerprints! If I moved it once it had hardened a little and it cracked I couldn’t ‘fix’ it so it’s easier for me this way. But remember there is no right and wrong with cake decorating. Whatever you’re comfortable with is perfect!
How on earth do you fix ribbon around the edge of the cake without having icing show through and still keeping a neat finish around the back?
Great web site with lots of useful tips. I have been cake icing for years and when making a sponge cake always cover it with marzipan and then sugarpaste. I am making a two tier 21st birthday cake and they don’t want marzipan on it. Is it possible to put a thin coating of apricot jam around the sides and top and then the sugarpaste rather than crumb coat it with buttercream.
My mum always adds marzipan and it tastes soooo amazing!
I haven’t tried to add sugarpaste directly onto jam but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work. Gently heat the jam ( I do this slowly in the microwave) and spread it on with a silicon pastry brush. That will make it extra sticky! Once the jam on the cake is completely cool you can add the rolled out sugarpaste. The reason for the buttercream is to create a smooth surface over the cake for the sugarpaste to sit on in order to get a more professional finish. You may need your sugarpaste to be a little thicker than usual in order to get it smooth and not show every bump of the cake underneath.
Good luck. It sounds delicious!
My husband has made a rich rum fruit cake for Christmas but we all are not keen on marzipan, is there an alternative before icing it? love your cake x
You don’t have to use marzipan at all. Just add a coating of apricot jam and go straight ahead with the icing. If you heat up the jam so it’s a bit runny it will be easier to spread on your cake and gives the icing something super sticky to stick to. I use a silicom pastry brush to apply the jam. Leave the jam to cool before you add the icing.
If you want a smooth cake make sure the icing is quite thick (around 0.5-1cm) That way when you smooth it the icing will hide the bumps of the cake which is normally the job of the marzipan.
Hope that helps
Hello, I’ve just come across you web site and I think it’s very helpful. Could you help with my current cake decorating problem? I’ve been asked to decorate a Square cake that has already been marzipaned but the finish is not as I would like it to be so I was thinking of adding another layer of marzipan then the sugar paste. Do you think this would work or is there another way?
What is the finish like? I assume it’s pitted or bumpy? I think you have two options.
1. Add another layer of marzipan – which as a marzipan lover you wouldn’t have any complaints from me! Then brush it with cooled boiled water or alcohol when you add the sugarpaste
2. Roll your sugarpaste out quite thick so it takes the bumps of the marzipan in it’s stride and hides them when you smooth the cake.
I hope that helps.
Let me know how you get on
Tku Emma for the detailed information..
Thank you so much for the helpful tips! I wonder, do you have a preferred brand of sugarpaste to work with? I seem to be getting a lot of cracks and elephant skin!
I use mainly Renshaw but supermarkets have pretty good ones too now.
Cracks and ‘elephant skin’ occur when the sugarpaste is either too dry or hasn’t been kneaded and warmed up enough. If its too dry add some vegetable fat to your hands (I use Trex) before you knead. It will make all the difference. And keep kneading it till it feels really soft and stretchy. Then you shouldn’t have any cracks.
Another thought is if your sugarpaste is rolled out too thinly it will crack or tear. Make sure it’s rolled to a depth of around the thickness of a £1 coin.
I hope that helps
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