My top ten cake tools

 

  1. Sugar shapers - I love these, they are amazing for blending in seams, creating texture, they are the best tools to come on to the market in a long time, there are 4 sets, soft and firm in both regular and mini size, I have all the sets but the ones I seem to use most are the soft top minis.
  2. Dresden tool - in my opinion this is an essential and one of the first things you need in your tool kit. It's used for everything from flowers to texturing.
  3. Small rolling pin - perfect for rolling out smaller pieces of sugarpaste, I also use mine as a ball tool when making roses and for wafer paper flowers.
  4. Airbrush - possibly my all time favourite tool, the easiest, quickest and most fun way to add colour and dimension to your cakes, just remember to keep it clean and it will look after you!
  5. Pantograph cutter - I have a soft spot for a stripey cake, there's nothing nicer that clean, sharp, perfect stripes and the pantograph cutter makes it really easy to achieve equal width stripes and fast
  6. Flexi smoothers - I use these for both ganaching odd shapes and smoothing sugarpaste, they're great at helping to achieve sharp edges too.
  7. Ateco turn table - this is a really sturdy metal turntable that can handle the weight of heavier cakes, it's more expensive than the plastic ones but it's a great investment.
  8. Choctastique frames - these make ganaching your cake a breeze, check out my YouTube tutorial to see why!
  9. Tall side scraper - I use these for ganaching, buttercream and as a straight edge. The foundations if your cake dictate what the end result will look like so it's really important to start off with a nice level cake with straight edges.
  10. Spirit level - might not seem like an obvious one but I use it on every cake, apart from sculpted of course! It's important that your cakes are level especially wedding cakes, a few mm might not seem like much but once you stack thoseI cakes it will be really obvious, so its worth investing the time to make sure each tier is level.

On my most wanted list is an Agbay, I don't have one yet but I have used one and they're amazing!

Transporting cakes and demystifying the competition!

Entering competitions is always a nerve wrecking process but having to travel with your cake especially from abroad makes it even more tricky. There are a few things you need to consider if you have to transport your cake from abroad. First of all you have to consider what category to enter. For example if you are travelling by plane you may choose one of the categories that have smaller entries like small decorative exhibit or floral category. It is possible to transport larger pieces but you need to be prepared to repair damage once they arrive. 

You need to think about what way you are going to pack your cake. When packing my cake I always purchase a heavy duty stacked cake box. I will check the base size of my cake and order the corresponding size box. Once the box and board are the same size there is little chance that your cake can move once packed snugly inside. I always line my box with a double layer of bubble wrap, this is just an extra safety mechanism so that if my cake were to take a knock the damage would be minimal. I then tie string around the box to make it easy to carry. When you are on your own and have a suitcase and a cake it's quite difficult to move around. 

The next thing to consider is your mode of transport. Are you arriving by plane, boat, train etc?

Do you need to change trains or flights? How much luggage will you have with you? What baggage allowance do you have? How will you manage to carry everything by yourself? These are all things that need to be considered. If travelling by plane you can choose to check your bag into the hold and bring your cake by hand carrying it. I have done this quite successfully on a few occasions. If you choose this method you will need to think about the security check at the airport, your cake will have to go through the scanning machine. It is important that your cake fits the size of baggage that is allowed in the overhead locker, although in my experience the cabin crew usually allow you to put it on an empty seat. However, this is at their discretion, so you need to be prepared if they say it needs to go overhead. I always carry a photo of my cake on my phone so that I can easily show airport staff what is in the box, if you say a cake they may well think it's a Victoria sponge with cream and jam! If you choose to check your cake into the hold I would advise to bring any delicate pieces with you by hand and attach them once you arrive. No matter how many fragile labels are on there it will get damaged.

If you are travelling by boat and your cake will be in your car for a long period of time you need to think about the humidity level in your car, especially if you do have decorations such as flowers etc. There is a danger that these could be damaged by humidity. If this is the case you can pack silica gel packs with your cake to combat the humidity or a moisture trap in the car will also help. If you are arriving the night before the competition take your cake into the hotel with you, check for any damage. 

One of the most important things to pack with you is a repair kit. As I start making my competition piece I will have a box beside me where I will pack the leftover pieces of sugarpaste so that if I need to do a repair I have the right colour. If you are making flowers, or any decorative additions to your piece make extra, I always make 30% extra of any decoration and pack it in the box. For example, when I entered Cake International in Manchester in 2014 with Puss in Boots I had to set up at the table. When I went to pick him up to move him to the designated spot in the competition area, I broke all the whiskers off one side of his face in one foul swoop. Luckily, I had packed lots of spares so it wasn't a big deal to replace them. But, so often I see people on the morning running around stressed out looking for edible glue, a knife, ribbon, really basic stuff. You can avoid this extra stress if you pack a repair kit. Here is an idea of what I bring in mine.

 

Repair kit

Scissors

Knife

Edible glue

Royal icing

Spare sugarpaste

Ribbon

Dresden tool

Paintbrushes

Tweezers

Rolling pin

Alcohol

Baby wipes

Colours (dusts or airbrush)

Airbrush (if you used one)

Spare decorative pieces

Cocktail sticks

On the morning of the competition you will arrive at the venue, follow the directions on the email you received after you enter the competition online. Once you enter the hall, you need to register, pick up your competitor badge and an envelope with two stickers inside which will correspond with a number on a table in the competition area. This is your designated competition display spot. You can then proceed to the set up area where you can unbox your cake. Always be mindful of other competitors and leave plenty of space each side of you. Once you've added any finishing touches you can place one sticker underneath your entry and one on the front. You can then move your competition piece to the corresponding number on the table in the competition display area. Once you have done that you're free! Pick up your box, tools and enjoy a well deserved breakfast. 

Entering competitions isn't for the faint hearted, it's stressful and nerve wrecking, but it's also exciting, exhilarating and worth it all. It's the best way to push yourself forward as a crafts person/artist. You get to make beautiful creations just for YOU. That hardly ever happens so enjoy every second. Remember to get feedback from the judges. Whether it is good or bad, it is all useful information to have and will only help you with future entries. Cake International is a very special competition and it's even more special when you enter, you're then really part of it. 

 

Good luck everyone!

 

Let's talk Cake Competitions!

When I started decorating cakes in 2013 I knew nothing about competitions or cake shows. I had no idea they existed. It wasn't until November 2013 that I heard about Cake International in Birmingham, one of the biggest Cake Shows in the world, it sounded amazing, all these like minded people gathered together to celebrate edible art and creativity. I decided I would go the following year, at this point I still hadn't decided to enter. Spring 2014 came around and by this stage I had become fully immersed in cake world and the calendar of events that go along with it. In Ireland we have a biennial show, The Irish Sugarcraft Show. I plucked up the courage and decided to enter. I got a hold of a rule book and read it cover to cover, I had heard all sorts of horror stories of people being disqualified over simple mistakes. I spent the weeks prior to the competition working in my cake, full of self doubt and procrasticaketion (yes it's a thing!!). I finished my cake, I was happy with it! I entered the wedding cake category with a cake that wasn't a typical wedding cake, the theme I chose was dead pirates. It was a design I liked and enjoyed working on so I figured if I was going to challenge myself I may as well make something I like rather than something I thought would appease the judges.

I made the 3 hour, nerve wrecking journey in one piece, placed my cake and felt quite relieved, I knew I had done my best and that was all that mattered to me. The cake went on to win Gold, Best in Class and Best in Show, I was over the moon, it was one of the best feelings ever! That was it I was hooked. I love entering competitions and admire each and every person who plucks up the courage to enter. It's a really difficult thing to do, you are allowing yourself to be judged publicly by your peers on something you passionately love. It doesn't matter what the outcome is whether you receive a merit or gold, talk to the judges afterwards, get their feedback and learn and grow as an artist and competitor. I judge Sugarcraft competitions in Ireland as a member of the Panel Of Chefs and it's really important to me as a judge that I get to explain my result to competitors, I don't want anyone to leave disillusioned or feeling deflated, I want everyone to see it as a valuable learning experience. 

I have gone on to enter Birmingham that November and won Gold. I have entered several competitions since and have been fortunate to receive gold at Salon Culinaire at Hotelympia in London, 4 Cake International Golds, Senior Irish Chef of the Year 2015 and Live Global Challenge Champion 2015 at Cake Fair hosted by Satin Ice in Orlando, Florida. 

The latter being an experience of a lifetime, a live competition, 10 countries,7 hours, live on stage, all real cake, 36" tall, $10,000 first prize! It was amazing, terrifying, exhausting and fun! We were given a theme of homeland so each country had to design a cake that represented their country, I decided from the beginning I didn't want to go down the typical leprechaun route, I wanted to go for a Celtic theme, so after much practice, I finalised the design and we were ready to go! On the morning I was nervous, very nervous but I felt ready. The 7 hours went by so much faster that I had anticipated. We had to drop a tier due to time issues but luckily we still met the required height. We presented the cake to the judging panel, I told the story of the cake so that each tier made sense and flowed. I also built a Bluetooth speaker into the base and used my phone to start the music just as the judges were scrutinising it. I also incorporated dry ice under the base to give a misty forest feel. We had to wait a couple of hours before the winners were announced which was perfect as I had forgotten to eat all day!! The time came around for the winners to be announced, when Chef Susan Notter announced Team Ireland, I truly couldn't believe it! It was an experience of a lifetime, if you're up for an amazing challenge it will be held in Orlando in October 2017! 

 

My advice to competitors..

  • Make something you love and enjoy, it's much easier to be good at something you like.
  • Read the rules, several times.
  • Keep your work neat and clean.
  • Bring a repair kit that includes spares of anything that may get damaged in transit and is replaceable, for example I broke whiskers of my Puss in Boots entry on the morning of the competition, luckily I have packed lots of spares so I replaced them with pout a problem
  • Get feedback from the judges
  • Enjoy it!