Baking supremo Peggy Porschen’s dramatic layer cakes make stupendous centrepieces for any occasion. We ask the expert the secret to the smoothest cake finish.
Master Peggy’s masking technique with these 13 easy steps for your next party centrepiece.
To achieve a beautifully masked layer cake, it is important to have the right equipment. I also recommend having a damp cloth to hand, to clean the edge of your palette knife and side scraper as you work. Your frosting should be spreadable and lump-free, and at room temperature before use. You will need to mask any cake twice to achieve a smooth finish and straight edges; however, you can repeat the process until you are happy with the result. You will need to chill the cake after each coat, to set the frosting. Use a separate bowl for the crumb coat, to avoid spoiling the frosting for the final coat.
1. Begin by applying a crumb coat. This will hold the sponge surface in place and provide a good basic shape with which to work. Using a palette knife, pile a generous amount of buttercream or ganache onto the top layer of the cake.
2. Working from the centre, spread the mixture towards the edges of the cake and down the sides.
3. As you spread the mixture around the sides, work your palette knife in a backwards and forwards motion, rotating the cake (preferably on a turntable) in the opposite direction to the way that you’re spreading.
4. Ensure that the cake is completely covered and that there are no gaps around the sides.
5. Place a side scraper on the far side of the cake, with the long straight edge against the cake at a 45° angle and the bottom of the side scraper sitting flat on the disc. Place your spare hand on the disc and the turntable, as close to your other hand as possible.
6. Rotate the cake or turntable against the direction of the side scraper, smoothing the frosting until your hands meet at the front.
7. If there are still a lot of cracks or gaps in the frosting, repeat the side-scraping process. Once you are happy with the coating, lift off the side scraper and then clean it with the palette knife.
8. Use a palette knife to make the top of the cake smooth and neaten the edges.
9. Use the side scraper and the palette knife to remove any excess mixture.
10. Leave the cake to chill in the fridge for at least half an hour, then repeat the crumb coat if necessary, until you are happy with the shape.
11. Chill the cake again, until it is set.
12. To apply the final coat, repeat steps 1–9 using a fresh, crumb-free batch of buttercream or ganache. Aim for a perfectly level top and straight sides with sharp edges, to achieve the best result.
13. When you are satisfied with the final coat, put the cake back in the fridge for about 1 hour, or until the buttercream or ganache has set. Then apply any finishing touches.
‘Love Layer Cakes’ by Peggy Porschen with photography by Georgia Glynn Smith is published by Quadrille, RRP £20
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