Hints and Tips
The hints and tips listed here are well worth a try. Some you will already know and some you may not.
If you have any hints and/or tips that you would like to share, please contact me and if they are suitable I will add them to this list.
If there is anything at all listed here which is not clear, please let me know.
IMPORTANT Many celebration cakes seem to be decorated using fresh flowers these days. Certainly those in many magazines, and even some by well known cake decorators who write books on the subject of cake decorating. People who in fact should know better. Please be aware that a great many flowers and plants are poisonous, and some even deadly. Even if your customer asks for flowers which aren't poisonous, the chances are that those flowers will have been treated with insecticides and/or preservatives. You should make any customer who asks for fresh flowers on an edible Celebration cake aware of this fact.
Should an accidental poisoning occur, YOU WILL be responsible.
Hints and Tips
1. When working with sugar of any kind, always make sure that your work surfaces are spotlessly clean and that you are wearing fabrics that do not shed fibres. Be assured that they will find a way into your paste, and no matter how clean they are, they will show up!
2. A large smooth flat tile (not shiny) is an excellent working surface when rolling out and cutting petal paste. These can be purchased from tile outlets at very little cost. Add a few self adhesive "rubber feet" and these will prevent the tile from scratching your table or worktop. It also saves getting unwanted scratches in your very expensive rolling boards.
3. If you don't have a small enough rolling pin for creating a central ridge in your paste, use a narrow paint brush handle instead. If you don't have a small rolling pin, some smooth ballpoint pens are the right width and length. Just remove the ink cartridge and the stopper, and give the tube a good clean before use.
Plastic knitting needles with knobs cut off also make good rolling pins, especially the larger sizes. They can be found in charity shops... just make sure that they are nice and smooth. ( this tip courtesy of Stella Rowlinson )
4. Where a serrated edge is required on a leaf (eg. rose leaves), use a serrated plastic picnic knife. These can be bent to a curve by letting them sit in very hot water for a few minutes and then bending to the curved angle you require.
5. To cut away deep pointed margins from freehand cut leaves, use a small pair of embroidery scissors. Using scissors makes life a lot easier for cutting leaves such as ivy.
6. Always add colour sparingly. Deeper colours are better achieved gradually. It is much easier to increase colour than get rid of it!
7. Use a cotton bud to poke paste out of cutters. the soft tips make sure you don't poke holes into your cut item.
Cotton buds can also be used to add dusting colours to small areas without the dust going where you don't want it. eg: the tips of lily petals. The little sponge make up applicators also work well for this.
8. When using Confectioners glaze, steam your leaves first. This sets the colour and enables the glaze to be painted on without moving the colour around and clumping where the glaze settles.
9. Egg white is by far the best glue for inserting wires and sticking items together. If you have any qualms about using fresh egg white, Petal paste flowers and leaves are not meant to be eaten.
10. Egg white can also be used as a retardant for colour. Before dusting, paint in the veins on Ivy leaves using egg white and a very fine paint brush. When dry, overdust with your chosen dusting colour and the veins will will stand out on your leaf. If you do "overdo" the dusting, take a cotton bud and run it over the veins to remove the excess dust. Steam to set the colour and paint with Confectioners glaze.
Confectioners glaze can also be used to retard colour and this method is not restricted to Ivy. There is a lot of beautiful foliage in wonderful ranges of colour. Experiment with this technique and you will get some very interesting results.
11. There are brushes specifically for the purpose of dusting colours onto leaves and petals, but my favourite brushes are eye shadow blending brushes from ASDA. They are the filbert type(cats tongue) and they don't splay out and become tatty like some brushes do. They are very neat and compact with short handles which are very easy to control. They are also good value.
12. Use polenta grains for pollen when making your own stamens. This can be coloured with dusting powders and a tiny bit goes a long way. You could share a bag with others in your Branch or group. Also, don't throw away the leftovers from manufactured stamens when you have cut the ends off. Use them to make more stamens.
For stamens requiring dark brown pollen, use the tea leaves from an ordinary tea bag.
( Tip supplied by Margaret Morton)
Another tip provided by Aleksandra Djurisic for white pollen, " Use fine dry coconut or semolina instead of polenta. Semolina can also be used if polenta after coloring still gives too yellowish tint".
13. If you don't have manufactured lily stamens you can make your own from white stem tape.
Take a half width length of tape and twist very tightly. Smooth out the length by pulling and smoothing with your fingers at the same time. Don't pull too hard or the tape will break. Cut to the stamen length you reguire and push lengthways into a very very tiny oval of petal paste. Fold the sides of the tiny piece of paste towards each other. When dry you can coat with egg white and dip into your chosen pollen. These can be curved to achieve a very natural look.
14. Photo shops are always keen to get rid of the little plastic containers that rolls of film come in, and most will give them away for free. These can be used to store many things. You can store several different colours of polenta grains, stamens or odd stamen tips, Dusting colours that you have mixed yourself, white fat, egg white, gum arabic solution, icing for repairs etc. etc. The list is probably inexhaustive!
15. To keep your paste at a constant working temperature, keep it in the pocket of your white coat if you wear one, alternately you can keep it inside your clothing somewhere. Also, always keep any paste you are not using covered up. Almost all pastes will develop a skin within a very short time if left uncovered.
16. Gardening and seed catalogues are excellent sources of colour reference.
17. The steam from a kettle can often be too aggressive for steaming your dusted leaves and petals, causing too deep a layer of sugar to be melted, resulting in loss of veined detail or too shiny a surface. An alternative is to bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and then turn down the heat keeping the water just off the boil. This method is far less aggressive and also saves wear and tear on your kettle.
18. Apple, pear and melon trays make excellent formers for drying and shaping petals and leaves. Most supermarkets are very happy to give these away. If you are worried about any contamination on the trays, you can spray them liberally with an antibacterial spray back and front, and just leave them to dry naturally before using. Crumpled kitchen paper is also good to dry items on.
19. Small make up sponges are useful for lifting and separating petals when drying multi petalled flowers. Cotton wool can be used but cotton wool can sometimes get tangled up in the petals.
20. Only take as much paste as you need to make a leaf or petal. Remixing and re-rolling large amounts of paste continually makes it dry out very quickly and become difficult to work with.
21. If you want to stop your leaves and petals from drying quickly once they are made, keep a largish plastic bag handy to put over those items. Useful if you use the "soft method" of making flowers, i.e. making all in one go without waiting for the petals to dry before assembling. Also handy when the telephone rings!
22. If you have hot hands and find your paste sticks to your fingers when pressing paste onto veiners, use a make up applicator sponge pad. These are generally very fine and soft and will not stick to the paste, but if they do a quick dip in cornflour solves that problem.