Cake Decorating Tips with Krista Corbett from Pollen Pastry
So, you've done all of the hard work in the kitchen and prepared your dessert, now all that's left to do is plate and present to your guests. A little bit of effort goes a long way here to create visual interest and ensure your guest's eyes light up when dessert hits the table.
My tips on simple, yet effective ways to dress your dessert this holiday season:
Fresh, Fragrant, Edible Florals
There's nothing more beautiful than delicate florals to create romance and add colour to your creation. For round cakes, tarts and desserts that are lower in height, this is a great option to add interest when viewing is at eye level. There are a few different ways to arrange edible flowers. I usually work symmetrically to create a circular wreath-like arrangement, or, you can create a crescent leaving most of the dessert top still visible. If your edible flowers are vibrant and bold, you may choose to only add a few, still allowing the dessert itself to be the hero. Choose contrasting colours for maximum impact.
*Always source food-safe, pesticide free organic flowers for dessert toppings, and gently rinse with cold water before adding to your dessert. We source fresh and dried violas, calendulas, rose petals, cornflowers and other seasonal edibles from Foraged Flavour Flower Farm - based in Daylesford, Victoria.
Store Bought Treats
If you look closely, your local market, supermarket or gourmet food store provides an array of locally made artisanal treats. These can be such a simple, time effective way to give your dessert the topping it deserves. Think caramel popcorn, peanut brittle, handcrafted chocolate truffles, honeycomb, Turkish delight and crisp meringues. All you need to do with these is crush, snap or cut into shape before topping your dessert generously. These also double as added texture if your dessert is soft-set in the fridge, like a velvety chocolate mousse or wobbly vanilla panna cotta.
*We regularly browse the shelves of The Essential Ingredient and Stocked Food Store for unique, delicious dessert toppings.
Lush Seasonal Fruit
Of all the ways to dress up dessert, it's hard to go past seasonal fruit at its peak. Fresh fruit not only looks stunning, but it can also add a fresh, acidic element to an otherwise rich or decadent final course. Often all you need to top a fudgy, flourless chocolate cake is a few juicy blackberries in between mouthfuls to refresh the palette. Slice fruit moments before serving, to avoid browning and dried edges. Coat freshly cut strawberries in a dusting of icing sugar which will create a syrupy glaze, remove pith from citrus segments for extra finesse, and leave the tops of your berries on for a more rustic look and feel.
*In absence of fresh fruit, freeze dried is a wonderful alternative for year-round use. We use
Australian made Berry Fresh freeze-dried fruit powders and crumbles to add colour and zing to our layer cake decorations.
You'd be surprised just how simple it can be to add an extra layer of luxe to your dessert with the use of good quality, couverture chocolate. Here's our method for quick and easy chocolate curls and shavings:
- Start with a baking tray of any sort, just ensure it is flat on the bottom and it fits snug in your freezer. If you have a marble bench or slab, even better (this doesn't need to be cooled). Place this tray in the freezer and allow it to cool for about 10 - 15 minutes.
- Melt down a block or chips of your favourite dark chocolate, about 200g, either over a bain-marie (taking care that the simmering water doesn't touch the base of the bowl, otherwise your chocolate will seize) or, in the microwave. Melt the chocolate, stirring well, until there are no lumps and the temperature is no higher than 45°C.
- Once the chocolate is melted, take the baking tray out of the freezer and quickly wipe down any condensation that has formed with a paper towel. Place the tray on a damp tea towel upside down so that the flat surface is facing up.
Immediately pour the melted chocolate onto the tray (or your marble surface) and continually spread it out with a palette knife or spatula from one side to the other, until the chocolate begins to set - because your tray or surface is cold, this should happen quite quickly.
- Once the chocolate is just set, position a metal bench scraper, metal cookie cutter or a sharp knife (using caution) at a 45-degree angle to your chocolate, then gently scrape towards yourself, creating soft chocolate curls as you go. Carefully remove these and place on a separate tray or plate so they don't get crushed as you continue. Store in the fridge in a sealed container until ready for use.
*There's only one rule we insist you abide by when decorating with these - pile them high!
When selecting decorations to top your dessert, remember that these will be first thing that your guest sees, and ideally, they should tell the story of the dessert they will soon be enjoying. Consider the relationship between fragrant rose petals and pistachios on a Persian love cake, sliced berries and flowers to top a baked cheesecake, or fresh cherries and chocolate shavings to decorate a black forest gateau. All of these decorations have the potential to spark an emotional reaction and tell the story of the dessert your guests are about to enjoy. We really do eat with our eyes first!
When combining toppings, choose a variety of sizes, shapes and colour tones to ensure visual appeal and balance. Consider the occasion or theme and choose elements that work well with this. Would you like to create a feeling of fun, opulence, decadence, sophistication? Is it an informal occasion, a kid's birthday or a festive celebration? The decoration of the cake or dessert can often set the mood for the event and of course, the all-important cake cutting.
Most importantly, ensure your decorations are delicious, enjoy the creative process and have fun!