A lovely way to personalise a celebration cake is with a written message, Britt Box from She Who Bakes talks you through some of her favourite ways…
My two favourite ways to personalise a cake with a written message are by using Tappit cutters and Clikstix cutters. Both products look very similar on a shop shelf, but they produce two different results. They can be a little tricky to get used to and people often assume that they can’t use them, but the secret is that no one can really use them at first. I had a set in a cupboard for well over a year before I mastered them! But the good news is, once you’ve got your technique sorted, they'll become one of your favourite tools! Now I can cut out a personalised message in a matter of minutes to really add a special something to my cakes. For these letters, you will need: • Mexican paste or flower paste • cornflour • Tappit & Clikstix cutters • foam pad • rolling pin • scribe tool Tip! When it comes to using any delicate lettering or cutters use the right kind of sugar, as not all sugar is created equal. The most common mistake people make when trying to cut out lettering is using sugarpaste, aka ready-to-roll icing, which is just too soft and sticky to use. It’s perfect for covering cakes, but you can’t get it thin enough as it’s simply not got the strength. It ends up getting stuck in your cutter and you end up getting frustrated and wanting to throw the cutter at the wall – I speak from experience here! For these, and most other delicate cutters including plunger and patchwork cutters, I recommend using either Mexican paste or flower paste, which are available from cake shops. Bear in mind that you can now buy ‘flower and modelling paste’ from most supermarkets, but it isn't the same as regular flower paste – it’s best just for modelling with. You can strengthen your own sugarpaste using Tylo or something similar, but I tend to just buy Mexican paste or flower paste.
How to use cutters
Both of these cutters start with the same few steps:
- Knead the Mexican or flower paste between your fingers until it’s soft and pliable. Roll it out very thinly into a long strip on a cornflour dusted surface. You’ll know it’s thin enough when you can gently lift it over a piece of paper with writing on and you can see the shadow of the writing through it. If it’s too thick, your letters will get stuck in the cutter. Once rolled out, brush the top with a little more cornflour.
- Cut into strips. Some letter cutters come with a plastic strip cutter to use for this, which is what I’m using. If you don’t have one, you can roll out and cut strips as wide as your letter cutters using a pizza wheel, cutting wheel or sharp knife.
- Leave it to dry a little – which goes against a cake decorator’s instinct – but you’ll have to trust me. You don’t want it to be solid, but you don’t want it to be sticky either. By using a stronger paste like Mexican paste or flower paste, it may be slightly stickier to the touch than sugarpaste so we have to leave it to set a little before cutting out for best results. Go make a cup of tea or coffee – I find that’s usually the right amount of time to let it dry!
- From here, it differs for each letter cutter set. For the upper case Tappit set, find the letter you want to use first. In the above case I’m using ‘H’. Lay this letter onto your strip of paste, press down your chosen letter firmly, putting pressure on the back. Wiggle it from side to side for a clean cut – the paste should move underneath the cutter. Pull the cutter away to make sure it has come out cleanly. If you're making a letter with a part that comes out, such as an A, P or B for example, you can remove these extra pieces with a scribe tool. Gently tap your cutter onto your counter (hence, Tappit cutter - get it??). The cut-out letter should just pop out! If it doesn’t, use a scribe to gently ease it out. If it’s really not budging, let the paste dry out a little more and try again. Failing that, then you may not have rolled your paste thin enough and you may need to start again. Continue with the rest of your message and leave to dry on foam.
- For the Groovy Clikstix, again choose your letter and place it onto the paste, but this time, hold the sides of the cutter and press down firmly. These cutters have a ‘push out’ mechanism on the back, so if you push down at this stage you will just press the paste into the table. Pull the cutter away to make sure it has come out cleanly and, this time, gently press out your chosen letter. Continue with the rest of your message and leave to dry on foam.
- Leave your messages to dry, preferably overnight on foam, then fix to your cake or iced cake board using a paintbrush and a little edible glue.
As well as cutting out letters, you can also use silicone moulds to create your message. Like the cutters, there are so many different kinds of moulds available. I'd advise using a stronger modelling paste instead of soft sugarpaste/ready-to roll icing, which is best for covering cakes.
How to use moulds
- Take a small piece of modelling paste and roll it into a smooth, round ball. Dust the ball (not the mould) with a little cornflour. Next, push the paste into your letter mould. If there is too much paste and it’s spilling over the sides of your mould don’t cut it as you risk damaging the mould. Instead, take it out, break some off and try again.
- After pressing it in firmly, bend the mould with your fingers on the back and your paste should just pop out (if it's stuck in there, pull it out, re-roll it and dust again with cornflour).
- Leave to dry on foam, then continue with the rest of the letters that you need. When they are all set and have firmed up slightly, stick them to your bake using a little edible glue.
Another way to add a message to your bakes is by using stamps. You can get lots of different sizes and fonts and they are really easy to use. Simply stamp your message onto fresh sugarpaste and leave it to dry – that’s it! There are a couple of things to note with stamps.
- You can buy ones that say the generic messages like ‘happy birthday’ and ‘congratulations’.
- If you want a custom message, you’d be looking at buying an alphabet and stamping one letter at a time.
Painting and writing
If you want a message on a cake in a particular font than you can’t find a cutter, mould or stencil for, you can paint it straight onto the cake. How confident you feel about this will depend on your artistic levels.
How to paint and write your message
- Write your message on a computer and print it out in the size you need for the cake.
- Gently place the piece of paper over the cake and, using a scribe, trace the lettering onto dry sugarpaste.
- Use a dust colour mixed with a little rejuvenator spirit to paint the message on using a very thin paintbrush.
Another option is to use an edible ink pen. As with painting onto your cake, I would recommend letting the sugarpaste icing dry overnight before attempting this. I would also advise to have a practice go on a separate bit of dry icing so you know what pressure to use. I’ve found this really handy for adding written details that may be too small for cutters, etc.
The classic way to write messages onto cakes is by piping it on in royal icing. I personally don’t use this method much, but that is only because I lack a steady hand! Fancy trying your hand at piping a royal iced message? You only need royal icing, a piping bag and a small, round nozzle. Make sure your royal icing is a good consistency – too runny and your message will flood, too thick and it won’t come out of the tube. You can add a little water if it’s too thick, or royal icing sugar if it’s too runny. You can also buy stencils for piping messages onto, whereby you gently emboss your lettering and then trace over it in royal icing. This is a good option if you’re new to it and want to give it a go, but still want it to be legible! This skill takes a little practice but, once mastered, can produce beautiful results. Happy baking! Britt xxx