The Hostess With The Mostest

I love hosting parties and little get-togethers. I love the planning, the preparing, the decorating, cooking…all of it. I like to think I’m the Hostess with the Mostest. Wink wink.

This weekend, I did not host a party of any sort. Unless you count the teens gathered in the basement watching movies, and well, that just doesn’t count. So while I wasn’t the hostess with the mostest, I did create a Hostess with the Mostest Cupcake. And, damn, it is good!

My hubby saw them in the fridge and his eyes started to twinkle.

“Can I have one? Are they cream filled? What’s on top?”

Yes, yes, and chocolate ganache.

He ate two. He couldn’t help himself.

Better Than Hostess Chocolate Cream Filled Cupcake. YUM!

I started with some chocolate cupcakes that I had left over from an order the day before. These are from my “standard” chocolate cake recipe, which I won’t get into here. Just start with a batch of your favorite chocolate cake – a devils food cake will work – and make a dozen cupcakes. Let them cool, then make this super yummy creamy filling.

Creamy Filling 

1 stick of butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1 7oz jar marshmallow cream

Beat butter and cream for a few minutes, until it starts looking fluffy. Add in vanilla and beat another minute to fluff it back up. Turn off the mixer, add in the powdered sugar, then mix it in on low, scraping the bowl, until it is incorporated. Turn the mixer back up to high and beat a couple more minutes until fluffy again. Now it’s time to add in the marshmallow fluff – use a rubber spatula to scrape it from the jar into the bowl, then mix it in on medium high just until it is mixed in and the whole concoction is fluffy.

Fluffy, light, but oh so creamy. This is what cupcakes were made for: the creamy center

Now taste it. It’s good, right?! While I do taste everything I make (as all good chefs do), I rarely sit down and eat an entire cupcake or a whole slice of cake. If I did, I would be HUGE and as it is, I already log a lot of hours in the gym just to maintain where I am now.  So do I taste, but just a little.

Usually when I taste something, it meets my expectations. Or, it might not be quite right so I tweak it. Rarely do I taste something and say, “Now that is freakin’ delicious!”

Oh, mamma, this was one of those times, because that creamy filling is soooo yummy! I was giddy with delight.

So, now it’s time to fill the cupcakes. Again, make sure they are cooled. You can use a cupcake corer like this one:

Use this little tool to core out the center of your cupcakes to make them the perfect recipients of filling

Or, you can just use a star piping tip like this:

An Ateco 846 tip. Not only great for piping icing onto cupcakes, but also good for filling them.

You’ll get more filling into the cupcake if you use a corer, but either way works. Drop the star tip into a piping bag and scoop your filling into it. If you have cored out the centers, simply pipe some filling into the hole, filling it up to the top. If you did not core the cupcakes, stick the piping tip down into the cupcake and squeeze the filling in, until it just peeks out at the top.

(Sorry I don’t have picture of this step. Next time I make these bad boys, I will get some shots and add them to the blog!)

Now for the ganache, because, well, you simply must top these with rich, chocolately ganache!

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup butter

Chop the unsweetened chocolate, and place it in a medium size bowl. Stir cream and sugar together in a sauce pan, heating to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour over the chocolate. Add the butter, and stir until chocolate and butter have melted. Using a wire whisk, whisk the chocolate mixture until smooth but somewhat thick (almost a pudding consistency). Let cool for about 5-10 minutes.

Nothing says rich, chocolatey decadence like ganache. Chocolate, cream, butter, sugar...nothing else is this simple and this rich.

Now take each filled cupcake and dip just the top into the ganache.  Let them sit on a cooling rack at room temperature to set up for about 30 minutes.

To finish them, take a small amount of butter cream icing (I usually have leftovers from all the cakes I do, otherwise just whip up a quarter batch of my standard buttercream recipe) and drop it into a piping bag with a small round tip (like a Wilton #4) or simply put a scoop into a ziplock baggie and snip the tip off of one of the corners.  Pipe the signature “squiggly line” on top, then transfer the cupcakes to an airtight container and keep them in the refrigerator.  I suspect these will keep up to a week refrigerated, but I doubt whether they’ll be around more than 2 days.

This cupcake isnt a Hostess but it is the mostest in cupcake satisfaction!

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Let’s Go Kentucky!

So excited for the game today.

And so excited to fill this order for some UK cupcakes!  Let’s Go Big Blue!

One Dozen Chocolate Cupcakes with Butter Cream Icing and Fondant Toppers

If I was in NOLA, I'd give one to every player...after the game. Don't want them in a sugar coma during the game!

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Baby, One, Two..

This week has been CRAZY.  With a capital K.

While I’ve spent most of my week in my car, shuffling kids back and forth to various activities, and playing the role of PTA President, I have managed to eek out a few cakes.

Just a few.

The first one I want to share was for a repeat customer.  Last year, I did this adorable little man’s first birthday cake – it was a Cookie Monster and Sesame Street themed cake.  They like it so much, they called me back for his 2nd birthday!  Here is a picture of last year’s first birthday cake (click the image for a bigger picture):

Sesame Street Themed Cake

That cake was a three tier cake consisting of an 8″ tier, a 6″ tier, and a Cookie Monster tier.  For Cookie Monster, I used the mini teddy bear pan, then piped butter cream icing all over him.  The entire cake is iced in buttercream, but the decorations are all hand cut from fondant.

That was such a fun cake to make, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to live up to the hype for his 2nd birthday.  The parents selected the Cars movie as a theme for the birthday party, so I chose to make a Lightening McQueen cake.  Here is is (click the image for a bigger picture):

Lightning McQueen Cars Cake

For this cake, I used Wilton’s Cruiser car pan, then carved it to resemble Lightening McQueen as much as I could.  Normally I cover my cakes in icing and only use fondant for decorations, but for this one I decided to cover it in red fondant to help with the over all look of the car.   I know it’s not perfect, but I did my best!  I sat the car on a 1/4 sheet cake iced in buttercream with a black fondant checkerboard pattern.  Hopefully they liked it, and hopefully I get to do his 3rd birthday as well.  Because I’ll need to start planning that one ahead of time!

The other big cake this weekend was for a baby who isn’t even here yet.  I was asked to create a baby shower cake – something with a “wow” factor, but nothing too frilly.  The only guidelines I was given was that it was for a baby boy and the shower would be blue.

3 Tier Blue & Green Shower Cake

This cake is also 3 tiers:  8″, 6″, and 4″.  It’s iced in shades of light blue and light green buttercream, and all the decorations are either fondant or gum paste.  I cut the baby’s initial (the “E” on the center tier) and the frame around it on my Cricut Cake.  I have to admit I am still struggling with the Cricut, but in all fairness I honestly haven’t had the time to really sit down and figure it all out.

I have discovered that gum paste works pretty well.  I used a prepared product from Bakels, that I purchased at a cake supply store here in Atlanta.  I rolled it out fairly thin, but not too thin.  My first attempt at cutting it didn’t work as it was too soft, so I popped in in the freezer for a few minutes, then cut.  That was the ticket.

All the other decorations I cut from hand using fondant.  I also decorated the cake drum by first covering it in a layer of brown fondant, then gluing ribbing to the sides.  I think this adds a special touch to a cake, especially if it going to be on display at a party.

What’s up next?  It’s going to be Cupcake Madness soon…

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Milestones (and Gravestones!)

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that March and April seem to be big birthday months.  I guess this is just my perception, because according to Wikipedia, the months of September and October tend to have more births, however in the US births are fairly evenly distributed over all the months.  Huh.  Now I know.

That said, my lovely daughter, Sydney, just celebrated her 13th birthday yesterday.  Which is big – I mean, she’s officially a teenager now.  I offered to throw her a nice party, but she opted out.  She wanted to go get her hair done instead, and go out to eat at a nice restaurant down in Atlanta.  I think I got off easy on that one.

And if you are in the Atlanta area, I can recommend Two Urban Licks.  We had a terrific meal there.  This was actually our second time there, as Sydney specifically requested going back for her big birthday.  The restaurant is part of Concentrics Restaurants, which has several other really good restaurants in town.  One. Midtown Kitchen and Room at Twelve are a couple of their other restaurants we’ve dined at more than once and really enjoyed.

Now back to the cake.

Syd requested I make my decadent chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, but into one giant cupcake using my new giant cupcake pan that I got for Christmas.

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Icing

When I make the individual cupcakes, I sink a single Reese’s miniature peanut butter cup into the center, so for this one I bought a bag of the tiny little mini peanut butter cups and stirred them into the batter.  Unfortunately, they all sank to the bottom of the cake while baking, so it didn’t really have the same effect as you get with the cupcakes.  I’m thinking next time I might sprinkle them on top of the cake layers after they’ve baked for a few minutes.  Still, it was a good cake and it turned out pretty cute.

The next milestone birthday cake actually involved gravestones as well.  My client requested an “over the hill” themed cake for her hubby’s 40th.  So we decided on placing a hill on the cake, then adding a few tombstones that said “RIP” and “Tom’s Youth” for fun.  He was celebrating his big birthday with his son’s basketball team (he was one of the coaches) so it definitely needed to be fun for the kids, too.

Over The Hill - this is a quarter sheet cake topped with a half ball cake, all iced in buttercream icing with fondant accents.

I made little signs along the road to show that he has passed his 20′s and 30′s and is now over the hill at 40.  His wife loved it (I’m not sure about Tom, though!)

Cruising past your 20s and 30s!

I have a big weekend coming up:  a Cars themed cake, a beautiful baby shower cake, UK playing in the Sweet 16, and my favorite girls night:  Book Club!  It’s gonna be busy.

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Groovy, Man!

Here is my “cake of the week.”  I had a last minute request for a tie dye/peace symbol themed cake for a young lady’s birthday party.  Normally I would spend time fussing with some cute and groovy fondant decorations, but I just didn’t have the time so I decided to make the “ooooh and aaahhh” factor on the inside of the cake.

Tie Dye Cake - the surprise is actually on the inside! Scroll down to see more.

Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve done tie dye.  I actually made one for my hubby’s 40th birthday a couple years ago, and I’ve also done tie dye cupcakes using the same method.

I got the idea from this website which has a step-by-step picture tutorial, however I did not use her recipe for the cake.  You know me, I prefer to use my own recipes. You can actually do it with any white or vanilla cake recipe or box mix – however you roll.  It was more the method I was interested in, not the recipe.

Essentially, you just divide your cake batter into 5 or 6 separate bowls, add food coloring to each, then dump each color into your prepared cake pan, one on top of the other.  You really do not need to swirl or mix the colors much, as they will spread out during baking.  I run a butter knife lightly through mine, but just barely.  I have seen other tutorials where you dump alternating spoonfuls of each color into the pan, but in my opinion this makes a clumpy-chunky-color looking cake instead of the more peaceful tie dye.

And as I mentioned before, I was pressed for time so I have no pictures of the process, just of the end result.  Which brings me to the public confession I must make.

Peace, man...just relax and have a slice of tie dye cake. Sweet.

I like to get good pictures of all my cakes (well, I try to; sometimes I’m not so successful). My conundrum with this cake was that the picture I wanted was of the inside and I wasn’t going to be in attendance at this birthday party, so how was I going to get a picture of a slice of cake?  I guess that meant I would need to slice into the cake.  I told my hubby about my plan, but I was worried I was being selfish.  I didn’t have to have a picture of the cake, but I really wanted a picture of the cake.  ”Selfish attempts can result in disaster,” he told me.  But I decided to be brave.  I sliced into the cake.

But wait, I have to explain!  If you’ve read my post on how to ice a perfectly smooth cake (Icing Part II: Smooth Operator), you know that after I apply the first coat of icing, the crumb coat or dirty icing, I chill the cake before applying the top coat of icing.  Chilling makes the cake and icing both nice and firm, so the the second coat goes on easily.  I also do this whenever I have a cake that I need to carve because it is easier to slice into the chilled, firm cake.  So I took my sharp knife and cut a nice slice from the back of the cake, plated it, snapped some pictures, the added a tiny bit of icing to the sides and slid it back into place.  I “patched” up the seams with a little icing, applied my top coat of icing, and proceeded to decorate it.  You couldn’t even tell that it had been sliced!

Thankfully, my selfish attempts to document the inside of the cake worked out and my client loved her cake.  Here is a quote from the email she sent me:

“They were all oooing and ahhhing over the outside and then I cut into it and they were like WOW when they saw the inside!”

Mission accomplished.  Peace out!

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March (Birthday) Madness

So, this was a busy week in the cake shop!  And by “shop” I mean my kitchen.  My hubby actually likes to refer to it as the “cake factory” but it is most definitely not a factory, considering it’s just me, my mixer and my oven.  The sudden demand for lots of cake, I suspect, is related to March and April being the Big Birthday Months.  Seems like everyday when I log onto Facebook, there are all kinds of people wishing each other a happy birthday.  Even my family is birthday-heavy in the spring months.  I have one child each with a March and April birthday, my dad and sister are both in April, my niece in April, three of my cousins in March…

Indeed it is March Madness here.

So, the first birthday cake of the week went to one of my favorite customers.  This little creation was for a small family celebration, so I did a 6″ round cake.  She requested something owl-themed, so after taking a quick look through Pinterest and Google, I decided on this design:

This little 6" round cake is my classic white wedding cake flavor with blue tinted buttercream icing. The decorations are formed of fondant.

It was a big hit – her daughter loved it.  I’m not sure why whimsical owls are so trendy right now, but they are cute little buggers, and they are super easy to make.  This is not my first owl cake, however.  I made my first owl cake almost 2 years ago for a baby shower.  It was designed to match a bedding pattern that Pottery Barn had out at the time.

Pottery Barn Owl Bedding

My First Owl Cake, June 2010. I tried to model it after the Pottery Barn bedding.

After I put the finishing touches on the new owl cake, it was time to make a music themed cake.  My client told me this was a birthday cake for her 11 year old daughter, who loved music and loved to sing.  She requested some music notes on the cake.  This is what I came up with:

8" Round Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing. Fondant Accents.

The red velvet cake is covered in my Decorator’s Cream Cheese Icing.  This recipe is slightly different than my Ooey Gooey Cream Cheese Icing.  The Decorator’s Cream Cheese Icing is a little “sturdier” so it can hold up to decorations on a cake without drooping.  Not quite as creamy or decadent as my other cream cheese icing, but still has a good flavor.

I covered the cake board in white fondant and added black pieces to resemble a piano keyboard.  However the cake itself is not covered in fondant – the white you see on the cake is the icing.  I used the method I describe in my post “Icing Part II-Smooth Operator” to get the icing as smooth as possible, so it almost looks like fondant.  I formed the music notes and name from fondant, then lightly dusted them with luster dust to make them sparkle and topped the cake with some white edible glitter to give it a little pop!

My final cake of the week was a Super Mario Brothers themed cake.  I had to use Google to get some reference pictures, since I’m not a big video game player, but I have to admit this cake was FUN to make.  I’d like to do another one of these some day, but on a bigger scale. I’m thinking 2 tiers of cake, more characters…

10" round cake iced in buttercream with fondant decorations. Mario is formed entirely of fondant.

Here are some alternate views of the cake:

Rear View

Close-up

After the final cake was delivered on Sunday, I cracked open a beer and watched my favorite team lose the SEC tournament, but they still got a #1 seed in the Big Dance.  So, Here We Go – March Madness.  I filled out my bracket and now I’m ready for an overdose of college hoops.  Go Cats!

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Rice Krispie Treats – dressed up!

A quick and easy way to add pizzazz to your cereal treats:  put sprinkles in the bottom of your buttered pan before scooping in the marshmallow-cereal mixture.  Press the cereal mixture into the pan and cool as usual, then turn the bars out onto a cutting board and cut them.  So take a look in your cupboard for some long lost and lonely sprinkles and go to town!

These Rice Krispie Treats got a little dose of spring with some pastel colored sprinkles.

For the original treat recipe, visit the Rice Krispies website!

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Cake Pops!

I never – NEVER – make cake balls or cake pops. Honestly, I just don’t have the time and, well, I like to fuss over them so it’s not a quick project. But this week I happened to have a good amount of left over cake and icing, so I went ahead and made some. Here are the photos. They are all my white wedding cake & butter cream icing flavor, but in various colors.

Cupcake Cake Pops

I made the cupcake cake pops by placing them in little peanut butter cup molds.  These are probably my favorite out of all of them.

Green and white for St. Patricks Day

And here are some purple, yellow, and blue ones.  I just happened to have the same color mini cupcake liners as I did candy melts, so I coordinated these to all match.

Not sure when I’ll have time to do these again, but it was definitely fun!

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New Cakes This Weekend

So this weekend I had two cakes.  One was a birthday cake for a sweet little boy who had his party at the fire department.  I made a custom firetruck cake and set it on top of a 1/4 sheet cake.  The cake itself is iced in buttercream, but I covered the firetruck in red fondant.  Covering cakes in fondant is not something I normally do – I normally reserve fondant for making decorations.  But in this case I thought the color and texture were perfect.  And, there is the entire sheet cake underneath without fondant on it for some good eatin’!

Fire Truck Themed Cake

The second cake on Saturday was for a 40th birthday party.  I iced this two tier cake in pink ombre swirls from buttercream icing.  I also jazzed up the cake board with some hot pink ribbon and some bling that read “FORTY IS FABULOUS” (because it is…)  The lettering on the cake was cut from sugar sheets using my Cricut.  Still not quite up to speed on the ol’ Cricut but one of these days I’ll have some extra time to fool around with it.  I really need to get it cutting gum paste because I am honestly not a huge fan of the sugar sheets.  I will discuss the various mediums I use in decorating in a future post. 

Here is the cake, and also a close up of the bling’d out cake board:  

40 Is Fabulous Cake

Close Up - 40 is fabulous cake

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Icing Part II: Smooth Operator

I’ve been asked countless times, “How do you get your icing so smooth?”  Some have even mistaken the icing on my cakes as fondant!  I do use fondant to form decorations, but I almost always cover the cakes themselves in icing, because let’s be honest, most people don’t like to bite into the fondant.  Instead, they peel it off to enjoy the cake underneath, so I see no point in covering a cake in the stuff (unless it’s to get a specific color/texture as I’ve done with custom, themed cakes like snakes or cars).

HOW TO ICE YOUR CAKES AND MAKE THEM SMOOTH

Well, folks, here it is.  A step by step tutorial on how to get your cakes level, smooth, and professional looking.  You’ll have to read all the way down to find out what my “secret weapon” is for getting my cakes ultra smooth!

1.  Start with a properly baked and cooled cake
I will have step by step instructions in my post, “How To Bake A Cake” (COMING SOON)

2.  Level your cake(s)
Most cakes, when emerging from the oven have a baking “hump” on them.  If you ice the cake with the hump in the middle it will look strange and uneven, and if you are stacking layers (say, two 8″ round layers) to form a layer cake, they will not stack evenly and you will have a wobbly, lopsided cake.  

Take your cake off the cooling rack and place it on your clean counter.  You can use a sharp, serrated knife and do it free-hand, or use a cake leveler.  I have 2 different levelers.  One is a 10″ wire tool with adjustable height by Wilton.  You simply line it up next to your cake, adjust the height, and slice it through the cake to take off the rounded top and create an even, level cake surface

This 10" wire cake leveler from Wilton is a great tool to keep in the kitchen.

I also have the Ultimate Cake Leveler by Wilton.  This is great for cakes bigger than 10″.  Instead of a wire, it actually has a serrated blade which makes “sawing” into the sides of the cake easier.

Using Wiltons Ultimate Cake Leveler, I take the baking humps off the top of my cake to create an even and level surface

My cake is now ready to ice

3.  Crumb coat (or dirty ice) the cake
Assuming you have already prepared a batch of my Buttercream Icing, the next step is to crumb coat the cake.  This is a thin layer of icing that seals in the cake (and any crumbs) to create a smooth surface for the second layer of icing.

Place a couple big scoops of icing into a smaller bowl.  You always want to work with a second bowl of icing while crumb coating, so you don’t “contaminate” all of your icing with crumbs. Place one large dollop of icing in the middle of your cake.  Make sure your cake is cut-side up (and bottom side down). Using an offset spatula, spread the icing out from the middle toward the edges.

An offset spatula is a must for icing cakes. They are inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes.

If this is a layer cake, you will want to keep the icing to about 1/4″ to 1/2″ in thickness – much more than that and it will ooze out the sides.  Make sure you spread the icing as evenly as possible.  You will need less in the middle and more on the edges so the icing comes past the edge of the cake before placing the second layer on top.  *If you are icing a single layer cake (like a sheet cake) you will skip this step.

Be sure to place the second layer cut-side down, and bottom side up.

Now place your second layer on top of the icing.  It is important that you place this cake cut-side down so the smooth bottom of the cake is up.  This will help you get a more even and level cake.  Gently press the cake into place, being sure to line up all the edges so it is not crooked.  Don’t press too hard or fuss with it too much or you will have a mess!

Now, apply another dollop of icing to the top of the cake.  Again, starting in the middle spread the icing out towards the sides of the cake.  You will want to work the icing down, over the edge and onto the sides of the cake.

Work from the center out to the sides and down with your icing

Another important key tip is to scrape your spatula frequently – after almost every pass.  Otherwise, you will end up with too much icing on your spatula and it will just fall off or ooze around and make a mess.  Scraping your spatula on the side of your bowl is key!

Remember to scrape off excess icing after each pass

Once you have worked your way down the sides of your cake, you will need to scoop up small amounts of icing on the tip of your spatula to work them into the bottom edges of the cake.  Remember, you are creating a “seal” so the cake is completely covered in this first, thin layer of icing.  Be sure this icing extends all the way to the cake board or plate.  This will also help hold your cake in place.

Once your cake is entirely covered, stand your spatula upright and go all the way around the cake sideways, scraping off any excess icing.

Scrape off any excess icing, but dont play with it too much. This coating does not have to be perfect!

4.  Let it chill
That’s right.  Pop this into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  You can also leave it uncovered in the refrigerator over night.  Remember, the icing seals in the cake so it will stay moist.

You should have enough icing left to complete the top coat of your cake. If you plan to do a bit of piping, you may want to make another half batch of icing.  Also, if you wish to tint it with food coloring, now is the time to do so.  If you plan on adding any decorations, or piping icing you can get all of your supplies ready to go.

5.  Apply the final coat of icing

Take  your cake out of the refrigerator and, using your offset spatula, begin again with a large dollop of icing in the middle of your cake.  This time, however, you can apply it a little thicker.

Spread your top coat of icing a little thicker than the crumb coat, but use the same technique.

Working out from the center, smooth the icing over the edges and down to the bottom of the cake, scraping your spatula clean after every pass.  Once the cake is covered, stand your spatula up on its end and go around the entire cake again, scraping off any excess and smoothing the icing as much as possible.

Youre almost done! A final pass with the spatula...but get ready to find out what my secret weapon is to get your cake ultra smooth!

6.  Smooth your icing

So now your cake is iced and looks pretty smooth, except you can see those spatula marks.  How do you get rid of those?  Here it is – my secret weapon (except it’s not much of a secret because I learned how to do this  on YouTube!).

My secret weapon for smoothly iced cakes!

VIVA PAPER TOWEL.  This super soft paper towel is what will get your icing smoothed out.  You cannot substitute any other brand.  I’m serious.  You have to use Viva because of it’s smooth, soft texture.  And no, they don’t pay me or give me free paper towel (however, I wouldn’t mind if they did – hint, hint!)

First, let your cake rest for about 15 minutes.  The icing should begin to form a nice crust on it.  If you do this too soon, the icing will stick to the paper towel so be patient, let it rest then come back to it.  Place a single piece of dry paper towel soft side down on top of your cake.

Be sure to use Viva paper towel, or this little trick wont work.

Now take your hand and rub back and forth over the surface of your cake.  The friction of your hand against the paper towel will smooth out the icing and get rid of all those ugly spatula marks.

Dont be afraid - this really does work.

Now take another sheet and work on the sides of the cake.  You can go back and forth between the sides and the top to get those top edges just right.

Work your way all around the cake, smoothing out all of the icing and evening the edges.

And now you have a perfectly iced cake, ready for decorating (or just eating!)

Smooth and even!

Go ahead and tell your friends you bought a really expensive bakery cake, or just brag about how good you are!

Just add your decorations and you have a beautiful, professional looking cake.

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