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While it might seem daunting for beginners, with a few helpful tips and a little practice, you too can create a cake for any occasion.
The baking bit
If you are totally new to baking, try to find a very simple cake recipe that doesn't require expensive ingredients or is tricky to get right. If you plan on making a sandwiched cake, for instance, try halving the mixture and putting into two separate tins (cutting the baking time accordingly) - that way you won't have to worry about cutting it evenly once it is ready.
Another handy tip if you plan on wowing the family with your decorating skills is to tap the cake tin on the kitchen surface a few times, as this will remove excess air bubbles from the raw mix and help to keep the cake flat as it bakes. Better still, take an old, wet towel and wrap it around the outside of the cake tin, securing at the end with a safety pin. The moisture will ensure your cake cooks evenly and retains a lovely, flat top.
Icing and frosting
Whether you're after a clean, smooth finish or a luscious cup cake look, an offset spatula and icing bag are really all you need to get started.
Once your icing is ready, put a small blob on a plate and place your first cake on top. This way the cake won't move and you will be able to twist the plate as you ice.
Now for the fun (and very satisfying) part. Take a large blob of icing and place it in the middle of your cake. Since the key to successful icing is not to get any crumbs mixed in, it is better to have too much icing and remove it afterwards. Then take your spatula and begin spreading the layer of icing from the centre outwards, keeping your spatula flat. Always work from the centre outwards to avoid picking up any stray crumbs.
Add the top layer of the cake and do the same and use the spatula to smooth the icing, removing any excess as you go. For the sides, it's an idea to invest in a large piping bag with a giant-sized tip. This will allow you to simply pipe around the side before smoothing with your spatula.
Of course, for that smooth, glossy finish you'll need royal icing. Thankfully, the ready-to-roll variety is available in most supermarkets in a variety of colours, making it ideal for decorating beginners. A thin layer of butter icing spread directly onto the cake makes for a perfect glue for your shop-bought alternative - then it's simply a case of rolling the paste into a suitable size, draping it over the cake, pressing it gently in at the sides and base, cutting off the excess and smoothing.
While you may marvel at the stunning creations professional bakers offer up, it's best to start with something simple in terms of decoration. If you are using ready-rolled icing, an easy way to make your cake look fabulous is to use coloured icing and little cookie cutters to create simple shapes. A dab of butter icing or jam is all you need to stick them to the smooth surface of the cake.
If you want to get really creative, a piping bag is a must. However, it takes practice to get it right and different tips will create different effects so a little practice on cookies or grease proof paper is a good idea. As your confidence grows you'll find you can quickly move on to shell borders, writing and more lavish decorations, but don't go mad - when it comes to cake decorating, you will quickly find that less is more.
Have you recently discovered the joy of cake decorating? What's your advice for the complete novice? Leave your comments below...