Maybe you've decorated some modern cookies yourself; or maybe you've been caught up in making amazing cakes, and you haven't noticed that our cookie-baking brethren are baking tiny, edible works of art.
…Wait just a second. This is a cake blog, right? Well, we all use the same ingredients: flour, sugar, and frosting. Why can't we inspire each other? Let's take a look at how cookie bakers think, and maybe we can glean a little inspiration for ourselves.
Making shapes is pretty easy for cookie bakers. They just need a cookie cutter. Boom, cute shape to decorate. Bring on the frosting.
The thing to remember, cake bakers, is this: you're not stuck with the shape of your baking pan. Your cake can be any shape you want.
It's easiest if the shape you want is fairly common (a train, a monkey, a castle); you can just bake your cake in a shaped pan and call it a day. If, on the other hand, you're wanting to sculpt a portrait of your husband, you'll have to break out the knife and start carving.
Don't be afraid to cut up your cake— you can use frosting to cover a lot of flaws, and if it's unsalvageable, make trifle or cake pops and try again sometime. Start with simple shapes if you're nervous (a dome, a heart, a pyramid); after you've got a few custom-shaped cakes under your belt, you'll gain confidence and the world of cake shapes will be at your feet.
How do all of these cookies have such perfectly smooth surfaces? Here's the secret: flood icing.
You pipe the edges with thick royal icing, let it dry all day, then “flood” the middle with really thin royal icing...which makes a big smooth puddle, thanks to the laws of physics, and the puddle doesn't run over the edge because of that thick-icing wall that has been set in place. Ta daaa.
I have never, ever been able to get a beautifully smooth finish with buttercream. Maybe royal icing is the key. Maybe.
In my innocence, before Cake Theater began, I thought a knife and a piping bag were all the tools a cake decorator ever used. Well, I've learned a few things since then...but when I think of painting with food coloring, I still think of cookies and not cakes. We may paint with frosting (because we have more freedom to build with texture; cookies are more of a two dimensional art) but it's not often I see a cake that's been painted like a cookie.
Obviously, a cake is much larger than a cookie, so its decorations are larger than the intricacies of cookie paintings. There's no reason, however, why we can't include tiny intricate work on our cakes as well...or even scale up the painting to match the larger size of a cake.
Favorite idea: make a plain white-frosted sheet cake. It's the canvas, you're the watercolor artist, food coloring is your medium...and you're making an edible painting. Yum.
I like to keep an eye on a cookie blog or two just because they have such cute, inspirational ideas that can also be applied to cakes. I hope you've got some fun ideas now, too! Happy ...erm, cookie-caking? Well. Happy baking, whichever form you practice.