Icing on the cake

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Getting into cake decorating seems like a sweet deal.

"I got Styrofoam, did a bunch of dummy cakes, shot pictures of them, and took them around to some of the country clubs, to the chefs, with cake samples of flavors I had worked out. And they liked it and started recommending me," explained Sue Larson, remembering the start of her cake-baking and decorating business 20 years ago.

Sounds like a breeze! The best part:

"Had I done one before? No, not at all," Larson said, laughing. "I was scared to death. My first wedding, I called up my friend and said, 'You have got to come up here and help me.'"

Of course, she wasn't completely without training. She'd grown up on her family's dairy farm, then received bachelor's and master's degrees in art and had taken some training in her new career.

Twenty years later, she's churning out hundreds of cakes for weddings, baptisms, birthdays (two for MTV's My Super Sweet 16) and bachelor parties each year with the help of an assistant from her New Albany shop, Le Gateau.

She'll be sharing tips to snazz up cookies and cakes at the Best of Fall Home Show on Friday and Sunday, and recently gave Alive a wedding cake demo from her shop.

"I'm going to make it taste good, because that's what I'm known for," said Larson, grabbing a bowl of chocolate ganache and a container of fresh raspberries for the cake's filling. "There's a lot that doesn't taste good."

The same goes for fondant, the plastic-looking icing that's so popular for wedding cakes. Larson makes her own sugary sheet of icing, which is draped, pressed and cut to make a flawless finish that's almost magical.

Tricks of the trade

While you do need that special equipment and years of experience to churn out cakes like Larson's, even an amateur can master some professional pointers, she said.

Avoid cake crumbs in the icing by using an icing bag (they're not just for writing "Happy birthday" and making flowers). Grab a wide, thick tip almost like the shape of a paintbrush, press it against the side of the cake and apply in long strips. Then, when you smooth it over with a spatula, the cake crumbs will stay put.

Give cake that melt-in-your-mouth moisture with simple syrup. Boil a half-sugar, half-water concoction until it's dissolved, let it cool, and pour a little over the top of each layer of the cake before icing it. To help it sink in, poke holes with a toothpick first.

Chill a cake in the fridge before adding icing details. Letting the icing firm up before you add another layer will minimize sticky mess-ups.

Decorative designs can save a cake. "Flowers are a cake decorator's best friend," Larson said. When a friend's cake was partially eaten by the clients' dog, she covered that side with a cascade of flowers!

Make your own cake and icing if you don't already, Larson urges. It's not that hard!