“Be Prepared” Part III: Tool Kits

A carpenter's square: not a traditional cake decorating tool.

 

In the 3rd installment of “Be Prepared” I’m talking tools.  In many moments of cake decorating desperation I have reached for any tool handy (thoroughly washed, of course) that would serve the purpose of what I was trying to accomplish.  These are not always traditional cake decorating tools, but some of these non-traditional tools have become my favourites.  So what is in my tool kit?  So very many things, from the lowly Exacto knife to pricey silicone sugar flower molds.  Here I’m going to give you a list of what I consider essential for the budding cake decorating artist and where you can get them–mostly in Ontario and the US.
Specialty Cake Supply Store:
(My favourites are Flour Confections in Pickering, ON, Golda’s Kitchen in Mississauga, ON and Global Sugar Arts in Plattsburgh, NY, which all have online ordering services.)
Americolor Student Kit
Americolor Navy Blue, Electric Purple, Electric Pink, Holiday Red and Forest Green
Ateco plain hole super-sized tip (for doing cupcakes)
Ateco super-sized star tip ( for doing cupcakes)
Wooden-handled ball tool
Ribbon cutter (I have the Wilton one from the student kit; it does not cut well, so if you see a different brand, try it instead)
*Sturdy turntable
Food safe gloves (Golda’s Kitchen)
Fondant (Satin Ice, Fondx and Flour Confections’ Confectioner’s Choice are my faves)
Sugar or gum (ack, hate that word!) paste (I like the work-ability of Satin Ice, but it does not dry quickly or thoroughly.)

The Americolor Student Kit: these soft gel paste colours do not fade or dry out easily and they are much easier to use than Wilton colours.

The wooden-handled ball tool: one of my faves in my kit. Indispensible for making sugar flowers, but also useful in sculpting and other tasks.


Wilton:

(Available at Michaels, but don’t go without a weekly (usually 40% off) coupon; I accumulated supplies this way over a period of several months.  Also available at Bulk Barn, WalMart and specialty cake stores; see note below.)

Large rolling pin
Small rolling pin
2-4 Couplers
**Tips: 1-3, 5, 12, 14-18 and 233 (the grass tip)
10” Icing bags
14″ Icing bags (for cupcakes)
Clear disposable icing bags (for Royal icing)
Large angled spatula (15″)
2 Angled spatulas (9″, round nose)
Angled spatula (9”, narrow-nosed)
Dusting puff
2 Fondant smoothers
***Fondant/gum paste tool set

The angled spatula is essential for icing cakes and cupcakes.

 Michaels:

(Again, make use of that weekly 40% off coupon!) 

Pasta machine (Found in the clay arts aisle.  It is probably cheaper here with 40% off than in a kitchen shop at full price, but check it out first.)
Exacto knife
Small, clear pots with lids for mixing colours (Found in the art supply aisle.)
Needle-nosed tweezers, very fine tip

The pasta/clay arts machine makes the cake decorator’s life much easier.

Dollar Store:

Small pliers
Small scissors
Tracing/quilting wheel
Ruler

Any Kitchen Shop:

Bench scraper
2-3 Pastry brushes, small
Pasta machine

In case you weren't sure, this is a bench scraper, essential for icing a cake, but also handy for chopping butter into small pieces.

 

*The plastic varieties of turntables are useless.  The metal type is a better purchase, but my Wilton Professional Turntable was a disappointment for the price.  It can get off-kilter and it rocks, which is undesirable when you are trying to get a level and smooth cake.  Some cake decorators that I know use a wooden Lazy Susan, which could be very good, but I haven’t tried it yet.

 **You will notice that my list of tips is rather small. I have tons of them, but rarely use them, so this is my “must-have” tip list.

***I actually use about half of the tools in this kit and even fewer on a consistent basis, so this is kit, in my opinion, is not worth the cost unless it is purchased with a discount coupon at Michaels.  These tools can be purchased separately from other companies, such as PME.

Let’s say a bit about Wilton, shall we?  Some of the Wilton products are quite good, such as the fondant smoothers and rolling pins.  However, I do not recommend Wilton fondant or gum paste.  Not all Wilton products are created equally: lured by the pricing, I bought an icing bag at WalMart and it is not the same quality as the same-sized icing bag with the same Wilton logo available at Michaels.  The baking pans do not seem as heavy, either.  However, I have not noticed a difference between the Wilton products sold at Michaels and Bulk Barn.

A word on the Dollar Store: please don’t buy food there that will go into your cakes.  I’m shocked that some of this stuff gets approved for sale in Canada.  I got a whole kit of Exacto knives for $2 at the Dollar Store, but when I opened the box, they smelled awful, like petroleum, and I had to wash them very thoroughly before I could even think of using them.  In the end I only use the one knife out of the whole kit, so when I replace it I think I’ll just buy a better-quality one from Michaels since the Exacto knife is a cake decorator’s best friend!

The pasta/clay arts machine is essential for sugar flower work, since the sugar paste must be rolled out very fine and even; but it also makes easy work of making ribbons and applied decorations for a cake.  It is possible to buy the pasta machine attachment for the Kitchen Aid, but this is much more expensive purchase.  Obviously it goes very fast and requires little work on your part.  It’s still on my wish list!

From my limited experience, within the city of Ottawa, the cake decorator is rather limited as to venues for shopping for cake decorating supplies.  As mentioned above, there are the usual suspects.  Mentioned elsewhere on this blog is that Melanie in South Keys sells Satin Ice out of her home (Satin Ice Ottawa on Facebook).  Artistic Cake Design (just off of Merivale Rd.) does sell some supplies.  Although I appreciate that they are a local business and handy, many of their items are much more expensive than buying from Flour Confections or the other specialty cake stores, which admittedly have a larger client base as well as an online business to support them.

So what is the carpenter’s square all about at the beginning of the post?  Well, I’ve seen some excellent You Tube videos where the esteemable Aussies level their ganached cakes with these things!  I haven’t tried it yet, but I mean to.  Let me know if you have tried one and what you think about the technique.

I hope you’ve found the list helpful.  It’s by no means exhaustive and I haven’t gotten into what I consider essential for making sugar flowers.  Hopefully I will get into that when I post a tutorial on sugar flowers.