Christmas is coming – Yay!! My favourite bits of the festive season are not gift related, I love having friends and family together, lots of good food, tasty treats and the beautiful scents of the season. However when it comes to gifts, I really do love choosing things for my loved ones. For those of you who love baking or if you know someone who is getting into cake decorating, take a look at my Top 10 Cake Decorating Essentials that I just can’t do without. To be honest, this list could have been at least another 10 more with cranked palette knives, various cutters and tools…but we’d be here forever! And so to start with…I couldn’t live without….
1. A Decent Spatula
I really like the Joseph Joseph Elevate spatulas which have a little stand built into the handle which stops mess getting on your worksurface. I have the green spoon spatula and the smaller pink one too which is great for icing.
2. A good set of measuring spoons
I have had several sets of measuring spoons but one of the most frustrating things about them can be when they don’t fit into the narrow neck of a spice jar. In most areas of cooking I rarely use a recipe and I tend go by the chuck-a-bit-of-that-in method. However when it comes to baking cakes, this is a well-practiced science and accurate measurements are essential. The majority of my cake recipes are in my head and I love to experiment with flavour combinations however there are certain cakes that do require me to open up a recipe book and this is often where I reach for a decent measuring spoon. When my last spoons finally broke I began the search for some new ones and happened upon a brilliant set of Levoons from the unique gifts and eclectic homeware site: Imanique. The spoons are great, narrow enough to fit into jars and they feature a built in scraper to get the measurements totally level.
I had to give them a little test.
Buy your set from the lovely Lucy at Imanique and in doing so, you will be buying from an independent small business, which is always nice 🙂
As a bit of a subheading to this one, occasionally I use the odd American recipe which calls for cup measurements. My favourite cup set was a Christmas gift from my lovely sister in law Jenni a few years ago, they are in the shape of nesting Russian dolls or Matroyshka to give the their correct name. A quick Google search has revealed that they are still available and can be bought here from John Lewis.
3. A Stand Mixer
Due to the huge popularity of The Great British Bake Off, there are now there are lots of stand mixers available to suit a range of budgets. When I got my first mixer there wasn’t a huge choice and the brand leaders were (and still are) the Kenwood Kmix and the Kitchenaid Artisan. Both were crazy expensive for a hobby baker with the Kmix being the most affordable option of the two. However for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted a Kitchenaid. The classic design looks like it has stepped straight out of the fifties and has the smooth curves of a beautiful vintage car that I know I will never get to own!
This is me at a vintage swing dance weekender with my dream car.
I finally took the plunge and asked for money towards a mixer for my birthday one year. That, combined with some savings led me be able to purchase my beautiful buttery yellow Kitchenaid mixer.
I love my mixer so much and it has definitely proved worthwhile for the quantity of time that I use it. Since baking is now my full time job, I had to invest in a larger mixer to cope with mixing up the batter for many cake tiers at once. The colour choice for the big ones is more limited than the rainbow array of Artisans but I do love my sparkly cherry red pro mixer.
You can buy stand mixers anywhere from Lidl to Lakeland now but mine both came from Harts of Stur as when I was looking, they offered the best value as well as some awesome free gifts.
4. Artist’s palette knife
One of my absolutely essential items in my baking kit comes from the artist section of Hobbycraft. There are lots of different artists’ palette knives which work so well for sliding underneath delicate fondant work to lift and move.
Ever since I started at Art College when I was 16 I have always used a scalpel instead of a craft knife. It works perfectly to cut out delicate fondant shapes. One memorable moment of stupidity was when I was about 17 and was using a scalpel to strip the copper wire out of some covered flex. I was doing this balanced on my lap while sitting on my bed, I slipped with the scalpel and stuck it straight into my thigh! Thankfully I escaped with just a small scar but it did teach me to actually work on a board. I’ll admit that I still occasionally cut out intricate fondant shapes on my lap while working in the evening, but I’m always very careful and I use a sturdy board to work on.
6. A good set of Artists Paintbrushes
I don’t buy special cake paintbrushes to use on my painted cakes, I always head for the artists section in Hobbycraft. I tend to go through brushes quite quickly so I don’t spend a huge amount of money on them. My brush of choice for the majority of my paintings is a Number 8 nylon brush with a nice pointed tip. I also love a flat wide brush for covering large areas, or a rounder fluffy one for dusting with lustres.
I don’t use a palette, I prefer to use a plate for mixing my colours.
7. Ice Cream Scoop
I always use an ice-cream scoop to measure out my cupcake mixture. You get perfect even cakes every time. You can get the lever operated scoops in several sizes to make mini cupcakes, standard fairy cakes and big muffins.
8. Acrylic Ganache Plates
These acrylic discs each measure .25” extra in diameter to allow space for adding ganache or buttercream and removes the need for trimming your cakes too much. I have them in a range of sizes and since buying them they’ve made ganaching and buttercream-smoothing so much easier. As a small business owner myself, I like to buy from fellow independent traders and there are many who run their businesses through Facebook. One of whom is Denise G’s Cake Bitz, which is where I buy my acrylic plates from.
9. A Large Side Scraper
A large side scraper is essential for getting that all important super smooth buttercream or ganache finish. I alternate between using a large metal scraper and my new acrylic scrapers.
10. The Sugar Buttons Universal Mixer Guard!
This wonderful invention solves the problem of an icing sugar covered kitchen! If like me, you bake a lot and use a stand mixer, you’ll probably be all too aware of the problem of icing sugar and flour clouds billowing out of every gap. Yes the Kitchenaid* does come with a plastic guard but it is not effective when using dry ingredients like icing sugar. What you need is a Sugar Buttons Universal Mixer Guard!
I was inspired to make this mixer guard not only after having to relentlessly hug a tea towel on my own mixer but from watching the likes of the queen of baking, Mary Berry getting covered in icing sugar. In Celebrity GBBO I watched as many more celebrities were clouded in sugary dust, including Kimberly Walsh and Samantha Cameron.
I sent a mixer guard to Mary Berry and Sam Cam and got replies from both. Samantha Cameron’s reply came from a representative but it was still quite cool to get a letter from 10 Downing Street. The truly lovely Mary Berry wrote me a hand written letter back which I will always treasure.
*The Sugar Buttons Universal Mixer Guard fits most standard sized mixers including The Kenwood KMix, Sage by Heston Blumenthal and the Smeg stand mixer.
If you want to protect your kitchen from sugary clouds, click here!
“I think this is a great product and would definitely recommend buying it. It goes on my “must have” list! ” Suzi, Pretty Witty Cakes
So there we have it, I hope I’ve given you a few ideas for baking related Christmas gifts. Where possible I like to buy from fellow small businesses and on this subject, head on over to my own small business online shop where you will find a variety of products designed and produced by me 🙂
Happy Nearly Christmas!