I’ve been captivated by the beauty of painted cakes this summer, which inspired me to try my hand at a painted buttercream cake! Despite lacking an artistic background and having limited experience, I was eager to explore this technique. Decorating this cake was both time-consuming and enjoyable, providing a refreshing change of pace. Life is all about embracing new techniques and challenging oneself, after all!
Different Approaches to “Painting”
There are various techniques to paint a cake. One method involves using thinned buttercream as paint, which I used for my Fall Foliage Painted Cake. However, for this painted buttercream cake, I employed a different approach. It entails using an actual paintbrush and edible paint made with gel food coloring and a touch of clear alcohol or extract.
The design of this cake was inspired by a floral sundress I fell in love with during the summer.
Painted Cakes: Fondant vs. Buttercream
Most painted cake designs are typically done on fondant cakes. However, as someone who prefers working with buttercream, I decided to experiment with painting directly on buttercream. It’s entirely feasible as long as the cake is adequately chilled.
To ensure the buttercream sets properly, the cake should be refrigerated for at least an hour. Freezing the cake can lead to condensation, making it nearly impossible to paint. Therefore, avoid using the freezer when preparing a painted buttercream cake.
Best Frosting for Painted Cakes
A crusting buttercream works best for creating a painted buttercream cake, although not all types of buttercream crust. Personally, I find that vanilla American buttercream yields the best results. The colors appear more vibrant on white or light-colored frostings. You could also attempt painting on chilled vanilla Swiss meringue or Italian buttercream, but keep in mind that they soften more quickly and present greater challenges when painting.
Creating the Gel Food Coloring “Paint”
To make the edible paint for a painted buttercream cake, simply mix gel food coloring and vodka. The ratio depends on the desired color intensity. As a general guideline, I like to combine approximately 1 tsp of vodka with 1 or 2 drops of gel food coloring. The high alcohol content in vodka helps the food coloring dry faster and thins it out, allowing for the creation of different shades using the same gel food coloring. In the blue floral cake mentioned earlier, I utilized two different shades of blue gel food coloring: navy blue and royal blue. If you prefer not to use alcohol, almond extract or any clear extract can serve as an alternative.
Advice for Painting a Buttercream Cake: Start Small
It’s important to note that painting on buttercream is a time-consuming process. Between allowing the food coloring to dry and refrigerating the cake to maintain the firmness of the frosting, patience is key. For first-timers attempting a painted buttercream cake, I highly recommend starting with a small cake.
My favorite 6-inch cake recipe, frosted with American buttercream, proves to be an ideal size for this kind of project.
Getting Started with the Painting Process
When embarking on the painting process, begin by painting the sides of the cake. Outline the main objects of the pattern you plan to create, fill in the outline, and gradually work on the shading. A thin brush is recommended for outlining, while a slightly wider brush works well for filling in the petals of the flowers. Personally, I used a variety of paintbrush sizes from an online pack. It’s crucial to use a clean paintbrush solely dedicated to kitchen use or a new one to avoid contamination from non-edible paint.
Taking Breaks During the Painting Process
After completing approximately a quarter of the cake, the frosting may start to soften, evident by smearing from the paintbrush. When this occurs, place the cake in the refrigerator for around 20 minutes before resuming the painting process. While these breaks may be necessary to chill the cake, they serve a beneficial purpose. They allow the paint to dry, enabling layering for added depth and shading. Additionally, taking breaks benefits your back and hands, providing some relief amid the painting journey.
I also employed this technique to create a painted pumpkin cake using my pumpkin layer cake recipe, frosted with cream cheese frosting. Surprisingly, it required less time to paint compared to my blue floral cake.
Troubleshooting Painted Cakes
If a particular section of the cake goes awry or smears, simply return it to the fridge. Once chilled, delicately remove a thin layer of frosting using a warmed bench scraper. If you decide to try this painted buttercream cake technique, make sure to tag me @chelsweets and use #chelsweets so I can admire your stunning creations!
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Smooth Buttercream Tutorial