Chocolate shavings were basically the first decorative thing I could associate with. In my first few years of baking the term “cake decorating” always scared me off.
It seemed like this super fancy skill which you can only acquire through years of studying and practice.
On top of all that I could not reach equilibrium in my mind over fondant and gum paste… I didn’t like them at all because they have NO FLAVOUR whatsoever, but it seemed like those are the only materials to use in cake decorating.
Should I give in? I guess it is okay that gum paste decorations are flavourless… isn’t it?
For me, the main reason I add anything to a cake is because it contributes to the flavour – a very honest and bare approach. And that’s me in a nutshell; I cannot pretend to save my life.
This meant I had to find a way to decorate cakes in an honest fashion. The simplest answer was this…
Quality Ingredients as Decorations
Taking an ingredient that is inside the cake already and presenting it in a beautiful way on top of the cake. To me the final product is incredibly inviting.
Beautiful chocolate curls and fresh berries call out to my taste buds, but silver deco balls just don’t get my mouth watering (anyone else feel the same way?).
If gum paste and fondant works for you in your cake decorating, that’s wonderful. We all have to discover what materials work for us and best represent, and express, us as creatives.
I am an honest purist at heart so if I approach cake decorating in the same way, I am way more likely to create a stunning product I am proud of and feel comfortable with.
Over the past 5 years I’ve discovered some nifty tricks to make cakes & cupcakes look spectacular in a matter of 5 minutes just by using ingredients to decorate my cakes.
It makes so much sense to me and the end result can hold its own next to a fondant cake any day 🙂 I would define my cake decorating style as “Purist Cake Decorating”.
Isn’t it Hard to Make Chocolate Shavings?!
Please don’t panic! You don’t need amazing skills to do this. I don’t have any qualifications in working with chocolate, but just figured things out as I went along.
This technique is super easy and quick, I promise! And the finish is just so beautiful. It immediately adds a professional edge to your cakes!
The technique for making chocolate shavings is simple in principle. Very simple. It comes down to pressing and dragging a knife over chocolate.
First place I saw this technique was on The Naked Chef (I NEVER missed an episode).
Jamie was decorating a chocolate tart or something and in seconds he made these stunning chocolate shavings that made his homemade tart look like a centerpiece in a French Bakery!
I’m giving you the method here in WRITING but, as you know, it often helps to SEE someone doing the things we want to learn, right?
That’s why I’ve created a Chocolate Shavings Video Tutorial to SHOW you how to create these gorgeous chocolate shavings 🙂 And it’s only $15! Click the blue link if you want to SEE how it’s done.
Here’s the Method in Writing:
Put on an apron made of thick fabric (very important!).
Put your knife and plate to one side so they don’t get warm from the hairdryer’s heat.
Place the bar of chocolate on your work surface, perpendicular to your tummy. Make sure the smooth side is facing up.
Hold your hairdryer about 20 cm away from the chocolate and turn it on to its lowest speed. Gently move the hairdryer up and down the length of the chocolate, all the while keeping the hairdryer at 20 cm distance.
You only want to soften the chocolate slightly! You don’t want it to melt. The surface of the chocolate should become dull, but not shiny (then you’ve gone too far).
Press and drag your knife over the surface of the chocolate, starting at the furthest end and dragging it towards you, bracing the chocolate with your tummy.
Do this in one, swift motion. Drag the knife over the chocolate as fast as you can!
The chocolate shavings will cling to the knife. Very gently, starting from the top, loosen, curve and roll the shavings onto your ceramic plate with your fingers.
Even after the shaving has been made you can manipulate it to curve a bit more since the chocolate has been softened slightly.
Some chocolate shavings will already be quite curled, so in such cases you can just push them off the knife onto the plate.
Carry on shaving till the soft surface chocolate is used up. Repeat hairdryer process again before making more chocolate shavings.
In summer I like to place the plate of chocolate shavings in the fridge for a minute, just to firm up the chocolate a bit.
These thicker chocolate shavings are not as fragile as regular chocolate shavings, so you can easily pick them up with your fingers and place them where you want without breaking them.
I use this method DAILY for making chocolate shavings. With them I decorate cakes, cupcakes, tarts… anything really. Minimum effort for maximum results. Nice!
Struggling to Get The Chocolate Shavings Right?
This technique does require some practice to get just right!
Maybe you’ve been trying and trying to create chocolate curls like these, but they’re just NOT cooperating…
And now you’re literally covered in chocolate and giving up hope…
But just wait a minute!
As you know, it often helps to SEE someone doing the things we want to learn, right?
I used to think that perfectly flat cake layers are only within the grasp of PRO bakers. When I started out baking, I loved baking cupcakes a whole lot more than baking layered cakes.
The simple reason behind this is that I wanted to avoid all the waste. You know how it goes… We need to trim off that ugly dome off our cake layers to make them level and then I obviously don’t throw the off-cuts away…
I hate wasting, so I eat all of it…
As much as I enjoyed stuffing my face with cake, I couldn’t keep this up. Neither could my jeans!
Beyond the desire for perfectly level cake layers, there was another problem. The cake was moist in the center, but quite dry around the edges.
This had to be fixed. Cupcakes bake a lot quicker than large cake layers, so they aren’t in the oven for very long. Large cakes however, obviously need to spend a lot more time in the oven.
By the time the center is cooked, the outer edge has been cooked for the past 25 minutes and is now overcooked.
Please note: This post has affiliate links. This means that if you purchase some of these products I get a tiny commission – but at NO extra cost to you.I’m super proud to recommend these resources to you because they’ve completely transformed my Home Bakery Business!
Before we get started:
So once again there is a basic technique for baking level cake layers (as with baking Perfect Cupakes), but it needs to be adapted according to your recipe. In my experience cake recipes can be divided into 3 different categories (due to how they respond in the oven). This definitely does not include cakes like Angel Food Cake which is a whole different ballgame.
Butter Based Recipes
Oil Based Recipes
Recipes containing fresh fruit/vegetables
Here is a picture of how I divide my oven. You will need this later.
Greasing the tin:
I always line the bottom of my tin with high quality non-stick parchment/baking paper. It makes removing the cake a total breeze! Simply place the base of your cake tin on the paper, trace a circle and cut it out.
Lining the sides of the tin with parchment paper is just too tedious for me. I love using non-stick spray! Feel free to use butter or oil if you desire.
Basic technique for baking flat cake layers:
Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen uses moist towel strips, fastened around the tin with safety pins. Her hypothesis is that “What’s happening here is that the moisture from towel is helping the cake bake more evenly, resulting in an even rise and a cake with a flat top.”
I think the moisture definitely plays a role, but in my opinion the damp towel keeps the sides of the tin cooler, so that the batter in direct contact with the sides of the tin doesn’t cook so fast. This gives the cake batter around the edge a bigger window of time to rise.
Of course you can also buy Wilton Bake-Even Strips online! They’re like a formal version of this wet-towel-strips-method and save you the drama of cutting up a towel (that your Mother may or may not have given you…)
Measure the height of your tin.
Get a clean, new-ish hand towel. Not a scrap one you used to clean the floor with.
Cut off strips of towel as wide as the height of your tin and long enough to wrap around your tin. It’s totally fine if the towel is going to end up overlapping around the tin. Rather don’t cut off the edges of the towel, this helps keep the strip intact.
Place the towel strips in some water and squeeze them about till they are evenly wet. Wring out the water.
Grease and line your cake tin.
Fasten the wet towel strips around the tin.
Pour in batter, level it out and bake.
My first change was to fasten the towel strips around the tin with paperclips instead of safety pins. It was very difficult to get the towel strips tightly wrapped around the tin. It was even more challenging to make them stay in position with safety pins as these allow room for movement.
The first time was a disaster! The towel kept sagging down on the sides of the tin, but I did see a slight improvement in the levelness of the cake. Second time around I used paperclips and I’ve never looked back.
Adapting the technique:
Butter based recipes:
Butter based cake recipes respond extremely well to this technique! Be sure to squeeze and wring out your towel strips as well as you possibly can. If they are too wet, the sides of your cakes can even rise higher than the middle! Be sure to level out your batter with a spatula before baking. There is no need to spread the batter higher up the sides or anything.
Bake the cake on oven rack A at 180˚C
Gently rotate your pans halfway through baking.
Oil based recipes:
The wetter, the better for this category. Lightly squeeze the towel strips so that they are just past dripping point. Grease and line the tin as usual and pour in your batter.
Swirl the pan around slowly so that the batter coats about 1 cm of the tin’s edge above the batter’s normal resting level.
Shake the pan a little bit so that the main batter returns to its neutral resting level. Do this just before you place the cakes in the oven.
To bake the cake, preheat your oven to 170˚C.
Place a clean, empty roasting tray on rack A.
Place your cake tins on rack B.
Pour about 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the oven.
Bake for about 10 minutes.
Rotate the pans and pour ½ cup water in the bottom of the oven. Continue to bake on rack B for a further 20 minutes.
Remove the roasting tray on rack A and move your cakes from rack B to rack A. Rotate your cakes again at this point as well.
Continue to bake until done.
Recipes containing Fresh Fruit/Vegetables:
Curiously these batters respond somewhere in between the butter and oil categories. The fresh fruit/vegetables naturally release a lot of moisture as they bake as well which helps in the level cake baking process.
Still, it does help to have a towel strips very wet (squeezed out just past dripping point) for this category as well.
Grease and line the tin as usual and fasten the wet towel strips around your tins. Pour in the cake batter. Swirl the pan around slowly so that the batter coats about 1 cm of the tin’s edge above the batter’s normal resting level.
Shake the pan a little bit so that the main batter returns to its neutral resting level. Do this just before you place the cakes in the oven.
To bake the cake, preheat your oven to 170˚C.
Place your cake tins on rack A.
Continue to bake on rack A until done, rotating the pans every 15 minutes.
When baking 7 inch cakes and smaller, I’ve found that a hand towel’s absorption powers are too great. For small cakes I use DISH towel strips instead – they work perfectly! OR if you bake different sized cakes, it’s really worth it to get the Wilton Bake Even Strips Set for 6 inch, 8 inch, 10 inch and 12 inch tins.
Although this hack is the most amazing game changer in baking a level cake, you’ll still need to trim off tiny bits here and there – but it’ll be minimal. Oil based cakes especially still rise with a slight dome, but they are about 80% more level than before!
And you also won’t need to trim the sides of your cake ever again. The wet towel strips ensure the oven stays moist and keeps the edges from baking too quickly. Your level cake layers will have a beautifully moist crumb from edge to center 🙂 Yay!
This technique has changed my life! Give it a try and let me know what your results are.
What info are you looking for?
Hi! I’m Aurelia 🙂
I help home bakers create a Home Bakery Business with consistent orders so they never have to worry about a stable income.
There are quite a few helpful articles on the internet, but it really came down to baking cupcakes 1000 times over to figure everything out.
Once again, supplying cupcakes to restaurants and coffee shops has given me ample opportunity to experiment! So grateful!
Here is a FULL cupcake troubleshooting guide that will help you to better understand your cupcake dramas.
Cupcake Troubleshooting (Common Cupcake Errors):
I have to start with a cupcake troubleshooting list before I share my extra methods. Oh gosh, the list is long and we all know how horribly disappointing these results are!
I’ll add some of my own thoughts on each point and provide my favourite links that discuss these topics in more detail.
In my NEXT POST I share my more Advanced, Secret Tips I use to make my cupcakes exceptional, not just error-free!
Cupcake Troubleshooting Problem A:
Cupcakes rise with a pointy top:
Image by The Cooks Academy Blog
1. Your Oven is too Hot
NEVER EVER bake your cupcakes on the thermofan or convection oven setting! EVER! The fan pushes hot air around in the oven, but makes the environment too intense for the batter to handle.
The outer edges of the cupcakes bake too fast, crisp up and stop rising very quickly while the center still keeps rising and ends up pushing through the top of your cupcakes – pointy!
The worst pointy cupcake episode I ever had was when I baked my cupcakes in a convection oven. I cried.
Another reason is over-beating your batter. Make sure you follow the instructions of your recipe. Make sure you added in all the ingredients as directed so that you don’t need to mix in an ingredient after the wet and dry ingredients have been combined.
Certain cake recipes do require extensive beating once all the ingredients have been combined. Just be sure to stick to the required beating time of your particular recipe.
Your cupcakes look perfect when they come out the oven (they seem slightly smaller, but that’s normal right?). Then, within the next 3 minutes, they shrink into puny little things and the texture is also way too dense. Why does this happen?!
It’s happened to me 7 times, for 6 different reasons:
2. The cupcakes were under baked:
Perfect cupcakes are obviously not over-baked, but it really is important for them to be baked properly. I’ve found that it’s quite ideal if one or 2 moist crumbs stick to the bottom of the skewer after testing. Then you have a perfect bake.
There should never be any traces of batter glued to the skewer. Also be sure to insert the skewer all the way to the bottom of the cupcakes, not just to the centre.
If the batter has not cooked and formed a proper structure, it will sag down (and in) once out of the oven.
3. Over-beating the batter:
Over-beating your batter overworks the gluten, making it tough and less likely to rise. Another analogy is that you are beating in too much air which will then escape once your cupcakes are out of the oven, causing them to shrink.
4. Self-raising flour fail / Old baking powder:
It is a handy ingredient yes, but not always so trustworthy in my experience. In summer I make the most amazing Passion Fruit & Raspberry cupcakes. They had come out perfectly every time before this one particular day.
I always bought the best Self-rising flour our country has to offer. This one day they shrunk into oblivion!
I made them again – same result. Then I made them yet again, but this time using flour and baking powder – perfect cupcakes!
Since that fateful day I’ve swapped self-rising flour for all-purpose flour and baking powder. Just use 2t baking powder per 160g (1 cup) Flour. Perfect!
5. Poor quality sugar:
I did not see this one coming. Sugar is sugar, right?
Turns out it’s not.
Our grocery store had this tower of sugar with bright red “sale” signs all over – of course I was going to buy it! It was a brand I had never seen or heard of before, but come on! It’s on SALE! I bought a few… Little did she know…
The poor cupcakes shrunk to about half their original size in just 2 minutes after exiting the oven. I made them again with a trusted brand of sugar – perfect cupcakes! We ended up using the poor quality sugar in our tea and coffee.
6. Too much sugar:
It was purely just a lack of focus that revealed this error. My mind was occupied with a lot of stuff…
Towards the end of mixing my batter I could not remember if I had added the sugar… It’s important to note that this recipe contained 3 different types of sugar. White, demerara and golden syrup, so I couldn’t just taste it and figure it out.
I wasn’t sure if I had added the white sugar. What to do?
So the cake would be a tad too sweet if I might be adding extra, big deal.
Shrinking cupcakes are a big deal though. And shrink they did. Be sure to focus, follow your recipe and don’t add extra sugar!
👉 Question: Do you want to SELL your home baked goods so you can make more income?
Eggs vary in sizes. I generally get quite upset when a recipe doesn’t specify what size egg you should use.
Too much egg WILL shrink your cupcakes.
Once I added about 1,5 times the amount of egg the batter specified because I didn’t want to waste half an egg. In the end I wasted a batch of cupcakes instead!
I always WEIGH the amount of egg I use.
Crack it in a cup, whisk it lightly with a fork and then weigh the exact amount of grams you put in. If the cupcakes come out perfect, make a note on your recipe of the weight of egg you used, so that you’ll know how much to use when you make the recipe again.
If you feel the cake needed a bit more egg, make a note of that too. Weighing the amount of egg I use has made all the difference in my baking.
If this bit of effort gives me perfect cupcakes, I’m more than happy to do it.
Are you willing to sacrifice one minute of extra effort for perfect cupcakes? If you think about it that way, it’s totally worth it 🙂
8. Important notes on liquidy batters:
If your batter has a high liquid content, shrinking will occur after baking. The liquid produces a lot of steam. This steam puffs up the cupcake, but will evaporate after baking and your cupcakes will shrink.
Most amazing chocolate cupcake recipes call for boiling water, which is totally fine. I always just add about 1/5 less water than the recipe states – just in case!
First you get excited because you can see your cupcakes are rising so well in the oven. How delightful! “These are going to be my most perfect cupcakes ever!” you think out loud.
Then they continue to rise… upwards and then outwards! Wait, Stop! Nooo!
So, what causes this?
9. Too much Leavening Agent:
More often than not, the reason is too much baking powder or bicarbonate of soda. Especially with bicarbonate of soda. “Soda spreads, powder puffs” Kitchen Conundrums always says.
I always weigh my baking powder and baking soda while sifting the dry ingredients together. Seriously 1 little gram does make a difference!
Think about how dangerous measuring is. Some folks scoop out a compacted teaspoon of baking powder, while others pour it out of a refill pack. There is just too much room for error.
Write down on each recipe the exact weight of baking powder you use so that you will know for the next time you make that recipe and get consistent results. Also stick to one brand! All of them differ, even if it is just slightly.
10. Overfilling your cupcakes:
If you see there is a bit too much batter, rather bake half a cupcake extra. Rather have one little manky one (which serves as your sneaky treat anyway) and 11 perfect cupcakes as opposed to 11 overflown cupcakes.
11. Oven temperature is too low:
Preheat your oven till the exact temperature before putting the cupcakes in the oven. If the temperature is too low, the outer batter will take longer to cook, extending the cupcakes’ rising phase beyond normal.
Consider buying an additional thermometer to hang inside your oven. Oven thermostats are not always that accurate. An additional thermometer is a MUST for a gas oven.
12. Too much acidity:
I once tried out a lemon cupcake recipe which called for lemon juice in the batter. I made a batch with lemon juice and one without. The batch with lemon juice completely overflowed.
Acidity can also act as a rising agent. Think of traditional Red Velvet Cake. The vinegar, along with the bicarbonate of soda, makes the cake rise.
Cupcake peels away from the wrapper all by itself:
Image by Jessica Harris Cake Design
This tends to happen when I bake gluten free cupcakes. I assume it is because gluten free goods contain less binding agents. In that case it makes sense that there is less binding between the cupcake and its wrapper as well.
The way I solve this is to use average quality cupcake wrappers. They have a poor non-stick ability, so they stick very well to cupcakes. With regular cupcakes this can be annoying, but with gluten free cupcakes it works perfectly!
14. Under baking your cupcakes:
With regular cupcakes it is usually due to under baking your cupcakes. When the cupcakes cool, they then shrink inwards and leave the wrapper behind.
15. Fancy Cupcake Liners:
This problem also occurs with fancy cupcake wrappers. All cupcakes will shrink at least a little bit after baking. If your wrapper is a rigid one, the shape of the cupcake will change post baking, but the wrapper will remain the same.
This isn’t really a make or break cupcake issue. It’s just annoying when you handle your cooled cupcakes and then bits of them stick to your fingers!
Here’s why this happens. The sugar in your cupcakes is reacting with the moisture in the air.
A great way to explain this is to think of a piece of hard piece of candy (which is almost made of just sugar). What happens when you leave a piece of candy, unwrapped, on your counter overnight? The next morning it will be sticky at the very least! If it’s your rainy season, there might be a sticky puddle underneath the candy.
And it’s all because the moisture in the air kind of mixes with and “dissolves” the sugar. The result is moist, dissolved sugar.
Sadly, there’s no way to prevent your cupcakes from having sticky tops. Even if you store them in an airtight container overnight, the moisture in that small amount of trapped air will already be enough to make your cupcake tops sticky.
Don’t fret though! Sticky cupcakes are totally okay! You’re going to add frosting on top anyway, so don’t worry about it 😊
This concludes my FULL Cupcake Troubleshooting! Thanks for reading! If you have had any other cupcake struggles which are not discussed in this post, please share them. I’ll answer them to the best of my ability or direct you to someone who can.
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