Having conquered the world of cakes (and reality TV), "Ace of Cakes" star Duff Goldman went right to his next challenge: chocolates. Though we met up with him to learn about his new cake-inspired truffle collection for Godiva, we couldn't help but ask how to make your cake the highlight of any party. Here's his advice for home bakers everywhere.
Be a cake whisperer
"The cake -- this is gonna sound weird -- but it does talk to you. It tells you what [it wants]. You have a white cake and there's nothing on it; you put one thing on there and all of a sudden you're just like, 'oh, now I need to do this.' The human mind seeks harmony. I'm serious -- you want things to work. A major chord sounds really good, a chord that isn't played right doesn't sound good, and there's a reason: We want harmony. Same thing with when you're making a cake."
Let your nose guide you
"When the cake's in the oven, your nose will tell you when it's done. And you develop that sense. Any pastry chef will tell you: They stop setting timers after a year. When I was working at a hotel in Colorado, I could put something in the oven and just leave, call and be like, 'Hey, can you go in the bakery and pull out the tray of cookies in there? They're done.'"
Don't buy that popular cookbook
Goldman swears that the best cake recipes may be right under your nose, at your school's or church's bake sale. "Chefs [have] really low self-esteem. They get very paranoid and they don't want to tell people their secrets. Most chefs, when they write a cookbook, chances are they leave a little ingredient out or they change a little something -- or maybe they just found a recipe online, tweaked it a little bit and put it in a book. But the church bake sale? Betty Blue McMillan, she wants you to make those cookies right."
Conquer the calligraphy
Are your "Happy birthdays" illegible? Goldman's got the solution. "I have a very shaky hand," he says. "When you're decorating, lift the tip of the bag off the cake a little bit. That takes the wiggle out. Lift it up and lay it down, and then as it lays down it lays down in a nice, straight line."
Make the perfect buttercream
We scored tips from Elisabeth Allwein, the director of product development for Cheryl’s Desserts.
Use real ingredients
“It’s real vanilla, real peppermint extract, nice cocoa — it’s the real ingredients and then the way that you mix them.”
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Don’t let your ingredients get too warm
“I don’t leave my butter out for a long time because I don’t want it to get too warm and almost broken down during the mixing process,” she says.
“I think of buttercream as the canvas and then I embellish it. If I want it to be something that’s more comforting and homey for this season I might put a little maple syrup in it or maybe cinnamon. With vanilla beans I split the bean and scrape out the seeds, and then you can store that vanilla bean in your sugar and then over time it will really infuse the sugar. Sometimes I like to be a little more edgy so I put a little bit of chili powder in there.”