Cake-a-holic Shares His Secrets

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From THESTREET.COM: Duff Goldman doesn't just take the cake. He uses power and pastry tools and more than a little ingenuity to sculpt and shape said cake into a work of art, resembling everything from a vintage roller skate to a giant blue crab.
But what advice does he have for the beginning baker?

We caught up with the 33-year-old Goldman, the soul patch-sporting graffiti artist-turned-master cake decorator who's the star of the Food Network's Ace of Cakes, a few weeks ago at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach to hear what he might have to say.

Plenty, it turns out.

Make no mistake: Even though Goldman, the proprietor behind Baltimore's Charm City Cakes, is enjoying rock star-like fame these days (he was mobbed by autograph-seekers at the festival), he's a serious student of the culinary arts.

He attended the Culinary Institute of America's California campus and got his professional start working at Napa Valley's famed French Laundry restaurant. These days, he still spends much of his time at his Baltimore shop, where customers have to reserve months in advance to have a cake (minimum price: $500) created for their special occasion.

He also has a book in the works, plays bass in an indie rock band and remains an enthusiastic supporter of the Charm City Roller Girls, which bills itself as "Baltimore's Only All-Girl Roller Derby League."

But enough about Goldman's passions and pursuits. How should we get started with our cake? We broke down Goldman's advice into six "Duff-isms."

Duff-ism No. 1: Tool Around With the Right Tools

You can't bake a cake without an oven. But you also can't design a cake without some of the necessary tools of the trade, Goldman explains. On his must-have list: a cake wheel, serrated knife (for carving), filet knife (for "getting underneath things"), spatulas (for spreading icing), food coloring (from a baking or candy supply company, not the cheap stuff in the supermarket) and cake pans galore.

What about power tools, such as saws?

Goldman says you might want to wait until you become a little more advanced.

Duff-ism No. 2: Play With Your Fondant

Another tool of the trade: fondant, the clay-like edible stuff that's used as a covering for many a cake, giving it a clean look. But it can be tricky to use texture-wise.

"It gets very weird very fast," Goldman says. He advises that before a beginner starts applying fondant to their cakes, they familiarize themselves with it.

"Make little creatures with it or see how long you can hold it in your hands before it melts," he says, adding that the idea is to "figure out its limitations."

It's also important to recognizes that no two fondants -- and, yes, even pros rely on ready-made commercial fondant -- are alike in terms of the elasticity or durability.

Another trick of the trade: Have shortening on hand -- preferably "a very neutral vegetable oil that's been hydrogenated," like Crisco -- so you can loosen up fondant that's too firm. (Conversely, if it's too loose, Goldman suggests using corn starch to firm it up.)

Other important decorating substances: gum paste (great for making flowers), modeling chocolate ("it's basically a Tootsie Roll") and pastillage (a sugar-based dough).

Duff-ism No. 3: Be the Bride

Want to see some of the best cake designs? Look no further than bridal magazines, Goldman advises, since wedding cakes are considered the ultimate expression of the art. Bridal Web sites -- his Charm City site links to a few -- are another good source.

Duff-ism No. 4: Copy Away

Goldman has no problem with beginners -- or even advanced -- cake makers patterning their designs after icons or famous works or art. (Or for that matter, cakes made by other cake designers, including Goldman himself.)

"Good art is borrowed, great art is stolen," Goldman says.

The idea isn't necessarily to become a pastry plagiarist. Rather, it's to figure out "how you do this kind of thing," Goldman explains. "Then, you make it on your own," he adds.

Duff-ism No. 5: Don't Forget About Taste

As tempting as it is to think of intricately designed cakes as showpieces rather than dessert, Goldman insists that "they've got to taste awesome." (He admits it's an idea that's hard to get across on the TV show: "What are you going to do? Lick the TV screen?")

A mix of all-purpose (75%) and pastry (25%) flour usually yields the right texture for your cakes, Goldman says.

Chocolate cakes have the added advantage of being a little more firm, which is good if your end product is going to be very sculptural. But white cake is fine, so long as it's not sponge cake, which is way too light.

Goldman also likes to try different flavorings -- pumpkin is a particular favorite.

"It is so moist," he says.

Duff-ism No. 6: If At First You Don't Succeed...

Goldman notes that his formal training in cake design consisted of two weeks worth of lessons in culinary school. The rest all came from trial and error.

"We just tried stuff out...You've got to experiment," he says, referring to everything from the basic cake recipe to the decorating. The possibilities of what you can achieve are endless, so long as you're willing to fail the first (or 50th) time around and try, try again.

Beginners "really can do it like me," Goldman concludes.

 

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