Using edible food colors, you can create amazing cake paintings either free-hand or following a template. There are basically two different ways you can paint a cake:
1. Use edible food colors mixed with either vodka, lemon extract or almond extract.
2. Use airbrush color.
You can't apply either type of food color to a soft fondant surface. Cover the cake and fondant and allow it to harden overnight. If you live in a humid climate or it's a humid time of year, it could take longer to harden. You'll know it's ready to apply paint when you tap on the surface of the fondant and you hear a noise. If you apply edible food color to a soft fondant surface, you'll create a goopy mess and your artwork won't come out the way you intended.
Using Petal Dust:
Because you are mixing the powdered food color with alcohol to create your paint for the cake, you want to mix small quantities at a time. If you mix large batches, you'll find the alcohol will evaporate and you'll just have to add more. The more extract or vodka you mix in, the lighter the color will come out. You want to mix in enough so it is spreadable with a paintbrush. If you mix in too little, your mixture will be lumpy and you'll have little clumps of powdered food color on your cake. You can mix together different colors just as you would any other type of paint to create the color you want. Alcohol based liquids are used to make the liquid dry quickly. This allows you to work faster because you won't have to worry about a dripping surface and you can go back to the same area and work with another color without waiting too long. The colors are not mixed with water because you don't want to recreate that goopy fondant mess I mentioned earlier.You can also mix irridescent luster dust with vodka or extract to paint royal icing border, flowers, etc. This will create the pearlized sheen commonly seen in many wedding cake designs.
I'm a big fan of airbrush paint. It's ready to go straight out of the bottle. Mixing, like with the powdered colors, is the same as with any other paint. You can also buy white food color to lighten the colors and create pastels, i.e. mix it with the black to make grey. The only issue is that you have to be really careful when painting the sides of a cake that it doesn't drip down and ruin the cake. It's easier to work on flat surfaces. You can paint the sides with it, but don't overload your brush with paint. Another option is to paint a piece of fondant or gum paste that has been cut out and allowed to dry, doing so on a flat surface. When done painting, then you would adhere it to the side of the cake.
You'll want to have a variety of different paintbrush sizes to create different effects. The one you'll use most is a skinny little one that comes to a point. It's worth buying a decent paintbrush whose bristles don't come out when you paint. When the bristles come out on your cake, it can be a pain picking them off. The fly away bristles love to leave errant marks on your cake. You'll get a nice clean line if you get a good brush.
Planning Out Your Design:
In the event you want to plan the design so certain elements are lined up on the cake, the time to mark the cake for these designs is when the fondant is soft. You can scribe the design into the fondant using a pointed modeling tool. These indentations can also lend to the design by giving certain areas of your painting depth. If all your painted designs will be in the center of the side of the cake, for instance, you'll want to measure from the bottom of the cake and make sure the design is equi-distant from the bottom all around.
Many cakes with a lot of painted details have very simple bottom borders. Plain ribbon is a common finish. You don't want to detract from the painted design by adding in too many other designs.
One thing you should remember about a painted cake is that every little flaw in your fondant will show. You have to do a really good job of covering your cake without flaws because you can't hide problems with the food color.
Word of Caution: I learned the hard way that certain colors will completely change when exposed to sunlight, i.e. black will turn a light blue. The food colors will fade over time, but you can protect them from fading and give the cake a nice shine by spraying the cake with edible laquer.
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