Erin Bakes Cake

Make + Bake + Decorate = Your Own Cake Adventure!: A Baking Book

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"You have not eaten cake until you have eaten one of Erin's...ERIN BAKES CAKE is a must on your shelf." —Daphne Oz

Learn how to bake easy but elaborately decorated cakes—no fondant needed!

Erin Gardner’s cake recipes share a delicious, time-saving secret: they're all the same. Why play the guessing game of sifting through dozens of recipes when all you need are just a few that contain hundreds of variations—572, to be exact! The cakequations in Erin Bakes Cake teach you how to combine her cake, buttercream, cookie, and candy recipes in endless mouth-watering ways. Erin’s cake recipes aren’t sorcery—they’re science. They all share similar ratios of ingredients that add tenderness, strength, or flavor. You don’t have to be an expert. Everyone can learn to make a great cake!

Erin Bakes Cake provides the building blocks for constructing a great cake, and then offers endless ways those blocks can be reassembled. Erin shares the baking tips she learned as a professional pastry chef and wedding cake baker, what tools to use, how to perfect the cake’s finish, and other tricks of the baking trade. She then shows you how to make gorgeous and intricately decorated cakes by elevating simple, but delicious, ingredients like candy, cookies, and chocolate. Erin’s created cake designs that are festive, chic, and easy to recreate at home without the use of hard-to-deal-with fondant.

And best of all, you can make every recipe your own! The Any Veggie Cake cake can be transformed into a classic carrot cake, zucchini cake, or sweet potato cake. A creamy cake filling isn’t limited to buttercream with the inclusion of recipes for caramel, ganache, marshmallow, and more. A chocolate birthday cake recipe can be reimagined as red velvet or chocolate toffee. Elements of crunch, like peanut brittle, honeycomb candy, or even cookie crumbles, can be sprinkled onto your cake layers for tasty added texture.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Erin Bakes Cake


Bake without Breaking a Sweat


While on your cakey adventure, you may ask yourself . . .

I wonder what that [cake, frosting, cookie, etc.] looks like in a cake slice? I'm so glad you wondered that. I love to look at pretty pictures of cake slices, too. That's why I filled a book with them. Yay! Look for the "See It In a Slice" notes to find page numbers corresponding to the picture of the recipe you're ogling. Oooh, that sounds good, but I don't have time to bake from scratch. What should I do? Don't panic! Your box mix secrets are safe with me. DOCTOR, DOCTOR! is here to save the day with store-bought alternatives listed within most recipes. These tidbits have also been gathered up into one place as a handy-dandy reference guide, Baking Faux Real (page 20). That's a pretty cake decoration thingy. I want something similar, but I don't have much time, because I just remembered it's my [insert loved one's name here] birthday. Today. I feel your pain. I'm a procrastination monkey, myself. Look for FAUX FABULOUS decorating ideas within many of the decorating projects or head straight to the Candy section starting on page 109. I wonder what would go perfectly with that [cake, frosting, filling, etc.]? OMG, I'm flattered. I'm honored that you would trust my taste buds with your important cake decisions. Turn to page 50 for the PERFECT PAIRINGS of your cakey dreams. What would a unicorn do? I ask myself that on the daily. A real life unicorn was consulted during the writing of this book. Her tips and musings can be found sprinkled throughout the book under UNICORN THOUGHTS. (OK, you got me. I'm the unicorn. Find out why on page 189.)

Chapter 1


BAKING, FILLING, AND DECORATING A CAKE REQUIRES practice, patience, and the goods. Your cakey tasks will quickly move from tedious chore to enjoyable pastime when you use the right tools for the job. The equipment and brands I mention in this section are things I use all the time. The photos are of my actual tools, straight from the box. (Well, after a little bath and polish.) Since picking up cake baking and decorating as a hobby or profession requires an investment in specialized tools and ingredients, it's important to know which ones work best in order to save yourself time, money, and frustration. If I could wave a magic wand and go back in time, my advice to baby-Erin would be: Buy nice to avoid buying twice. I blew through more cheap-o measuring cup sets and wobbly plastic turntables than I like to admit. Learn from my misplaced frugality and treat yo' self.


Stand Mixer

I use a KitchenAid, as do many other pros and home bakers. They last forever if you take care of them and make very light work of labor- intensive jobs like creaming butter and whipping egg whites. If you plan on baking a lot, you may want to pick up extra stand-mixer bowls so you can easily move from recipe to recipe without having to stop and wash the bowl. You can also use the second bowl to prep the next recipe you want to work on while another one is working on the mixer.

Mixing Bowls

Keep a variety of sizes on hand for small jobs like separating eggs and large jobs like making big batches of batter. Purchase bowls that are heatproof, so they can do double duty over a double boiler. I always have at least one microwave-safe bowl in my pantry, too.

Rubber Spatulas

Solid, heatproof, silicone spatulas are the most versatile and easiest to clean.

Measuring Spoons

My favorite set of spoons are Williams Sonoma's narrow measuring spoons. They're long and thin with a flat edge, perfect for getting down to the bottom of narrow spice jars. Plus, they come with an 1/8-teaspoon measure, the ideal size when you just need a smidge of something.

Measuring Cups

Always use dry for dry ingredients and wet for wet ingredients. Large glass measuring cups, like the ones made by Pyrex, are also great for mixing small batches of batter or melting things in the microwave. Look for dry measuring cups made by a reputable kitchenware company that have solidly attached handles. I was a serial measuring-cup killer (snapping off handles and denting cups) until I finally bit the bullet and sprang for a top-notch set. My all-time favorite cups are made by All-Clad. Super bonus, they're adorable and look like a teeny tiny set of All-Clad pans. Novelty measuring cups in random shapes aren't to be trusted. (Sorry, cute nesting dolls and flower-shaped cups!)

Baking Strips

Baking strips can be found in the cake aisle at most craft stores. You use them by soaking them in water and wrapping them around a cake pan before it goes into the oven. The damp wrap keeps the outer edge of the cake cool so that it bakes at the same rate as the cake batter in the center of the pan. These are by no means 100 percent necessary, but they are pretty cool to have if you bake on a regular basis. You'll end up with flatter cakes with a softer crust that are easier to handle and require less leveling.


Weighing ingredients is the most accurate way to bake. But if you've been baking with cups and spoons for 30 years with great success, then don't mess with a good thing. Scales are handy to have on hand for weighing random bits of butter and chocolate chips.

Candy Thermometer

Look for one that comes with a clip for attaching the thermometer to the side of your pan. The newer digital ones are great-they'll beep when you reach the temperature you're looking for, saving you from having to stand next to the pot and watch the mercury rise.

Cake Pans

I like tall pans and I cannot lie. All of my cake pans are 3-inch-tall, light-colored aluminum pans. Light-colored pans conduct less heat, so they're less likely to give your cakes a dark crust. Tall pans are also more versatile because you have the room to bake as little or as much batter as you like.

Cookie Sheets

Rimmed, light-colored aluminum cookie sheets are the most useful to have. A lighter color means the pan is less likely to turn the bottoms of your cookies black. Rimmed baking sheets are safer to use and are great for containing messes.

Cooling Racks

These are nice to have, especially when baking in a small space. Cakes and sheets of cookies can be stacked on racks to cool.

Parchment Paper

Frankly, rolls of parchment paper are annoying and often more trouble than they're worth to use. The paper is difficult to handle, curls, and can cause cookies or decorations to become misshapen. Boxes of flat, precut sheets of parchment paper can be inexpensively purchased online and in restaurant supply stores.

Silicone Baking Mats

These are perfect for baking more delicate items, like meringue cookies, that may stick to a greased cookie sheet or parchment paper. They're versatile, typically heatproof to over 450°F, and will last forever if you take care of them. Icing Spatula


Clear, flexible sheets of plastic are ideal for working with chocolate. The slick surface leaves chocolate work with a gorgeous sheen. Sheets or rolls of acetate can be found in specialty chef supply stores and online. They're a one-time-use item, but worth the hassle to find if you're making something special or have an interest in chocolate work.

Dishers or Portion Scoops

If you're not down with the dishers already, it's about time you get to know them. Dishers are portion scoops used in commercial kitchens to ensure uniformity in measuring. They come in all different sizes and are sold in restaurant supply stores and online. Each one has a different colored handle indicating the volume of the scoop. Larger dishers are perfect for filling cupcake liners or dividing batter evenly between pans. Smaller dishers make great cookie and truffle scoops. Ask a pastry chef what their favorite disher is and I'm certain you'll get a response. I'm a green- handle (size 12, 2 2/3-ounce) girl, myself.

Piping Bags

Large, plastic disposable piping bags are the most useful to keep in your decorating toolbox. You can cut them down if a smaller bag is better for the job.

Piping Tips and Couplers

Every brand numbers its tips differently, so pay attention more to the size and shape tip that you need. Round, star, leaf, and rose tips are the most common tips. Each can be used in a number of ways to fill, finish, and decorate a cake with very little piping expertise. Couplers come in two parts. The larger part is placed inside a piping bag before filling it with frosting or meringue. The smaller outer ring is tightened over the coupler and piping bag to hold a tip securely in place. Couplers make switching tips a breeze, and you don't have to constantly empty and refill piping bags. Rubber Spatula

Icing Spatulas

Offset and straight icing spatulas are the two most commonly used in cake decorating. I keep a large and small one of each on hand when filling and finishing cakes. My preference is for spatulas with plastic handles because they are easier to keep clean. Some people have strong feelings about which spatula should be used for which decorating task (filling, crumb coating, etc.). I say use whatever you're most comfortable with.


This is the best cake investment you will ever make, even more so than a stand mixer. A good turntable will enable you to get the smoothest buttercream finishes in the shortest amount of time. I've had the same Ateco turntable for over 10 years. Take care of it and it will last for a lifetime.

Rolling Pins

Everyone's rolling pin preferences are different, so use the kind that's most comfortable for you. I prefer a wooden, straight French-style pin because I feel it gives me greater control over rolling doughs to the desired thickness. Pins with handles separate from the roller can have minds of their own. I feel like I'm one step removed from the dough and have to constantly check it. I also use a similarly shaped plastic pin when I'm rolling doughs or candy that need to be perfectly smooth.


I've always kept three knives in my toolbox-no more, no less. The first is a standard chef's knife, perfect for cutting larger quantities of fruit or making long cuts into dough. Next is my sharp paring knife, used for making smaller, more precise cuts. My final and favorite knife is a Wüsthof offset serrated knife. The handle is offset from the blade, making it the ideal tool for slicing cake or chopping chocolate and nuts. No smashing your knuckles on the cutting board with every chop.


Purchase individually wrapped brushes at the craft store, definitely not ones that are loose in a bin. Brushes with white synthetic bristles are the easiest to clean. Because they're white, they allow you to better see how much color or chocolate is on your brush.

Cookie Cutters

Metal cookie cutters are the most versatile because you can use them cold to cleanly cut doughs, or in the oven as a mold for melted candy. 3D printers have totally opened up the cookie cutter world. If you can dream it, someone online can turn it into a relatively inexpensive cookie cutter for you. 3D-printed cutters do have their limitations because they're made of plastic. They typically cannot be submerged in water for very long and are definitely not oven-safe.

Cake Boards

Build your cake on a cake board if you plan to place it on a platter or cake stand with a lip, or if you don't have room in your fridge to store a cake on a stand. Cardboard cake rounds are sold in the same diameters as cake pans. Larger boards can be cut to fit unusually shaped cakes. Find them at craft stores and big box stores, or purchase online.



AKA: Jimmies; Sugar Strands; Heaven in a Jar (amirite?!) Sprinkles are long, thin, pleasantly crunchy bits of unicorn tears (or a combination of sugar, starches, colorings, and flavors wrapped in a thin carnauba wax shell). Rainbow assorted and chocolate are the most common varieties. Sprinkles is also a general term that describes any sort of tiny candy or confection used to decorate a dessert. I first fell in love with rainbow sprinkles at Magnifico's Ice Cream in East Brunswick, NJ. Their vanilla soft-serve in a waffle cone topped with rainbow sprinkles would be my death-row dessert.


AKA: Hundreds-and-thousands Nonpareils are sprinkles' itsy-bitsy, round, and slightly crunchier cousins. The French word nonpareil loosely translates as "without equal." Chocolates coated in these round candies are also referred to as nonpareils.

Sugar Pearls

AKA: Sugar Beads Larger and crunchier than nonpareils, but typically smaller than gumballs, sugar pearls come in many sizes, colors, and finishes. They're a huge time- saver when creating cake designs that call for a dot pattern. Opening a jar of sugar pearls beats rolling out a million tiny balls of fondant by hand any day of the week.


These sleek, lustrous, hard-as-hell confections come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and metallic finishes. Pearl dragées are the most common, but they can also be found in the shape of triangles, hearts, batons, squares, and more. Most metallic dragées are no longer considered food-safe here in the US and are sold to be used for decorative purposes only. In other parts of the world, they throw caution to the wind and indulge in a shiny, tooth-shattering treat every now and then. Though most cake decorators would point to the metallic variety when asked to pick a dragée out of a lineup, the term actually applies to any tiny, decorative candy with a hard, crunchy shell. Jordan almonds, Sixlets, and even M&M's are all examples of dragées.


AKA: Confetti Quins; Sprinkle Quins; Confetti; Sequins These shaped sprinkles are available in a large assortment of colors and forms. They are similar in texture to classic sprinkles, but with a matte finish. Some are flavored to match their theme, like peppermint candy canes.

Candy Shapes

Candy shapes ride the fine line between sprinkles and, well, candy. They're hard on the outside, but crumble into a sugary powder almost immediately upon being bitten into. Candy shapes look fantastic in a sprinkle blend and are usually more detailed than a shaped sprinkle or quin.

Sanding Sugar

This is refined sugar that hasn't been ground as finely as regular granulated sugar. The larger crystals reflect light and give baked goods a shimmery appearance. Sanding sugar can be purchased in every color of the rainbow, but it's also very simple to tint your own (see page 15).

- About the author -

Erin Gardner is a self-taught pastry chef, Craftsy instructor, creator of the ErinBakes website, and author of Great Cake Decorating. She’s a regular contributor for The Cake Blog and Craftsy’s Cake Decorating Blog. Erin worked as a pastry chef in numerous New England kitchens, including Boston’s legendary Locke Ober, before opening Wild Orchid Baking Co. in 2009. She quickly became the go-to cake designer for premiere events, competing on and winning Food Network’s Sweet Genius. Her work has been featured in Brides, Martha Stewart Weddings, Town & Country, OK Magazine, Huffington Post, HGTV’s DIY Network, and more. She lives with her husband and children in the New Hampshire lakes region.

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Erin Bakes Cake

— Published by Rodale Books —