Not unlike Christmas elves and magical pixies, decorating stars appeared inside the halls of the 2009 American Retail Bakery Exposition in Charlotte, NC, where they sprinkled their magic to inspire creative decorating ideas – from whimsical to elegant – for all in the audience to share.

Retail decorators, in turn, took home a bag full of presents (tips and techniques to try at their own bakeries), as the three-day event featured a number of top designers and decorators from the national stage:
Ron Ben-Israel of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York City demonstrated how to make chocolate lace to adorn elegant wedding cakes.
Buddy Valastro Jr., star of TLC’s “Cake Boss” and cake decorator for Carlo’s Bake Shoppe in Hoboken, NJ, led a team of decorators that constructed a life-size race car out of cake on the ARBE show floor. He also signed autographs for fans of his TV show, which began its second season on Oct. 26.
Ashley Vicos, winner of TLC’s “Ultimate Cake Off” episode 8 and owner of Sweet Ashley’s in Atlanta, showed sparkling design ideas using new “disco dust” from Pfeil & Holing.
Norman Davis, owner of The Sweet Life custom-design “cakery” in Annandale, VA, shared his insights on the latest trends in wedding cakes for the year ahead.
Julie Bashore of the School of Cake Decorating & Confectionery Art in Lancaster, PA, demonstrated techniques to make bows, flowers and other designs using a variety of time-saving methods.

Time-Saving Tips
At the Oct. 18 “Cake Trends” workshop during the ARBE show, Bashore moderated an in-depth discussion among leading decorating experts on increasing productivity in the retail cake business.

Opening the session with several of her favorite time-saving ideas, Bashore offered tips on shopping around for design tools. She recommends a visit to Walmart or your local fabric store where you can find lace vinyl mats that are about 60 inches wide. “You can roll your fondant in the design, and you get very good results,” she says.

Another time-saving tip, she advises that any decorator working with rolled fondant needs to invest in a Somerset fondant sheeter. She prefers the 30-inch model. “I liken the Somerset sheeter with the Hobart mixer,” Bashore says. “If you are working with rolled fondant, in my opinion, it is an absolute necessity. It saves a phenomenal amount of time.”

In other ideas, cutting out polka dots can be a lot of work, so Bashore suggests having your own cutout made, including a variety of polka dot sizes. “How many of you spend hours cutting out polka dots?” she asked the audience.

Jennifer Atwood Ruiz, a certified decorator with Atwood’s Bakery in Alexandria, LA, takes that idea one step further by sharing her experience with using a Cricut scrapbooking machine ( for cutting out custom shapes such as polka dots, diamond shapes, numerals and monograms.

Ruiz uses her Cricut, which costs about $300, to cut out shapes and designs out of sheets of gumpaste or SugarVeil confectionery icing. It doesn’t work with fondant, she adds. Further, Ruiz recommends Sure Cuts A Lot software, which allows you to do customized fonts and shapes on your Cricut machine. The software isn’t required to use the machine, but it helps.

“We cut out gingerbread men out of gumpaste and place them around the center of the cake and put a big gingerbread man on top of the cake,” she says of one holiday decorating idea. “We also do snowflake cakes, decorated with snowflakes cut out by the Cricut. You can cut out a ton of polka dots with this machine. We normally cut out all our designs on Tuesday. And once the machine starts running, the decorators are free to do other things.”

Ruiz estimates that doing just 15 custom monograms on the Cricut paid for the machine. For further assistance and design ideas on this topic, Ruiz suggests that decorators visit the website of cake decorator Linda McClure of DeseretDesigns ( One audience member at the ARBE cake workshop offered up another useful website software program, Play With Pictures, for creating fun photo designs. For more information on Play With Pictures, visit

At the cake trends workshop, Kasia Wilk of Lucks Food Decorating Co. shared more ideas on cake decorating tips and time savers. Here are some of her ideas:
Always have red, blue and yellow food colors on hand. Although you may like to use a number of other colors, and it is convenient to keep them on hand, you will always be able to make any color you need if you keep the primary colors on hand.
A color wheel from Lucks or artist’s supply store will help you better understand colors and color mixing.
Airbrushing is a quick and easy way to add color or enhance backgrounds. Apply your Edible Image first and then do your airbrush around the image.
When you are changing colors in your airbrush, have a spray-out cup for cleaning to avoid excess spray in your work area.
Don’t be afraid to mix colors directly in the airbrush color cup. If you need turquoise, use a few drops of green and a few drops of blue, and you’re there.

Clayton Artibee of Bakery Crafts adds that when showcasing your cake designs to customers, “make sure you have the structures and supplies to build it. Make sure you are presenting customers what you would like to sell them, and if you have a good selection to show them, it is going to save you time and money.”

With stacked cakes are gaining more popularity, Artibee points out that simple structures will give a cake great support. Bakery Crafts, for example, offers Single Plate Separators (SPS) plate system and columns, which make assembly a breeze. “There is no reason for leaning wedding cakes with the items available today,” he says.

Chocolate Detail
Widely known for his innovative wedding cakes, Ron Ben-Israel demonstrated how to use custom silicon molds to create unique chocolate lace designs. “I make my own silicon molds, using the design of the lace from the bride’s dress,” he says. “Lace is about detail.”

Ben-Israel recommends preparing the lace designs in advance, prior to placing them on the finished cake. Before beginning, he covers his cakes in buttercream and refrigerates it until solid – at 35 F. Then he covers the cake with a 1/16th inch layer of fondant, decorates the cake, and returns it to the refrigerator. “I want the fondant to stay fresh and delicious,” he says. “Clients get a cake that is fresh.”

The decorating process involves two main stages: sheeting the fondant, rolling the design over it using a patterned acrylic rolling pin, and cutting the fondant pieces to add to the cake; and also filling custom-designed silicon molds with chocolate icing and carefully placing the design pieces (leafs, flowers, etc.) on the cake to create a one-of-a-kind pattern. Finally, he paints the chocolate lace to add shimmer.

“My inspiration for design is nature – I love foliage – and my inspiration for structure is architecture from the ages,” Ben-Israel says.

In other new tools for chocolate creations, Debbie Coughlin, owner of Icing Images, says her company now offers chocolate transfer sheets that will print on cocoa butter. “People can now customize a chocolate transfer sheet,” she says. “It transfers on to chocolate without leaving anything behind. And it’s flexible, so you can wrap it around your cake.”

Business logos and family photos are among the most popular uses for the chocolate transfer sheets. “I’ve also seen people break the chocolate into pieces and add it to the cake as a mosaic.”

Also new from Icing Images are chocolate icing sheets, which Coughlin says “smell good, taste good and allow you to create a sepia effect on images on the cake.”