Celebrate Cake Decorating with Grace Stevens



Get your mixing bowls out and aprons on! Following National Cake Decorating Day on 10 October 2022, let’s make October cake month. Grace Stevens, South Africa’s buttercream goddess and skilled cake crafter is here to whisk us through some cake baking history as well as share a few useful decorating tips for your next cake masterpiece.



Where it all began

It is thought that cake baking first started in ancient Egypt, although these were nothing like what we consume today. The first cakes were more of a bread-like consistency and sweetened with lashings of thick syrupy honey. The Greeks modified this to create an early version of what we now know as cheesecake, while the Romans added raisins, berries, nuts, and fruit to their mixture to create the first ever fruitcake.

It took a few more years of trial and error, coupled with advances in technology and a better understanding of ingredients before bakers in Europe crafted the modern-day cake. Round, plain on the inside and topped with delicious icing, this is the cake we all know and love so much today. At this time, icing was made using a mixture of boiled sugar, egg whites, and some flavourings like chocolate. These sweet ingredients were expensive, so cakes were considered a luxurious treat, made, and consumed for special occasions like weddings.

Originally a wedding cake was used to crown the bride and was crumbled over her head for prosperity. Celebratory birthday cakes only appeared in Germany in the 18th century, although it is thought that the Romans made cakes with candles to celebrate male birthdays much earlier than that.

Early cake decorating consisted of placing usually inedible trinkets on the top of the cake. However, this developed too with time, with crafters discovering innovative ways of adding edible décor to their baked treats. They first dabbled with almond paste before moving onto a sugar paste to create delicate flowers that were made popular by French pastry chefs.

Wedding cake variations

As connoisseurs of divine pastry, it is little wonder that the traditional French wedding cake is a croquembouche encompassing delicate balls of choux pastry that is baked and then filled with delicious vanilla cream. They are then piled on top of each other to create a dazzling tower and are usually adorned with edible flowers and a shimmering glaze.

It Italy, a wedding cake is called millefoglie, which derives its name from the French mille-feuille. Literally translating to a thousand layers, it is made of sheets of puff pastry layered on top of each other with a light pastry cream in-between.

The traditional English wedding cake tends to be a much denser fruit cake, covered in almond paste and royal icing. Usually the top tier is frozen, and eaten by the couple a year later, on their first anniversary.

Cakes made of eggs, flour, sugar, and milk are not traditionally African, but South Africa has embraced the wedding cake trend full on, adding our cultural flair in the form of bright colours. Xhosa wedding cakes for example are decorated in black and white to reflect their heritage.

Grace’s three cake decorating tips

1. Have fun
There is no rulebook when it comes to cake decorating and the possibilities are endless. Roll up your sleeves, get creative and have fun with your creations, and don’t mind the mess.

2. Be patient
A lot of cake decorating requires practice so don’t be too hard on yourself when you get things wrong. Give yourself plenty of time for mishaps, keep positive and remain patient – after all practice makes perfect right?

3. Keep your guests in mind
The perfect sweet treat for a happy gathering – a cake is a great way of bringing joy to others. Remember the type of guest that you are catering to when you begin decorating. If you’re baking for a children’s party you can probably go to town on creativity and be a little more carefree, while a high-end formal wedding reception will require a cake executed with greater restraint, precision, and sheer perfection.

For more delectable recipes, easy tips and online tutorials, shop, and live classes visit www.gracestevens.co.za or follow her on Grace_stevenschef or Facebook grace_stevenschef.

Grace’s easy cake recipes to try!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes or Cake with Granadilla buttercream by Grace Stevens

– Double Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream by Grace Stevens

– Red Velvet Cupcakes or Cake


Vanilla Bean Cupcakes or Cake with Granadilla buttercream by Grace Stevens


3 large eggs
250 ml castor sugar
250 ml full cream milk
125 g butter
440 ml flour
15 ml baking powder
5 ml vanilla extract


125 g butter
300 g icing sugar
45 ml milk
Pulp of three granadillas
Extra pulp to decorate


1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and place cupcake liners in two muffin trays.
2. Place eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high until pale and thick.
3. Heat milk and butter until butter is melted. Do not boil.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder.
5. Turn the mixer to its lowest setting and add a third of the flour and a third of the milk, repeat with remaining milk and flour. End with flour.
6. Using a 60ml measuring cup, fill the liners ¾ full.
7. Bake for 12 Minutes. Remove from the oven and remove from the muffin tins, immediately.
8. Cool on a wire rack.


9. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with the ‘K’ beater until pale.
10. Add icing sugar and beat well.
11. Add milk and granadilla pulp and mix until combined.
12. Place buttercream in a piping bag with a large star nozzle.

To Finish:
13. Pipe a swirl on each cupcake.
14. Drizzle extra granadilla over the buttercream and serve.


Double Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream by Grace Stevens

The Cake

2 Extra Large Eggs
375 ml Sugar
310 ml Flour
3 ml Salt
5 ml Bicarbonate of Soda
3 ml Baking Powder
180 ml Cocoa Powder
180 ml Hot Coffee
50 g Chocolate
90 ml Oil
180 ml Milk
30 ml Lemon Juice
3 ml Vanilla Extract


120 g Soft Butter
300 g Icing Sugar (Sifted)
30 ml Milk
45 ml Caramel Sauce

Extra Caramel Sauce to Decorate

The Cake

1 Grease three 15cm round tins and line the base with baking paper.
2 Preheat oven to 160ºC
3 Mix lemon juice and milk, allow to curdle.
4 With a stand mixture, whisk eggs until light and fluffy.
5 Mix chocolate with the coffee and mix well. Set aside.
6 Sieve the flour, baking powder, bicarb, sugar, salt and cocoa powder.
7 Turn the mixer down to the lowest setting, add oil and whisk well.
8 Add the milk, the coffee mixture and then add the dry ingredients slowly until completely combined.
9 Divide between the tins.
10 Bake for 30 to 35 Minutes until a tester comes out clean.
11 Allow to cool completely in the tins.

The Buttercream

12 Combine the butter and the icing sugar in a stand mixture.
13 Using the paddle attachment, beat well.
14 Add the milk and caramel and combine well.
To assemble
15 Remove cake from tin and remove baking paper. Place onto serving dish.
16 Spread a third of the buttercream on the first cake. Drizzle caramel on top of the buttercream.
17 Repeat with the next two cake layers.
18 Store in an airtight container for up to a week.


Red Velvet Cupcakes or Cake by Grace Stevens


2.5 cups Flour
1.5 cups castor sugar
1 tsp bicarb
1 cup milk
3 tsp lemon juice/vinegar
2 eggs
1 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
red food colouring


400 g butter
800 g icing sugar
30 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 180C
2. Put cupcake liners into 24 muffin cups
3. Mix vinegar or lemon juice with milk. It will curdle, this is fine.
4. Add colouring to milk and mix well.
5. In a stand mixer, combine eggs, vanilla and sugar. Place the mixer on a low speed and whisk until eggs are pale and thick.
6. Sift dry ingredients together.
7. Turn the mixer to low. Add oil and whisk well to combine.
8. Add milk to mixture and continue whisking.
9. Add dry ingredients one tablespoon at a time. Mix until just combined.
10. Divide batter between the muffin cups.
11. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until baked.
12. Remove cupcakes from tin and allow to cool completely.


13. Combine icing sugar, vanilla and butter and beat well.
14. Add milk and beat until smooth.


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