Is there some cheaper alternative to real icing so I can avoid wasting good icing and money while practicing? Or can I avoid having to throw the practice icing away? I do not want to waste good butter just to practice my piping skills =)
I suggest you use royal icing instead of butter icing. Basically made from icing sugar (powder sugar) and egg white, it will cost very little and can still be coloured if necessary.
Once you have tried out all the simple styles you scrape it off the board or work surface, mix it well and practice again. Store in a sealed air-tight container in the fridge for 1-2 days. This will give you time to make more intricate flowers, trellis, run out collars, nests, baskets, etc. on small squares of greaseproof paper, nails, etc.
Dry in an airy place and once completely set and hard, you can keep the results in a sealed container in a cool dry place for weeks to use as cake or cookie decorations. If you are really serious about becoming a sugar artist, it will be important to master royal icing, so you might as well start out with using it for "basic training", so to speak.
If you're just practicing piping, you can just pipe onto parchment paper (or a clean counter) and then scrape it off with a spatula and save the frosting. That way you can actually practice with the frosting you'll be using and not be thrown off by different textures and consistencies.
ETA: This is what we've actually done in a few bakeries where I've worked. If you had an odd request, you'd mark a section of the counter the same size as the cake and pipe the outline or lettering onto that to check sizing/kerning etc before doing the actual cake.
Option 1: Canned frosting is a lot cheaper than making your own. It doesn't taste as good, but that doesn't really matter if you just use it to practice.
Option 2: Make a batch of very simple buttercream frosting to practice with. After each practice session, scrape it off, and freeze. Defrost it before every use (it may need to be whipped for a couple of minutes to smooth it out). It can be reused >10 times if you are careful, which would save a lot of money.
No personal experience but:
Cake making site recommends making your buttercream with crisco instead of butter. It's cheaper but it's not going to taste good at all. It can also be reused and stored repeatedly.
A recipe - Source: Cake Central Forums:
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 2 to 4 Tbsp water
- 1 lb confectioner's sugar
- 1 Tbsp meringue powder
Beat for 8-12 minutes. Store the icing in an airtight container with a plastic lid. It will keep for 2 months. No need to refrigerate. Yeilds 3 to 3 1/2 cups.
Alternate recipe without meringue powder - Source:Cakes and More
This is the recipe as given in The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. She says this 'butter cream' can be stored at room temperature for one year and indefinitely in the fridge.
- Solid vegetable shortening / Dalda - 1 1/2 cups - 287 grams
- Powdered sugar - 4 cups - 452 grams (lightly spooned into the cup)
- Water - 2 tablespoons
- Light Corn syrup - 1 tablespoon
Procedure: Note: All ingredients should be at room temperature. In a large mixing bowl, place the shortening. Gradually beat in the remaining ingredients at low speed, alternating dry and liquid. Increase speed to medium and beat till smooth and creamy. Mine did not turn out very smooth, maybe I should have powdered the sugar even more fine. Scrape the sides occasionally. Store in an airtight container. Water can be increased for thinner icing. For stiffer icing, omit the corn syrup.
See the site for more specific instructions and recommendations.
I practiced originally with pure shortening back when I was learning how to pipe. Just scrape it back into the shortening container, as long as you use a spotless surface. Its also excellent for practicing making roses ans other flowers. If you want to practice really intricate bead or lacework - which you would do with royal icing - then unfortunately you need royal icing. You can sub meringue powder for some or all of the egg whites if that's cheaper in your area. In Australia (where I'm from) you can buy something called Pavlova Magic in the dessert aisle of a supermarket - its basically sweetened meringue powder and costs 3-4 dollars. Royal icing is the hardest to master in my opinion - but the most important if you want to turn out beautiful piping work. Failing all that, make standard american buttercream which is icing sugar (Americans call it powdered sugar) with either butter or shortening - or a mix of the two. If it has butter in it, just scrape back into a airtight container and freeze for reuse. If made with all shortening, store in the fridge or cupboard in an airtight container til the end of eternity. Its not expensive to make a batch of American buttercream and it is definitely reusable. And its good to practice with shortening, American buttercream and royal icing - as each have different consistencies and can do different things to each other. Good luck!
I used to do cake decorating, just for friends, even wedding cakes with intricate patterns and lacework. Other than the wedding cakes (which were done with royal icing), I always made the Wilton "buttercream recipe", using Crisco shortening. I'm not a Crisco fan for any other purpose, but in my experience it gives the best consistency and is pure white, so your icing is truly white and your blue icing doesn't turn greenish from the yellow of the butter. It's also very stable in warm summer temperatures and lasts pretty much forever.
When you're done practising just scrape it off the tray, put it in a good quality freezer bag and put in the fridge; I used to keep mine in the back of the veggie drawer. Remember to take it out the day before and you'll need to use the mixer on it to bring it back to a good texture; may need a tablespoon of milk or corn syrup if it has dried a bit. Good luck with your practice!