Perhaps the first encounter of many housewives with the airbrush is using it to decorate cakes. When temperature-controlled ovens were introduced in the 1840's together with baking soda and baking powder, decorating cakes started becoming popular. Traditional cake decorating is manual using piping bags and decorating tips. Fondant, which is an icing like substance and comes in a variety of colors also gave the baker a lot of room for creativity in molding shapes to add to the cake as decorations. The advantage of these methods is that the decoration is an edible part of the cake itself. The limitation on the other hand is in the ability to provide color detail.
And then, along came the airbrush which gave the baker an excellent way of decorating the cake in great detail and with a wider range of color shades. The airbrush allows the baker to spray paint designs on the cake. The most important thing to remember when decorating cakes or cookies with an airbrush is to use only edible, food grade paint.
To decorate cakes, do not use the same airbrush that you use for arts and crafts. Cross contamination is the biggest risk when you do this. The other disadvantage is that the airbrush you use for arts and crafts may not be the ideal type for cake decoration.
A Gravity Feed airbrush is preferred for decorating cakes because of its ability to produce a finer spray, making it ideal for detail work. The Double-Action airbrush is also recommended to enable continuous coloring. A compressor which delivers 20 – 25 psi is necessary for fine lines.
There are also airbrushing kits that are specially calibrated for cake decorating. One of the characteristics of these kits is a large accumulator tank or reservoir for the paint to minimize pulsation and enable the baker or decorator to reduce or eliminate uneven lines.
Because airbrush equipment can be expensive, and one doesn't decorate a cake everyday, cheaper alternatives are available. Food coloring in spray bottles or aerosol cans can add color to the cake like an airbrush. What it can't do is create the detailed designs that an airbrush can.
Cake decorators in the know suggest that the design to be airbrushed on the cake should first be sketched out on paper as a guide, especially for the order in which the colors are to be applied. An alternative is to use a stencil for speed and more intricate designs.
To airbrush the background colors of the cake, the airbrush should be held 6 – 8 inches from the cake and positioned at a 45 degree angle. Get any closer and the force of the air can create pock marks on the cake's surface. Only light pressure should be applied on the trigger. For the parts of the design that need bolder colors, the airbrush should be positioned at a 90 degree angle. This concentrates the color on a smaller area of the cake. To darken the color, retrace the line or pattern.
Between color changes, clean out the pipes and the needle with hot water. This will help make sure that the desired color shades are achieved.