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I've been helping a local commercial photographer with a project involving the Russian piping tips. He needed to have an example of what each tip does, and he had a lot of them. This is about half of them, I'd guess:
I started practicing with them after asking for some tips from other decorators who had used them, since I'd never seen one in person. I knew that the icing was going to be the main factor, and that was confirmed by several people who had tried them out.
Jan Daniel did this cake and said that you should practice a little to get the feel of how the tips work, and that was my experience too. A combination of the right icing consistency (stiff) and working with each tip to see what pressure to use with it is what made the flowers work.
So my basic tips for these tips are as follows:
1. Use a stiff icing that you can manipulate with a toothpick if you need to open petals or rearrange stamens. For me, that means a recipe that has shortening in it, as opposed to a meringue. A soft icing will collapse onto itself and won't hold the shape, but if it's stiffer it will keep a distinct shape. I started with an icing that was too soft and didn't get distinct petals, but once I really stiffened it up it held its shape really well.
2. Practice with each tip before using it on the cake to make sure you know how much pressure to use. Some of the tips need a lot of pressure, and some barely need any. Part of it depends on how tall the finished flower is supposed to be, but some of the tips also make flowers that look very different with different pressure, so you could use one tip to get different effects.
3. Experiment to see what shape the tips create with different icing consistencies, because it seems like some of them are intended for use as extra petals and not much else. There are some that are clearly for leaves and filler, and some that are clearly flowers, then there are some that are confusing as far as what their purpose is. They would work for extra petals, but not if the icing is as stiff as it needs to be for the individual flower ones. So be flexible, because you may need to adjust the icing consistency as well.
4. There are a few ways to separate the flowers from the tips. Some people seem to yank the piping bag up to separate the flower from the bag, others just stop squeezing and pull gently. I found that if the icing is on the softer side, you need to yank it to separate the petals the right way, but if it's on the stiff side you don't. But if you yank it, you also run the risk of the petals collapsing onto themselves. If you're feeling like you need to yank the piping bag, try it with stiffer icing and see if the flowers work better. The Korean bean paste that I made to pipe with would work really well with these tips, it was very starchy and kept its shape really well. Too bad it tasted like beans and not icing.
5. Use the regular leaf tip as the filler between flowers. The flowers all pipe out differently, and the tips are large, so you're not going to be able to place them right up against each other every time. You'll probably need a filler, but the tips that create filler shapes are just as big as the flower tips, so it will be hard to fit them between flowers. Use a regular-sized leaf tip to fill in the spaces and make your life easier.
6. Make sure the piped shape is attached to the surface you're piping it onto before lifting the tip up. It's pretty easy to pipe out something and not have it attach, so if you have to pipe out a little to connect the flower to the cake surface before piping the actual flower, do that.
7. Clean the icing off the tip if it starts getting messy. Some of the tips didn't work at all if the surface of the tip had extra icing left on it. This was especially true for the ones with the very thin cuts.
If you've used these tips before, leave any other hints that I may have missed in the comments below!
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com