Experimenting with Spray-On Shine

The following is a complete, accurate, and in no way embellished version of a conversation from Mike McCarey’s Guitar Cakes class earlier this week. Really really*. Also: you should all remember that it’s very dangerous to confront a spatula-wielding madwoman with any question as to her veracity.

From The Holy Book of Cake, Classes 13-23:

  1. And the God of Cakes spake unto the class, “I have beheld the Motorcycle Cake at The Show, and lo, it is good. Of what artist was such magnificence born?”
  2. The acolytes did answer, “Janette Pftertner, may she be blessed by you, O Lord.”
  3. The Lord said, “Blessed indeed is the Motorcycle Cake, for it shineth as real metal, and I am impressed. From whence cometh such shine?”
  4. The High Priestess Kyla Myers replied, “She hath sprayed it with Pam, Great One.”
  5. Then Kyla brought unto The Lord her iPhone, wherein was contained photos of cakes by herself and Brian Stevens, including a superbly shiny Darth Vader helmet cake.
  6. And the Lord said, “The shine upon the Dark One’s helmet is of such skill that even I am tempted by it, for indeed, his actual helmet is Much Buffed. This gloss is truly constructed of Pam?”
  7. “Yes Lord. We spray Pam upon the fondant, then apply unto it the Towels of Paper to remove excess and prevent Unholy Drippings.”
  8. The God of Cakes was greatly pleased, but yet bore many a concern as to the Pam being applied to airbrushed fondant or modelling chocolate.
  9. An acolyte then brought forth an offering, saying, “If it further pleaseth the Lord, I shall take home my Guitar Cake and experiment upon it for thee. I have not Pam, but I do have Store Brand Canola Oil Spray of Thrifty Holiness.”
  10. And the Lord said, “Go forth, acolyte, and make thine cake shine with the Spraying of the Oil, for I have come to Austin and I leave with newfound Knowledge.”

So I got my acolyte butt home and did some experimenting! The cake is covered with Mike’s own blend of Massa Ticino and Satin Ice fondants, plus lots of his modelling chocolate.

Here’s what I used, since I’m too cheap to buy name-brand sprays:

Hill Country Canola Oil No-Stick Cooking Spray

This is the HEB store brand. It's possible Pam brand works differently, but this is close enough for proof-of-concept.

I gave one quarter of the cake a generous, relatively even spray. At first, it bubbled a bit (not in the sense of a chemical reaction, just from the aerated spray):

Spray on the cake

It's possible that brand-name sprays don't aerate as much, but this wasn't a big deal in terms of the overall test.

Some light wiping with a paper towel and voila, the cake is indeed very, very shiny:

Shiny cake

Shiny yes. Also: greasy. But reflectively shiny, which was nice.

Here’s a flash-shot from above so you can see the shine on the white modelling chocolate part. You can sort of see some lines from the wiping, but if you had a softer cloth you could buff those out easily enough.

Shiny modelling chocolate

The shine is bright enough that it was hard to get a flash pic in focus. But you get the gist: this does indeed make modelling chocolate and fondant very, very shiny.

Mike wanted to know if the spray would make airbrush colour come off. The good news is it didn’t, at least not on the cake itself. But where there was colour on the foil of the board, the spray totally made it bead up and wipe off. In fact, that worked so well I’d say you can probably wipe clean your accidentally-airbrushed foil by giving it a canola spray!

Airbrush colour coming off or not

The left side of the paper towel was used on the cake and you can see no colour came off. The right side was used along the board and you can see lots of colour came off.

More importantly, the spray made some of the Albert Uster silver-painted dots wet enough to be affected by wiping. I was wiping pretty gently, and it was about 20 hours after the dots had been applied so they were completely dry. Most of them were okay, but you should think twice about using a spray on anything where you’ve painted silver.

Silver wiped in a line

I was able to dab a particularly greasy part of the paper towel on this after the photo to get rid of most of the trail, but a slight sparkle remained.

Having confirmed that you can spray the cake to get it shiny, I decided it was also unpleasantly greasy for my tastes (at least, if it makes me wrinkle my nose it might do so to others as well), so I buffed more of it away. That left it slightly shiny, but it was really hard to buff into recessed areas and around edges, so it ended up kind of uneven. However, this photo is also useful in comparing the unsprayed upper corner to the sprayed portion so you can see the difference even when buffed:

Unevenly shiny

Pools of lesser-wiped portions now just look greasy and not shiny. Hrm. Kind of icky.

I’d also say this method isn’t great for cakes that have difficult-to-access recessed areas. Note here how the fat has beaded up on the modelling chocolate where I haven’t wiped it at all:

Beads of fat on modelling chocolate

You could get in there and buff it out with a soft brush, but that'd risk knocking those strings around and after you've spent a good long time getting the strings in place, bumping them out is liable to produce huge volumes of NSFW language.

I applied a bit more and did some more buffing so the cake was somewhat shiny but not too greasy-looking. Then I went away for half an hour. When I came back, all but the thickest pools of the spray had started getting absorbed into the fondant and modelling chocolate. Further, any uneven part of the fondant was now highlighted reflecting (heh) something I learned in ceramics class: don’t put a shiny or a black glaze on anything unless you’re sure it’s smooth, because shiny and/or black will highlight shadows and show every fault in your surface.

Fondant absorbing the oil

The shine is dulling, yet remains enough to accentuate bumps in the covering.

You know that upper corner shown above where you could clearly see where the spray was and wasn’t? It’s hard to find the same line here half an hour later. I didn’t buff that out…it simply was absorbed in enough to hardly make a difference.

Diffused line

The only way to tell where the spray was or wasn't by this time is that the red is slightly richer where there was spray.

So the spray does work, but you really want it to be thick enough to keep up that thorough shine and just hope that whomever is getting the cake doesn’t touch it and mind ending up with a greasy hand. I find that unappetizing. I’d say only do it if your design absolutely requires it. Furthermore, be aware that it might get absorbed and dull over time. Kyla says their Darth Vader cake was sprayed right before they left the shop and was still shiny on delivery after driving all the way across Austin (so, probably about half an hour to a full hour, depending on traffic). It’s possible that actual Pam lasts longer and that some kinds of fondant absorb more than others. If you’re going to try this, I’d advise doing some serious testing beforehand to ensure that the shine lasts with your brand of spray and your brand(s) of fondant/modelling chocolate.

Also test to see if it’s too greasy for you, because if it is, it’s probably too greasy for your customer as well. Thankfully, the fondant that had absorbed the fat didn’t taste particularly greasy, nor did it seem to permeate down into the buttercream or cake at all:

Cut cake

Even though there's no sign of the shine/grease at this point, if it was left thick enough to stay shiny, there may have been a greasy mouth feel to the cake. I personally wouldn't risk that. Plus, this photo shows how flecks of the silver have been spread to the red/black part.

If I was going to make a cake shiny, I’d use confectioners’ glaze, largely because I already have that on hand for various experiments I’ve done over the years with melting and resculpting Jolly Ranchers, candy canes, and butterscotch candies (like the topper on the 2010 Biscuit Brothers’ Holiday Cake).

Confectioners’ glaze smells nasty while wet and requires that you also purchase thinner or else it glues your brush bristles together. It can’t be cleaned with water. This means that it also won’t wreck your airbrushing, and I’ve tested it many times before on Albert Uster silver (in my desperate and ultimately failed attempt to get a chrome-like shine for my Wolverine Cake). I can say with certainty that it doesn’t make the silver come off at all, even with brushing, as long as the silver is thoroughly dried.

Here’s the unsprayed corner of the cake painted with a single layer of confectioners’ glaze (note that if this was for more than just experimentation, I’d have worked harder to avoid brush strokes), two hours after application when it has dried:

Confectioners' glaze on the cake

A single coat makes a shiny cake, and a secondary coat with more even application would be better. It doesn't smell after it's dried, and there's no noticeable taste. Also, it dries thoroughly, so nobody's going to get a greasy hand by touching it.

Here’s some on the far end of the modelling chocolate guitar neck: again you can see that it is indeed shiny, even after thoroughly drying for hours. The two left-most tabs also have confectioners’ glaze, but as I knew from before, you can’t tell; it doesn’t really do much for the silver that’s already pretty shiny.

Confectioners' glaze on modelling chocolate

Again, a more thorough application would get a more consistent shine but you get the gist of how this works.

In Googling around for this post, I found that Albert Uster Imports has a lacquer spray that contains a recommendation from Nick Lodge in the product description. PME also carries a somewhat shiny spray glaze. I haven’t tried either one, but if you have, let me know in the comments!


You can use the Pam/canola method if that’s all you have on hand and your cake really needs to shine, but the greasy thing bothers me enough that I’d opt for confectioners’ glaze or a spray-on lacquer that will dry.

* Obviously the conversation didn’t really really happen that way. But remember, if someone asks you if you’re a god…

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4 Responses to Experimenting with Spray-On Shine

  1. Kyla says:

    We've tried a lot of different lacquer sprays and have yet to really like any of them or to find that they work better than the cooking spray. We would also probably not spray over the silver highlighter.

    • Yeah it was definitely totally fine on the airbrushing, and on some of the silver.

      What didn't you like about the sprays? Were they smelly? Wouldn't surprise me if they were smelly based on what the confectioners' glaze smells like…

  2. Ava says:

    Wow. What a lovely cake specially for the music nerds like me. But what i really want to know is about the sprays especially regarding their smell and if they are totally safe for the kids' cakes or cookies? Its great to make them a bit shiny and cool but is it safe for them too? Health-wise? Thank you.

    • Oil sprays are entirely food safe, as they are made for cooking. There is not very much smell (although different oil types and different brands will vary). You can find non-propellant based sprays in some places which will have even less smell, but also won't spray as finely.

      Health wise, it's fat on fondant, which is pure sugar, on a cake. This isn't health food. If health is a concern, avoid cake. Adding a tiny spray of fat to a cake covered in fondant has almost zero effect on it healthwise because it's already unhealthy.

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