Have you ever wondered how this super simple and yet fantastically useful tool came to be? Numerous sources point out that a form of tooth pick goes back to the time of Neanderthal Man. Grooves found on the teeth of Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens skulls suggest that they used a pick of sorts to remove material from their teeth. But it wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that what we now recognize as toothpicks began to be mass produced, originally for the American market by a Mr. Charles Forster. (The Glorious Toothpick by Henry Petroski, American Enterprise Institute, 2007) Cake decorators from around the world owe him their deepest gratitude.
While the average man or woman uses a tooth pick to literally pick food remnants out from between their teeth, we cake decorators (and wannabe decorators!) have almost endless uses for these thin wooden white birch tree splints.
Just imagine: You’re using a zero or even a number one decorator tip and your too thick or poorly strained icing sugar has caused the tip of the tip to clog. The first source of assistance comes from none other than the toothpick. And, for those of us who don’t want to invest in expensive gadgets, it is again none other than the ruler and this same simple toothpick that help mark off spacings around the perimeter of an about to be party cake. While fancy and costly equipment can also be bought to achieve similar results, it is this ubiquitous toothpick that is most easily utilized for the adding of texture to butter cream, to fondant and to modeling chocolate. Even the ruffling of flowers and frilly borders is often left to the always available and forever reliable wooden pick.
Toothpicks are responsible for holding gum paste flowers firmly in position on the sloping sides of super high cakes and for providing small toppers with much needed, but unobtrusive support. While one splint may be busy achieving an elaborate hole pattern in modeling chocolate or fondant, another might be employed to clean away a butter cream mishap that needs to be delicately removed from an ornate assembly of flowers. Toothpicks are often used as the bony skeleton for small gum paste structures and also as the ideal means for extracting just one minute drop of gel colour from a slender container. This same unpretentious tool can even be employed for the tracing or sketching of design outlines, directly on to a cake.
The toothpick is clearly the most indispensable utensil in a decorator’s kitchen, or in any home baker’s kitchen for that matter! With oven door pried open and kitchen towel in hand, is there any baker who has not resorted to the invaluable toothpick to test for the doneness of a freshly baked, still warm and oozing sweet confection?