I received my July/August issue of American Cake Decorating magazine today. The final article in the issue begins with the author telling readers to use a graphite pencil to draw a complex design on a white fondant covered cake.
PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!!!
Although in another section, the author also gives the option to use a very light color food safe marker, the use of a graphite pencil is what is most obvious in the accompanying photo instructions.
Obviously, the food safe marker is the perfect way to do this and there are many other ways to get a pattern on a cake--using a tool, a cutter, a pin, a toothpick, etc.
Years ago, using a pencil to transfer a pattern to a cake was acceptable practice and some cake decorating books and courses actually taught it. This was before the advent of edible markers, impression mats, etc., and perhaps even before people even thought--or cared--much about edibility and food safety. Around the same time, some people were painting cakes with acrylic craft paints because, of course, they were non-toxic...............
But, this is 2013 and things have changed. There are other, better food safe options like I mentioned above.
I don't care that as far as "you" know, no one has ever gotten sick from it (who really, honestly "knows" that?). I don't care that it's the way you were taught. I don't care that kids eat pencils--many eat their own poop, too, and I don't put that on my cakes, either. I don't care that it's not "a lot" of graphite. I don't care that there are other, more harmful things to worry about. I don't care that "everyone else is doing it" or that "everyone else is doing a lot worse than that".
Today, I care about knowing about food safe options and actually USING them, not rationalizing about why and how NOT to use them.
I won't argue with people who feel compelled to say it's OK to write on cakes with pencils. I'm saying that I don't think that it is OK because techniques have evolved to provide better options.