Note: The actual Canadian flag is twice as long as it is tall, and each red bar is approximately as wide as 1/4 of the flag. Since the cake only 13" wide, rather than 18", the bars have been narrow to represent the idea of the flag.
Step 1: What You Will Need
1lb (or 450-500g) tub of icing (or the equivalent amount of homemade royal or buttercream frosting)
Approximately 4oz by weight (120g) of red coloured sugar or candy sprinkles (found in larger Canadian urban centres at The Bulk Barn or similar stores)
A paper maple leaf template - you can download this image - adapted from the actual Canadian flag - and enlarge it to fit a standard 8.5 X 11" copy sheet
Fine-point indelible marker
Table or butter knives or a spatuala
Sandwich bag (optional)
Chopsticks or toothpicks or similar pointed tools to assist with detailing the icing around edges
Step 2: Making the Maple Leaf Stencil
2.) Trace over the template using the indelible marker.
3.) Cut out the maple leaf-shaped hole. The simplest way to do this is to fold the wax paper in half - it also lets you line up the two sides such that they are nice and symmetrical.
Tip: Try to cut out the maple leaf slightly larger than the marker lines for a clean stencil.
Step 3: "Painting" the Maple Leaf Surface
2.) Press down on the wax paper gently until all edges of the maple leaf are flat against the top of the cake. This works best if the cake has been refrigerated and taken out just before decorating.
3.) With the stencil in place securely, begin spreading a thin layer of icing, working from the outside edges of the stencil inwards. Try to keep the spreading going one way, as going backwards will cause the icing to pick up crumbs, which will get mixed into the icing. Cover the maple leaf completely in a layer of icing about 1/8th of an inch thick.
Step 4: "Colouring" the Maple Leaf
Step 5: Hard Part: Removing the Stencil
Once you have set down your sugar layer and pressed it into place, you will want to remove the wax paper stencil. This requires some care and patience. The best strategy is to lift the wax paper up from the surface, peeling it from left to right. You will have some sugar spreading around, but that can be corrected in the "clean up icing" stage.
When the stencil is removed, you should have slightly raised red maple leaf in the centre of the cake top.
Step 6: Tedious Part: Icing in the Background
Using a table knife or spatula, gently spread the icing over the cake to fill in the white part of the flag. Work from the centre, around the border of the maple leaf, to the outside edges. You can use some of the icing to pick up errant sugar crystals; just be sure to separate that icing from your work. At this stage you will have some colour contamination, but don't worry, as you will be tidying that up in the end. Try to spread any of the tinted icing to the ends of the cake where they will be covered with more sugar when the bars are added to the cake.
It takes some time to ice around the maple leaf edges, but the whole process should take about 25 minutes to a half-hour - less if you have more experience with tricky cake decorating.
You may want to use sandwich bag with a corner cut out of it, or a piping bag to fill in some of the tight crevices around the left border. (Or if you are quite skilled with piping, you can put a barrier of icing around the border before laying down the white frosting.) You can also use chopsticks, tooth picks, or similar instruments to patch in the tight spots.
Once you have iced the flag, use the knife/spatula to score a pair of lines in the icing as a guide for where to lay down the red bars. They should be about an inch and a half to two inches wide on this size cake.
Be sure to leave between 2 and 3 tablespoons of icing for cleaning up over any tinted frosting at the end of the project.
Step 7: Adding the Bars to the Flag
Step 8: Touching Up the Icing
While the cake chills, clean up your workspace and put the remaining white icing into a clean container. Be sure that it is free of sugar crystals.
Using either milk or water - and only a very small amount, such as a teaspoon - thin the icing down approximately to the same consistency as mayonnaise. If you've accidentally thinned it too much, add some icing sugar to thicken it (if you have icing sugar on hand).
If you've thinned the icing down early into the cake chilling stage, cover it with some plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature until you are ready to use it.
Once the cake has chilled sufficiently and you can feel a definite crust on the icing, take the cake out of the fridge and gently apply patches of the diluted icing on areas that have been contaminated with the sugar. Put small dollops of the patch-up icing over the mistakes and gently spread it out to conform to the main icing texture, but don't go overboard, as you will end up with pink icing. The corrected white area should resemble oil painting in texture.
When you are satisfied with the clean-up job, use a damp paper towel to pick up any loose sugar from around the pan and tidy it up (assuming you are serving the cake out of the pan).
Step 9: Chill and Serve
Take the cake out about a 1/2 hour to hour before serving. I would not recommend freezing the cake, however, as it may gather a bunch of condensation when thawed, which could create colour contamination in the white section.
When cutting and serving the cake, keep in mind that there will be many loose sugar crystals, which will be on the messy side. The sugar will also give any red sections of the cake a bit of a crunch. And yes, your tongue will turn bright pink.