Master the Art of Cake Decorating: Essential Tips and Ideas to Create Stunning Cakes

Are you ready to unleash your inner cake decorator extraordinaire? Well, you're in luck because today we're diving into the world of cake decorating with a collection of tips, tricks, and ideas that'll have you creating show-stopping confections in no time. Whether you're a seasoned cake decorator or just starting out, this article will guide you through the process of how to decorate a cake, from leveling and frosting to perfect piping and eye-catching accents. Get ready to dazzle your friends and family with your cake decorating skills and create desserts that are not only delicious but also stunning works of edible art. Let's get started!

Cake Decorating Ideas

Easy Swirls

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Do you think you need fancy piping skills to create a beautiful cake? Think again! You can achieve a gorgeous swirl texture using just the back of a spoon.

To achieve this effect, simply spread your frosting on the sides and top of your cake. Then, use the back of a spoon to create small swirl shapes until the whole cake is covered in a fun texture.


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If you want to get really creative, try using a piping bag and different frosting tips. Each tip will give you a unique effect, allowing you to create a variety of decorative techniques.

You can use different tips to create flowers, leaves, stars, basketweave patterns, and other designs. You can decorate the entire cake using this method or use piped motifs as accents.

Drip Cakes

Courtesy Trina Harris

There's something irresistible about perfectly imperfect finishes, which is why we love drip cakes so much! This decorating technique is surprisingly simple.

Start by frosting your cake and giving it a smooth finish using a bench scraper (a cake decorator's secret weapon). Then, make a ganache using chocolate or baking chips. The confetti cake in the image above uses baking chips, heavy cream, and a touch of food coloring.

Once the ganache has cooled slightly, spoon it over the top of your cake. Use the back of a spoon to push the ganache to the edges of the cake, allowing it to slowly drip down the sides and create tempting chocolaty drips.

Naked Cakes

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If you want to follow the latest trend in cake decorating, try making a naked cake. Naked cakes still use frosting, but it is applied thinly to allow the layers of the cake to peek through. These cakes give you a sneak peek of what's inside.

To make a naked cake, layer your cake as you normally would with frosting in between. When it comes to the outer coating of frosting, apply it thinly and use a bench scraper to remove any excess icing. Essentially, you're just crumb coating the sides of the cake. It's really that simple!

While this type of cake decorating is minimalist, don't forget to add a little extra flourish on top of your cake to make it look complete. You can use fruits, crushed candy, or sprinkles for that finishing touch. Take inspiration from this recipe for a chocolate malt cake.

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Part of the charm of bakery-bought cakes is the perfect penmanship of the cake decorators. But you can easily replicate this at home. All you need is a piping bag, a fine piping tip, a toothpick, and some patience.

Start by writing or printing out the message or design you want to feature on top of your cake. If you're new to piping, practice on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper to familiarize yourself with how the frosting flows out of the piping bag.

After some practice, trace the design onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper and place it on top of your cake. Use a toothpick or sharp skewer to prick the design, creating a dot-to-dot pattern for your message. Carefully remove the paper and connect the dots using your piped frosting. That's all it takes to write on a cake! With a little more experience, you can even do it freehand.

Sprinkles and More

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When it comes to celebratory cakes, you can never go wrong with sprinkles and other colorful toppings. Adding a dash of sprinkles or edible decorations can instantly elevate your favorite bake. You can also combine these toppings with other decorating techniques for even more visual appeal. Don't forget about the irresistible qualities of toasted nuts, shredded coconut, chopped candy, and cookie crumbles. Use any or all of these to add a little extra dazzle to your cakes.

How to Decorate Your Cake: 5 Looks We Love

frosted cake with chocolate shavings and cherries on top Ingredients needed: The decorations of your choice. Among our favorites are chopped peanuts, pretzels, and chocolate shavings; for this 8-inch cake, we used ½ cup of the latter.

Tools needed: Waxed paper to line your plate and keep it clean, plus tools to prepare your decorations. Depending on the decorations you're using, you might need a vegetable peeler to make chocolate curls, a knife for chopping nuts, or a rolling pin and plastic resealable bag for crushing pretzels. While not essential, a revolving cake stand can make applying the decorations easier.

Before you begin: Prepare your toppings and frost the cake as desired. The smooth sides and sharp edges technique mentioned above looks beautiful when decorated.

How to:

1. Prepare your serving plate: To avoid moving your cake after decorating it, line the plate with four strips of waxed paper, then place the cake on top. The paper will catch any excess toppings and can be easily removed without disturbing your work.

2. Immediately after frosting: Start pressing the toppings onto the sides of the cake. The easiest way to do this is by cupping your hand so that the toppings are held in your fingertips and can be easily pressed against the side of the cake.

Tips for Decorating a Cake

Choose the Right Frosting

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Not all frostings are suitable for filling and topping cakes, but there are plenty of delicious options available. Buttercreams such as Italian buttercream, French buttercream, German buttercream, American buttercream, and flavored buttercreams work well for decorating. Cream cheese frosting and ermine frosting are also good choices. You'll want a thicker frosting that can support the weight of the cake layers and stick to the sides.

In general, avoid whipped cream frosting and very thin frostings when decorating.

How to Fill a Pastry Bag

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While a zip-top bag can work in a pinch, it's best to use real piping bags for serious cake decorating. You can use disposable ones or invest in reusable pastry bags.

To use a pastry bag, snip off the tip and insert the desired tip snugly in the bottom. Place the bag in a glass, fold the end over the lip of the glass, and fill it with frosting. Squeeze the frosting down into the bag, twist the top, and practice piping techniques on a scrap of waxed paper or a plate before decorating the cake.

How to Level Cakes

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To ensure even and flat cake layers for easy stacking, you can use two techniques:

  • Cake strips: Measure your cake pans and wrap cake strips soaked in water around them before baking. The damp strips help the cake bake evenly, resulting in level cakes.
  • Serrated knife: After baking and cooling your cake, use a serrated knife to slice off the domed top. Cut slowly and at eye level to achieve an even cut.

Chill the Cake Layers

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Firming up your cake layers in the freezer makes them easier to frost. Place them in the freezer for about 30 minutes before stacking and frosting. The chill helps make the cake sturdier and prevents excessive crumbing.

Never frost a warm cake, as the icing will melt.

How to Crumb Coat a Cake

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The purpose of a crumb coat is to contain crumbs and create a neater surface for additional decoration. Apply a thin layer of frosting using an offset spatula, covering the sides and top of the cake. Place the crumb-coated cake in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes to firm up before applying more frosting.

How to Slice a Cake

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For picture-perfect cake slices, follow these steps:

1. Dip a sharp knife into hot water.

2. Wipe the knife dry and make a clean, fluid motion when cutting into the cake.

3. The heat from the knife helps soften the frosting, while the sharp edge creates clean slices.

4. Wipe the knife clean before repeating for each slice.

Originally Published: April 16, 2021

Cake Decorating Tools

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To create beautiful cakes, you'll need a few essential decorating tools. Don't worry, most of these items are affordable, with prices under $15. According to our Test Kitchen, these tools are a must-have:

  • Offset spatulas: These versatile spatulas are perfect for adding frosting between cake layers and creating smooth finishes on the exterior of the cake.
  • Bench scraper: Use a bench scraper to achieve a smooth finish on the sides of your cake. If you prefer texture, try using cake combs.
  • Piping bags and tips: Invest in piping bags and various pastry tips for creating decorative elements like flowers and writing on your cake.
  • Cake turntable: While not necessary, a cake turntable can make the frosting process quicker and help you achieve even and perfectly swirled icing.
Explore More Cake-Decorating Tools

Tip #2: Level Your Cakes

Yellow cake being leveled with a cake leveler.

Some cakes bake with level tops, while others have a domed shape. For easier decorating and a polished result, it's recommended to level your cakes.

If you have a steady hand, you can use a sharp serrated knife to level your cakes. Alternatively, use a cake leveler, such as the affordable one made by Wilton. This tool ensures perfectly level cakes and is easy to use.

BONUS TIP: Allow your cake to cool completely before leveling or frosting. Warm cake can fall apart and cause the icing to melt. Patience is key!

Cake Decorating Tip #3: Hold your cake scraper at a 45-degree angle.

The best cake decorating tools. www.cakebycourtney.comThis tip emphasizes the correct angle at which to hold your cake scraper for achieving smooth edges. Holding the scraper at a 45-degree angle helps create distinct boundaries between the top and sides of the cake. To get a better view, it's helpful to be at eye level with the cake while smoothing it out. View a quick video tutorial HERE on proper scraper technique.

Tip #3: Choose Your Frosting Wisely

White bowl filled with chocolate frosting.Your choice of icing plays a crucial role in cake decorating.

For easy and attractive cake decorating, opt for a sturdy icing that is easy to work with. It should be spreadable to avoid picking up large crumbs from the cake but not too thin or warm that it slides off.

Buttercreams, cream cheese frosting, and Swiss meringue buttercream are all excellent options for beginner cake decorators. These frostings are sturdy, smooth, and pipe well.

White bowl full of smooth pale yellow frosting being stirred by a white spatulaIt's recommended to make 50% more icing than the recipe calls for to allow for any mistakes or extra decoration. Having extra frosting ensures you have enough and provides flexibility for piping designs on top.

For a 2-layer cake, aim for 5 cups of frosting. For a 3-layer cake, 6-7 cups should suffice.

While it's possible to decorate a cake with a standard batch of icing, having extra can be helpful for any mishaps.

BONUS TIP: If you have leftover icing, you can freeze it in an airtight container for future use. Thaw it in the fridge overnight and rewhip it to restore the desired texture.

Crumb coating a chocolate cakeA crumb coat is a thin layer of icing applied to the cake's exterior to prevent crumbs from mixing with the final layer of frosting.

Remember that the crumb coat doesn't need to look perfect; its purpose is to create a smoother surface for the final layer. Apply the crumb coat evenly and keep it thin. Place the crumb-coated cake in the fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes to firm up before adding more frosting.

Cake Decorating Tip #4: Use a cake acrylic disk when applying your buttercream.

Best recommended cake acrylic disk. www.cakebycourtney.comUsing an acrylic disk on top of your cake helps create precise edges between the top and sides of the cake. It ensures clean-cut lines and adds to the overall presentation. Removing the acrylic disk after applying the buttercream can be a bit challenging. Watch a video tutorial on the best technique HERE.

Cake Decorating Tip #5: Keep your piping away from the edge of your cake.

Simple piping designs you can add to the top of your cake. www.cakebycourtney.comWhen piping designs onto your cake, it's essential to position the piping bag slightly toward the middle rather than directly on the edge. This prevents the designs from falling down the sides of the cake. For a tutorial on piping simple designs, click HERE.

Bonus Tip: Add a Ganache Drip

Cake decorated with pink strawberry icing, a chocolate ganache drip, and pink icing swirls.If you're ready for an intermediate level technique, consider adding a chocolate ganache drip to your cake. This step adds elegance and enhances the overall appearance of your cake. Find detailed instructions on how to create a ganache drip HERE.

Tip #6: Decorate the Top!

Overhead view of a cake frosted with white icing and a rim of piped icing swirls topped with sprinkles.Adding decorative piping to the top of your cake takes it to the next level. Even as a beginner, you can achieve beautiful designs with the right piping tip. Consider using a large closed star tip, such as the Ateco 848, or the slightly smaller Ateco 846.

If you're worried about making mistakes, practice your piping designs on a paper plate first. Once you're confident, transfer your practice swirls back into the piping bag and pipe away!

If your piping doesn't turn out as expected, don't worry. Adding sprinkles strategically can cover any imperfections and give your cake a neat and tidy appearance.

BONUS TIP: To make filling your piping bag easier, stretch the top of the bag over the rim of a tall cup, and use a spatula to spread frosting into the bag. This method minimizes mess and facilitates the frosting process.

Cake Decorating Tip #6: Ensure Your Buttercream is Smooth and Creamy

The best way to achieve light and fluffy buttercream. Visit for more information.When preparing your buttercream, it's important to ensure a silky smooth texture. Unlike the ingredients for your cake layers, your buttercream ingredients should be slightly cold, especially the butter and eggs. I typically take them out of the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before I begin baking.

Having slightly cold butter provides a solid base for the other ingredients to bind to, preventing the buttercream from becoming overly soft or runny, almost as if it's melting. Start by whipping the butter on its own for a few minutes before adding the remaining ingredients. To achieve a smooth texture, remember to sift the powdered sugar before incorporating it.

Towards the end, mix the buttercream on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes to create a light and fluffy consistency that's perfect for spreading onto your cake. Watch a step-by-step video tutorial on making the best buttercream here.

That wraps up my top 6 cake decorating tips for beginners! I hope you find these tips helpful as you delve into the world of cake decoration. If you have any further inquiries, feel free to send me a direct message on Instagram, and I'll be sure to respond. You can find me at @cakebycourtney. Don't forget to follow me for more cake-related tips and recipes!

For additional baking resources, check out the following helpful posts:

Incorporating these cake decorating tips and ideas into your next baking venture will surely elevate your cakes to new heights. From leveling your cakes to choosing the perfect frosting, every step in the process plays a crucial role in creating a masterpiece. Remember to experiment with different techniques, like using a cake acrylic disk or adding a ganache drip for that extra wow factor. And lastly, don't forget to focus on the finishing touch - decorating the top with smooth, silky buttercream. With these tricks up your sleeve, your cakes will not only taste incredible but also look like works of art that will leave everyone amazed. So, grab your decorating tools and get ready to create a cake that will steal the show at any gathering!

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