For the beginning baker, there are few things more inspiring than a beautifully decorated cake. If you want to wow everyone the next time you’re in charge of dessert, a well-constructed and decorated cake is the way to do it. Here are some helpful tips for frosting, piping, and simply decorating cake like a pro.
1. Prep a Cake for Frosting and Decorating
Before you start decorating your cake, do a little bit of preparation. All of these small pre-decorating steps will make the process much easier.
Once your cake is finished baking, let it cool completely. Decorating a warm cake is a fruitless process because the heat makes the frosting runny.
Another way to get yourself off to a good start is to build a level cake. It will probably come out of the oven with a rounded top, but that’s not a problem. Use a bread knife to cut off the rounded top. Place your hand on top of the cake as you slice to keep the cake from moving while you cut.
Once you’ve removed the rounded top, use a pastry brush to apply a light coating of simple syrup to the top. Simple syrup is easy to make: Boil equal parts water and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved. The simple syrup coating is an important step because the decorating process can dry out your cake. This preparation will keep your cake moist.
2. Frosting a Cake
“Crumb coats give your cake a smooth, finished look.”
Giving your cake a crumb coat is one of the quickest and easiest ways to make sure it turns out looking great. This is a base layer of frosting that seals the crumbs onto the cake so they’re not visible in the final product. This step may seem a bit redundant, but it can make all the difference—crumby frosting isn’t particularly pretty, and this step will give your cake a smooth, finished-looking surface.
If you’re making a multi-layer cake, you’ll need to add frosting between each layer before you start the crumb coat. Drop a generous portion of frosting onto the top of your cake and use a frosting spreader to evenly distribute it. Add enough frosting so you have a thick layer on top and use that to spread the frosting down the sides. You can apply this same technique to a single layer cake.
Fill in any gaps that appear as you coat the cake. If your layers start to get wobbly, or your frosting starts getting too runny, stick it in the fridge to cool for 10–20 minutes. This should firm up your frosting and make the whole thing easier to continue working.
Once you’ve evenly distributed your crumb coat, use a scraper to make the surface nice and smooth. Start by going around the cake, then leveling off the top—you may have to do this back and forth a few times before it’s perfect. Once you have a smooth crumb coat, let the cake chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. After the cake has chilled, you can put on your final layer of frosting or fondant and, depending on how you’re decorating your cake, this is the layer you’ll show the world.
Watch the entire process with Layer Cakes 101.
4. Practice Your Piping Technique
All the best cake decorations come down to your piping technique. Like any other form of art, this means you might need some practice. Go easy on yourself if it doesn’t look right the first few times. As you get used to working with your piping tools, you’ll get better, and your cakes will look nicer.
There are several different piping tips you can use to create different effects with frosting. A small writing tip is perfect for lines and writing. A large or small open star tip makes adorable rosettes, and a flat tip lets you create a ribbon effect with your frosting. Practice creating lines and dots with different tips on wax paper to get a feel for how the cake designs will look.
5. Add Fun Accent Decorations
You don’t need to rely on frosting alone to make your cake look great. Sprinkles, candies, and fruits all make perfect additions to the tops or sides of your cake. Experiment with different ideas. Want a fun and colorful birthday cake for a boy or girl? Coat the cake with his or her favorite rainbow cereal.
Adding fresh fruit is a simple way to make an utterly gorgeous cake. Evenly frost your cake, then top it with fresh berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries all look and taste great together. Place them on top in circles starting from the middle for an organized look, or you can have them scattered about for a casually pretty look. Once you have them placed the way you like, use your sugar shaker to gently dust the whole thing with powdered sugar.
No matter how you’re decorating your cake, remember that practice makes perfect. If you’re in charge of a cake for a special occasion, do at least one trial run beforehand. This will give you a chance to notice any hiccups along the way. And the best part about cake rehearsals? If the cake doesn’t turn out right on the first try, you get to eat cake!
This post has been updated since it was originally published in March 2016.
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