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Beginners Guide to Cake Decorating

Updated on April 27, 2011

Cake historically has been the dessert chosen after meals for ceremonial occasions, particularly weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. Recently cake has not only been dessert it has also turned into an art piece that is set out during the occasion. Cake decorating has been around for a long time, however as equipment and technique has evolved, people are able to decorate their cake to look like anything. Food Network has been one of the major contributors to this change in cakes. With shows such as Ace of Cakes and Food Network Challenge we are now able to see people make cakes into anything imaginable.
Many people see these shows and think: "How hard can this actually be?" Well, in fact it is much more difficult than the professionals make it look.  However, I am here to give you some tricks on how to become a master cake decorator or at least make people think you are.
First and foremost, you must learn basic decorating with a tip. A tip is a small metal cone with an embellished opening through which frosting is forced that allows you to make letters or designs. You will want to purchase your tips and piping bags at any craft store. You will also want to make decorators icing. This is a very simple frosting that is easy to make and work with.  Note: a commercial frosting is usually too soft. To start, the best things to practice on will be a cookie or just on wax paper. You want something small and flat that will allow you to get comfortable to the feel of bag and pressure of the frosting.

Filling the piping bag: To start, simply drop the tip into the bag and push it down as far as it will go. Some of the tip should extend past the opening of the bag. Next you are going to fill the bag. Up-end the bag so that the tip is pointing down and open the bag as wide as you are able. Using a spatula, fill the bag approximately one-half to two-thirds full of icing. Once you've filled the bag, twist or fold the top of the bag closed so that the icing can only escape through the tip. Holding the top closed with one hand, use your thumb on one side of the bag, and your forefinger on the other side of the bag to push the icing down into the bottom. Keep smoothing the icing down until all air pockets are removed and icing starts to comes smoothly out of the tip. Watch this video for more suggestions.

Decorating using a piping bag: Now you are going to want to experiment with different design techniques. By using different tips you can create a whole different decoration. For example using the flower decorating tip you can create a flower or a textured line. You will also want to practice with a round decorating tip to write messages.

Decorating on a cake: Once you have become comfortable with the different shapes you can make, you can move on to actually decorating a cake. You will always want a smooth surface to decorate. The easiest way I feel to do this is to first, remove the cake out of the pan. You will then want to flip the pan over (so the bottom is up) and place the pan next to the cake. Keeping the tip of the knife on the pan, and the angle of the knife horizontal to the counter, cut the rounded top of the cake away, leaving the cake flat on both the top and bottom.  Using the pan as a guide will ensure that you maintain a consistent height to your cake as you cut off the top. Additionally, when you frost the cake make it as smooth and flat as possible. One final word of caution: do not decorate too close to the edge or the side as it will fall if it is too heavy.

Now that you have done this am sure you are thinking, "this was a nice cake but still nothing like I see on Ace of Cakes." The reason for this is because they most often use different equipment and cover their cake in fondant for that glossy, colored finish.
Fondant is a thick and creamy, white sugar mass used in different forms for decorating cakes and cookies.  It can be rolled and draped over a cake, poured as a glaze or sculpted. It is easily dyed so that you can cover your entire cake with a smooth consistent color. Fondant can also be used to make different designs and shapes to put on your cake. I am now going to give you just a few tips on working with fondant.

Coloring Fondant: Most people who use fondant want to dye it to make a nice colored cake. To do this you will want to knead the fondant until it is soft and shaped into a ball. Then add the food coloring in very small increments (it takes very little dye to effect the color of the fondant), thoroughly working all the color through the ball before adding more.  I like to do this by dipping a toothpick into the color and dot it on. For a darker color you will want to add more dye. Remember: you can always make it darker by adding more dye but you must make more fondant to add to it to make it lighter. Then cover your hands in plastic gloves and knead until the color is even throughout the ball. If you want to add flavor to your fondant (I made peppermint one time) just follow the same steps as the color, keeping in mind to use small amounts and test the flavor consistently.

Covering cake with Fondant: First you will want to frost the cake with a thin layer of buttercream icing. You then will want to roll out the fondant to a size slightly bigger than the cake. If you are covering a cylindrical cake you will want to roll it out so it is round. If you are covering a sheet cake you will want to roll your fondant to be the shape of your cake. This will take some practice.  As you are rolling the fondant make sure to sprinkle it with confectioners sugar and move it so it does not stick to either the rolling pin or the countertop.  I found that moving the fondant from the countertop to the cake was one of the hardest steps. The easiest way to do this is to lift the edge of the fondant and lay it over your rolling pin.  Roll as much as you are able to over and around the rolling pin (without having it stick to itself), use your other hand to carry the excess portion of the fondant, and then lay it over the cake. You then will want to smooth over all the edges so that it is flat and cut off all the excess pieces. Don’t be afraid to squeeze and push the fondant onto the cake, the cake will be fine I promise.

Decorating with Fondant: One of the easiest things to do with fondant is to use a cookie cutter to make shapes. You can then simply stick these pieces to your cake with a little bit of icing. This can make cakes appear very elegant but actually involved very little work. You can then decorate with icing to make it look exactly like you want it to.
All of these tips will not make you a master cake decorate but the will put you on the right track. Once you master these basics steps you can try more advanced tricks. Who knows? One day you may be making cakes like the master cake decorators!

Why would you be most likely to try and decorate your own cake?

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    • profile image

      anjali 3 years ago

      very very nice the cake i try to make it thanks so much

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 3 years ago from Miami Florida

      Hello Mr.dsturgeon. It is wonderful how you made the weedding cake. You have a good talent on how to decorate any cake.Thank you for the hub. You are marvelous.

    • profile image

      nina 4 years ago

      im really young im only 11 and when i grow up im going to be a baker so im trying to get the best information about cakes. I didn't read this but i see all the cool pics so i know your giving good information. Also i have been telling my friends that when i do become a baker, im going to bake then their dream cake. My first customer/friend skylar, said she wanted a 7 tiere cake and i was like ok just let me get information on that so that's what im doing right now so i can really tell that you have good advice do to the pics you have so whoever needs advice about making a cake go here! (sorry for not reading it.)

    • profile image

      Ruth Pieterse 5 years ago

      Beautiful wedding cake. Enjoyed the hub. Voted up.

    • profile image

      funmilayo 5 years ago

      Mhen I love this very much. Weldone

    • profile image

      lynne dalgarno 5 years ago

      can you ice a frozen sponge cake?

    • profile image

      janie 5 years ago

      very helpful for all those that have just started cake decorating and for those that really want to learn like me thank you and hope to learn more

    • profile image

      ana 5 years ago

      nice tips ahh..........hehehe............

    • profile image

      Bill 6 years ago

      these cakes are so beautiful!!

    • profile image

      Michael 7 years ago

      Nice tips for cake decorating


    • profile image

      ging 7 years ago

      hi! can i use McCormick liquid food coloring for fondant icing? thank u!

    • profile image

      cake decorating books 7 years ago

      Oh wow the cake on top looks so beautiful!

    • profile image

      Sally McCormick 8 years ago

      Good information, thank you!

      I found the videos very helpful.

    • lisakprice profile image

      lisakprice 8 years ago from Ohio

      I have become enamored with beautiful cakes lately. I can't get enough of them. I watch all the cake shows on my satellite and I'm so jealous because I don't think I could ever do that. I would love to learn, though. Thanks for the tips.

    • profile image

      Wedding Reception Decorating 8 years ago

      Wow this are some nice tips here great Hub! I'm sure I will show this page to my friends who are going to make their own wedding cake.

    • Apepperson profile image

      Apepperson 8 years ago from Texas

      Thanks for the Hub and the resources on cake decorating. I love watching those cake challenges on TV and have often thought it would be something I'd like to try. This hub has been a great inspiration!

    • waynet profile image

      Wayne Tully 8 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

      I've always found cake decorating to be an art form that is truly great, because of all the different things you can decorate on cakes, cartoon characters, brilliant floral designs as above and many more.

      I have bookmarked your hubpage, so that I could maybe have a go at decorating a cake the way I would want to.

      Well done on a brilliant hub!