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The Basics of Cake Decorating

Updated on September 25, 2014

Basics to Get You Started

Would you like to decorate cakes to wow your friends and family, but don't know where to start? Maybe you just want to save money by making your own cakes for birthdays and celebrations. Do you dream of the sense of accomplishment you'll feel when you master the techniques of cake decorating?

If you feel overwhelmed or intimidated by all the products out there, this lens gives some basic information on couplers, and the different types of decorating bags you can choose from to create your masterpiece.

Enjoy, and don't forget to sign the guestbook and let me know you visited!

The Decorating Bag

Three main types of decorating bags

There are three basic types of decorating bags: disposable decorating bags, featherweight pastry bags, and parchment paper bags.

In the next few sections, I will describe the three types in more detail, and explain some of the pros and cons of each type.

Featherweight Decorating Bags

These bags are lightweight and strong. They are made of polyester. They are coated to keep grease from seeping through. These bags can be used over and over again, and stay soft and supple.

Disposable Decorating Bags

These bags are made of clear plastic. These are my favorite because they are so handy to use, and when you are finished with them, you just throw them away. This makes cleanup much easier.

Parchment Paper Decorating Bags

Parchment bags are made from triangles of parchment paper. These bags are usually not very large, and are best for doing small details. It is best to get a new bag for each use, and discard when empty. Couplers don't work well on these bags.

Using Couplers on Your Decorating Bag

Couplers are a wonderful asset to any cake decorator. They enable you to change tips on your bag, without having to change bags.

Unscrew the ring from the coupler, and place the coupler inside your bag. Then, add the tip to your bag. Slide the ring over the tip and onto the coupler and tighten. This will secure your tip to the bag and hold the bag on the coupler.

Couplers work very well with with featherweight and disposable bags. Not recommended for use with parchment.

If you have a new featherweight bag, you will need to trim the end for the coupler to fit. Unscrew the ring and push the coupler tightly in the bag as far as it will go. Take a pencil and make a mark where you want to cut. You should only have about one ring of the coupler showing in a properly trimmed bag. Remove the coupler and trim your bag, but be careful not to trim too much off, or your coupler will not stay in your bag while you are decorating.

Disposable bags should also be trimmed to accomodate a coupler and tip, but you don't cut as much off of one of these bags as you do on the featherweight. Disposable bags stretch a little more, so cut as little as you have to.

To change tips, simply unscrew the coupler ring and replace your current tip with the new one. Then screw the ring back on and tighten.

Icing Consistency and Filling Your Decorating Bag

Icing Consistency

If the consistency of your icing is not right, your decorations will not turn out right. If you feel your icing is too thin, add a little more confectioner's sugar; if you feel your icing is too thick, add a little more liquid.

Stiff icing is used for roses, figure piping and stringwork. If icing is too thin, flower petals will droop. If it's too stiff, petals will crack.

Medium icing is used for decorations such as stars, shell borders and flowers with flat petals.

Thin icing is used to ice cakes, and for decorations such as printing and writing, vines and leaves. To thin icing, add small amounts of the same liquid used in the recipe (usually milk or water) until the icing is the right consistency for spreading.

Filling Your Bag

Fold down the top of your bag to form a generous cuff. Hold the bag underneath the cuff. Add icing to your bag, careful not to overfill or icing may squeeze out the wrong end while you are decorating.

Unfold the cuff and twist the bag closed, pushing the icing down into the bag. Make sure you have released any trapped air in the bag by squeezing some of the icing out of the tip back into your bowl, aka as "burping" the bag.

Tip for Writing

Add 1-2 teaspoons light corn syrup to each cup of icing to help make writing smoother. Also your lines will not break as easily.


The most important thing is practice, practice, practice! Practice really does make perfect.

A Good Practice Tool

A great way to practice decorating is to use a Wilton practice board. They are reusable, and a great way to get practice without having to have a cake baked each time. You can just sit and practice over and over again with some leftover icing. It's a great way to help you perfect your technique!

Learn More About Cake Decorating

Cake Decorating Basics: Techniques and Tips for Creating Beautiful Cakes
Cake Decorating Basics: Techniques and Tips for Creating Beautiful Cakes

Cake decorating is a richly rewarding skill that anyone can master with a little help, and this fact-packed volume answers all the basic questions that beginners frequently ask: How do I level off a domed cake? What is the best way to cut a dowel? How can I get a modeled figure to sit? Plus, there’s detailed information on covering cakes with marzipan, adding ribbons, simple piping with royal icing, creating special effects with sugar paste, and basic modeling. And dessert lovers with special dietary requirements will enjoy the gluten, egg, sugar, and dairy-free treats. Each chapter features color photographs that provide step-by-step guidance—so your cakes will turn out perfectly, the first time and every time.

Complete Cake Decorating: Techniques, Basic Recipes and Beautiful Cake Projects for All Occasions
Complete Cake Decorating: Techniques, Basic Recipes and Beautiful Cake Projects for All Occasions

Cakes-whether simple and homespun or elegant and elaborate-add a note of festivity to every occasion, and this comprehensive cookbook allows home cooks to create an unprecedented variety. From creating the perfect batter, baking tips and frosting recipes to decorating techniques, flavoring suggestions and ideas for using fresh flowers, the featured projects ensure beautiful, successful results to make the process of creating each cake as pleasurable as consuming it. A melt-in-your-mouth Rich Fruit Cake, a fine-crumbed Madeira Cake and the ever-popular Swiss Roll are just a few examples of the cakes to master, decorate and serve with pride; marzipan, royal icing and chocolate are among the countless materials described with which to decorate them. Over 400 full-color photographs and step-by-step instructions throughout for both baking techniques and decorating ideas make this the perfect cake decorating book.


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    • jordanmilesbask profile image

      jordanmilesbask 5 years ago

      great stuff and great lens!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Great information and nicely presented.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I think "practice" is the key word I need when it comes to trying to decorate cakes! :D Thanks for sharing the wonderful tips.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      OMG, the only thing I pretty much ever used to decorate the cakes I would bake was a butter knife! Ha. You have shown me things I never have tried. Want to hear more and see more pictures!