Cake Decorating

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Cake Decorating

  • Cake Decorating" means to take a baked and cooled cake and to fill and frost it and/or make simple or elaborate designs on the sides or top.
  • Decorating can also be done when presenting the finished cake.
  • Icing the cake to a smooth finish is one of the most important parts of cake decorating.
  • The decorations, no matter how careful one is, always look their best against an evenly iced cake. 

This procedure has been broken down into 5 steps:

  • 1) learning to bake a cake,
  • 2) cooling the cake before proceeding;
  • 3) leveling (trim and torte) the layers,
  • 4) filling the layers and icing the cake, and 5) smoothing the icing and preparing its surface for decorations.
  • Neatness and precision count. Both come only through practice.
  • A cake looks so much more beautiful with a simple design that is executed with precision, rather than with a complex one that is not. 

TEP #1: Learning to bake a cake is the first step to successful decorating

  • What is the perfect cake? One that is smooth, has a light, golden brown surface with very few crumbs and a nice, springy crust. It should be precisely level top and bottom.
  • A great way to practice your cake decorating skills is on a cake made from a boxed mix from any brand. With it you simply place the liquid ingredients, usually eggs, oil and water into your mixing bowl, add the dry mix, stir to moisten and beat for the amount of time listed in the box's directions.
  • It is a quick and simple way to make a cake. 

#2: Many people are surprised to learn that most cakes are NOT decorated within an hour of baking

  • First, the cake has to cool thoroughly before proceeding. 


  • Always freeze my cakes (very well wrapped) overnight before decorating. This way, if I need to split or trim them afterwards they won't fall apart.
  • Also, they are much easier to move around when they are frozen. You don't have to worry as much about breakage. 
  • In addition, cakes actually improve with a short stay in the freezer to tighten their crumb and to help it retain moisture once decorated. (Professional bakers do this).
  • A freshly baked and decorated cake, when cut, can sometimes turn into a large pile of crumbs from slices that don't keep their shape or break in half.
  • Freezing helps prevent this.
  • To freeze each cake layer, first cool each one and wrap individually in plastic wrap with an outside layer of foil or placed in a resealable plastic bag.
  • Store it in the back of the freezer (the coldest part) anywhere from 4 to 24 hours before using. More about cake storage.

STEP #3: Most of my decorated cakes are first leveled and trimmed. They are optionally torted

  •  After the cake has cooled one hour, you will need to trim and level each layer.
  • This is true for all cakes, even for shaped ones, like novelty cakes.
  • Leveling removes the crown from the cake center and gives you an even decorating surface. 
  • Trimming cuts off any dry edges.
  • Torting means to take a layer and slice it into many layers, usually three or four. (For the beginner, stick to slicing the layer in half and learning how to keep an even cut.)
  • The result is a cake with thin layers alternating with icing which makes a pretty sliced presentation when served. 

STEP #4: The next step to filling, frosting and decorating the cake, is to use a good, consistent icing as the base

  • There are so many different recipes out there that it can be confusing. 
  • To help you with choices check out my Icing & Glaze Choice Guide. 
  • It's best to select one appropriate for the time you have to prepare the cake, the event and weather. 
  • After you work with a certain icing or glaze for awhile you will have your own preference as far as taste and consistency. I prefer to use the Perfect Buttercream Recipe, created after much trial and error.
  • It isn't too stiff that it glides on the cake, and is not so thin that I have to worry about it oozing off of the sides. I don't like my icing to crust over, but stay creamy for many days, which this one does.
  • If coloring the icing, use restraint. I recommend using gel colors because they are much more subtle than the paste ones, and allow for a greater margin of error.
  • Mix the color a few shades lighter than you want because as it dries, the color will get darker as it sits, especially overnight.
  • Always mix more than you think you'll need of each. It is almost impossible to mix the exact color again if you need more.
  • Practice with your icing beforehand.
  • If you like, you can make a simple practice icing with 1 cup of shortening and about 3 to 4 cups of powdered sugar and water to reach a smooth consistency.
  • This icing is storable at room temperature and will not spoil since it does not contain any perishable ingredients.
  • But its flavor is quite nasty, so use it for decorating practice only.
  • If you use actual icing to practice with, keep it separate from the icing you will use on your cake.

TEP #5: Smooth the icing on the cake before going to the Cake Decorating Guide

  • Icing the cake to a smooth finish is one of the most important parts of cake decorating.
  • For many it can be the hardest part of cake decorating to achieve.
  • The decorations, no matter how careful one is, will not look their best against an unevenly iced cake. 
  • Many cake decorations can be applied with a pastry bag, but there are many alternatives.
  • A pastry bag is awkward to hold at first and you need to practice before starting a real cake; click here for complete information on how. Usually bottom borders are put on first, then swags or stringwork, then top borders are added, with buttercream flowers, top decorations or writing added last.
  • Keep icing very soft for stringwork. Stiff icing breaks easier while transporting. Do take a repair kit with you when delivering the cakes.
  • When done, the most important part is to enjoy your creation with family and friends. Of course, afterwards you'll need to properly store your decorated cake, if there's anything left !! 
  • Easy decorations are also elegant on a cake.
  • They can be as simple as dusting with confectioner's sugar or decorating with fresh fruit or edible flowers.
  • Use your imagination. 
  • Buttercream made with real butter, has the consistency of whipped butter and will melt in heat or humidity, a serious consideration for summer nuptials (buttercream with shortening holds up better); whereas Fondanta mixture of sugar, gelatin and corn syrup — will not and makes a perfect choice for summer events.


  • Writing can be done with a pastry bag or parchment cone on a frosted and smoothed cake.
  • With a toothpick or message pattern press, draw guidelines to follow or trace. With practice you'll achieve control and soon be piping out messages free-handed. 
  • Use thinned buttercream or royal icing for buttercream frosted cakes; thinned royal icing for fondant-covered cakes.
  • Insert a coupler base in your Reusable or Disposable Pastry Bag and lock round Tip #1 (small tip) onto it with your coupler ring.
  • Fill with buttercream icing that is a thin consistency. Optionally tint with powdered food coloring or paste colors


  • Hold the bag at a 45 degree angle with tip resting lightly on surface with back of the bag to the right for horizontal lines, toward you for vertical lines.
  • With steady, even pressure, squeeze out a straight line, lifting tip off surface to let icing string drop.
  • Be sure to stop squeezing before you lift the tip to end the line so a tail doesn't form.


  • You must move your whole arm to write effectively with icing.
  • Hold bag at a 45 degree angle with back of bag to the right.
  • The tip should lightly touch the cake as you write.
  • Remember to use steady, even pressure as you continue to finish the whole word in one string of frosting.
  • When you reach the end of the word, be sure to stop squeezing before you lift the tip.
  • Continue to cross t's and dot i's etc.


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