10 Cake Decorating Tips
Freezing a cake
Freezing the cake layers for at least an hour and up to even a month in advance will make frosting the cake way easier, since it will create a firmer surface. To do this properly, let the layers fully cool, level them and then immediately wrap them with plastic wrap either individually or separated by a piece of parchment paper. To ensure that no cake is exposed, it helps to wrap it twice in plastic wrap. If you’ll be keeping the cake frozen for more than a week or so, add a layer of foil on top of the plastic wrap to further prevent any smells from getting into the cake.
A crumb coat is a very thin layer of frosting that helps prevent any loose crumbs from turning up on the outside of the cake. Once the layers are stacked with any desired frosting or fillings in between them, use an offset spatula to spread a thin layer of frosting all over the outside. When dipping the spatula into the frosting bowl for more, first scrape it off in a separate small bowl to prevent loose crumbs from getting into the frosting. You can reuse any crumby frosting from the separate small bowl while applying the crumb coat. Use a bench scraper to smooth the edges (see next step) and then place the cake in the freezer for a few minutes before continuing on to the final layer.
To achieve super-smooth edges on both the crumb coat and final layer, hold a bench scraper in your dominant hand and then use the other hand to grip the turntable so you’ll be able to turn it as close to one complete rotation as you can. (If you’re right-handed, you’ll be rotating it counterclockwise and vice versa.) Begin rotating the cake and then gradually press the bench scraper up against the side, continuing to rotate at an even pace. Release pressure gradually while continuing to rotate the cake and scrape off the bench scraper. Continue until the desired smoothness is achieved. This step takes practice.
Scallops are an easy way to decorate a cake that doesn’t really require any fancy tools. All you need is a Ziploc bag and a small spoon. Fill one corner of a large Ziploc bag (or a piping bag) with frosting and snip off the corner. Hold the tip perpendicular to the surface of the cake and pipe medium-sized dollops in one vertical line from the bottom of the cake to the top. Using a spoon (or offset spatula), press down into a dollop and swipe away horizontally. Repeat with the rest of the dollops in that column, wiping off the spoon as needed, and then make a new column of dollops that overlaps the swipes from the previous column. Repeat until the cake is covered.
Piping on the frosting is a simple way to create various fun effects. To cover the cake in roses, use a star piping tip. Hold the tip perpendicular to the surface of the cake where you want the center of the rose to be, then apply pressure to the piping bag while swirling outward. Gently release pressure once the rose reaches the desired size. Do not alter the angle of the piping tip to allow for the swirls to fold over onto themselves, creating more dimension. To cover the cake in small stars, use a star piping tip, hold the tip perpendicular to the surface of the cake and pipe small dollops all over. For ruffles, use a petal piping tip and, starting at the bottom and working your way up, pipe around the outside of the cake with the wider end of tip up against the cake.
Marzipan cutouts are a wildly easy way to add whimsical elements to the cake. Knead gel or liquid food coloring into marzipan, roll it out, cut out the desired shapes and then stick them onto the cake. If the marzipan becomes sticky or overworked, dust it with a bit of powdered sugar.
To get an ombré frosting effect, divide the frosting into individual bowls. You’ll want about two kinds of frosting for every layer of cake, so for a standard two-layer cake, you want four bowls of frosting. Add a bit more frosting to one of the bowls, which will be the color of the top layer (it should either be the lightest shade or the darkest shade). Mix food coloring into each of the bowls, increasing the amount of coloring for each bowl, so the colors get darker and darker. Frost the top of the cake with an offset spatula. Fill a piping bag fitted with a large, round tip with the lightest shade and pipe around the edge of the cake. If the lightest shade is on top, start at the top; if it’s not, start at the bottom. Once you’ve made a complete rotation, squeeze out all of the remaining frosting from the bag and then fill it with the next shade and pipe directly next to the frosting that you just piped on. Repeat until the whole cake is covered. Use a bench scraper to scrape off all of the excess frosting and create smooth edges (see step 3). Scrape off the bench scraper each time you scrape down the cake.
Writing on cakes
Writing on cakes can be intimidating, but it gets way easier with practice. Use a small round piping tip and practice on parchment before going for the real thing, applying even pressure as you go. Any practice frosting can be easily scraped off the parchment and reused. (And if you’d like to practice when you don’t have frosting readily available, use mustard!) You can also trace the shape of your cake onto a piece of parchment and practice on that to ensure that correct spacing, centering and sizing of the letters. When you go for the real thing, piping on firm (chilled) frosting will make it easier to fix any mistakes, so stick the cake in the freezer for a few minutes before writing.
To cover up any frosting-stained cake boards or simply create a clean effect at the base of the cake (or even all over the cake), dust it with powdered sugar or cocoa (for chocolate cakes) using a sifter or tea infuser spoon.
To create supports in tiered cakes so that they hold up sturdily, stick a few straws into the cake underneath where the next tier will go and trim them so that they’re the same height as the cake. Place the next tier on top of the cake while it’s still on its cake board. This is easiest when the cake has chilled for a few minutes so that the frosting is firm and less susceptible to any bumps.