15 helpful tips for cake decorating

A list of 15 great tips for decorating a beautiful cake. From how to get the smoothest buttercream finish to making gorgeous fondant covered cakes this article will show you how the pros do it. Help with basic techniques to let your creativity shine.

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    • Make sure you have a good basic cake. If you are using a heavy buttercream or fondant you will want a sturdy cake that can handle the weight. You can use a lighter sponge cake or angel food cake if you are planning to decorate with a whipped cream frosting or glaze. You do not want your icing to overwhelm the cake.

    • Work at your skill level. With all of the great designs and amazing structures being used, it may be tempting to bite off more than you can chew. Some of the designs found online are more involved in their application than they appear. If there is a certain design that you want to attempt, first try checking on YouTube for a tutorial that will break down the process into simple steps.

    • Try freezing. Cutting frozen cake is always easier. A good amount of professional bakeries will bake, then freeze their cakes. It makes cutting the layers easier and helps prevent crumbs. For most cakes, freezing for two or three days does not affect the quality. This also gives you the chance to break the project into a couple steps because you can bake the cake ahead of time, then decorate another day.

    • Always use a serrated knife. When cutting, use a sawing motion. This will prevent the cake from cracking or breaking off in chunks.

    • Trim the top of the cake. Most cakes get a bit of a dome top when baking. Trim it off so that the top of the cake is as flat as the bottom.

    • Get a bird's eye view. When stacking layers or tiers, stand on a stool or chair and look directly down on top of the cake. This vantage point allows you to see every angle. Having your layers as straight as possible will prevent issues later on when you are icing the sides.

    • Use cake boards under each tier. They will stabilize the cake as you are assembling and decorating it, and will make it much easier to transport the cake once it is finished. If you are making a tiered cake you will want to trim the cake board as close to the cake as possible on the upper tiers.

    • Use an angled spatula for icing. It is easier to keep level and moves your hands farther away from the work, which helps prevent them from accidentally dragging across the icing.

    • Elbows up. When icing the sides of your cake keep your arm at a 90° angle and your elbow pointed to the ceiling. Maintaining this angle will keep your spatula perfectly flush to the side of the cake and create a straight side instead of one that is slanted slightly inward.

    • Use a crumb coat. Once all of your layers are put together, frost the whole outside and top of the cake with a very thin layer of icing and then refrigerate the cake for a bit. This process will trap all of the extra crumbs and you will be able to ice the next layer without having crumbs showing on the outside.

    • Use a hot spatula to get buttercream as smooth as fondant. If you are a fan of the look of fondant but do not like the flavor there is a great trick you can use to get that super smooth look. Fill a tall pitcher with hot water and place your angled spatula in the hot water for a few moments. Pull it out and dry it off completely, then use the heated spatula to create a mirror smooth surface on your cake. You will have to reheat the spatula several times. When you notice that the buttercream is starting to stick to the spatula it is time to reheat.

    • When creating a tiered cake, use wooden dowels or drinking straws to keep the upper tiers from sinking down into the cake. Although it may not seem like it would hold a lot of weight, simply adding four cut straws or four small wooden dowels in each tier will hold the whole weight of the tiers above. Cut your straws or dowels before placing them in the cake. Make sure that you cut them about ¼ inch below the surface of the cake so that the upper tier sinks in just slightly when placed on top.

    • Practice makes perfect. If you are piping a design on the cake try practicing on a flat surface first. Even if, you have the design perfectly traced out on the cake doing a bit of piping on another surface gives you a handle on the flow of the icing which can prevent built up lines or breaks in the flow. If your design contains black icing it is best to buy it ready-made as many food colorings contain water that will destroy the consistency of your icing if used in large amounts. The same principle applies to fondant.

    • Knead your fondant. If you are covering a cake entirely in fondant and are using a store bought variety, you will want to knead a bit of vegetable shortening into the fondant to prevent it from cracking when you roll it out. Dusting your counter with a very small amount of cornstarch can prevent it from sticking.

    • Have the right tools. When covering a cake with fondant, you will want to purchase a fondant smoothing tool. After covering the cake and smoothing out the fondant, you may find small air bubbles under the surface. Keep a pin handy to pop those little air pockets and then continue to smooth the fondant until you have an even surface.

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  • With the right tools and a few good tips, cake making and decorating can be a rewarding way to express your creativity.

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Kathy's lifelong love of food sent her looking for a way to make her passion into a profession. She spent two years at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts school in Las Vegas. Following graduation she spent several years working in the culinary industry learning from some of the best in both cuisine and pastry. Kathy loves to travel and find new tastes and combinations to inspire her. She is currently the head chef of a restaurant.

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