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Cake Decorating Guide

This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of cake decorating, from the preparation stage right to the finer details. It looks at the tools you need, how to level and ice your cake, and all the different ways in which you could decorate it beautifully!

Texturising and Embossing

Cake Decorating

Embossing is the technique of creating a series of patterned imprints in fondant, adding intricate designs and dimension to a plain cake. There are many different tools available which will enable you to add texture, each working as well as the next – it's really just up to personal preference. Pattern embossers allow you to roll basic designs directly into your cake quickly and easily by applying an even pressure, covering a large surface area. Using an impression mat is a lengthier process, but the designs are far more detailed, intricate and luxurious, coming in either a large 'endless design' size or smaller embellishment sizes. Stamps cover the smallest surface area, so are ideal for adding smaller textured impressions to enhance your existing design.

Airbrushing

If you want to enhance the colour and texture of your cake simultaneously, then airbrushing is the answer! Allowing you to create incredible optical illusions, this technique enables you to add depth, gradient, shading and a multitude of tones to your cake, completely transforming its appearance. Ideal for finer details as well as overall coverage, you will require an airbrushing machine and a variety of food-safe airbrush paints. Although this technique may take a little while to master, it's an invaluable skill that will no doubt produce that stunning professional-looking result you've always dreamt of! Below is a video from Dinkydoodle, demonstrating how this method works and showing you the kind of design you could produce.

Frosting and Piping

Piping borders, patterns and designs onto cakes is one of the most popular methods of decorating. This technique involves a decorating bag, a coupler, a variety of decorating tips and your choice of icing. Depending on the decorating tips used, you could create anything from flowers, leaves and stars to basketweave designs, fancy ruffles and even personalised written sentiments. Have a look at our Decorating Tips Chart below for more information on the sort of things you could create, using a range of different tips.

Decorating Tips

Round Tips

Round Tips

These versatile cone-shaped tips have a round opening and are available in a large variety of sizes. Use round tips for writing, outlining, creating dots, scrollwork and much more.

Drop Flower Tips

Drop Flower Tips

Usually used at a vertical angle, drop flower tips have a flower-shaped opening which allows you to create precise flowers with one squeeze. The amount of petals created varies with each tip.

Leaf Tips

Leaf Tips

Leaf tips have a V-shaped opening which allows you to create perfectly pointed leaves with ruffle detail, however they're also ideal for creating pretty pleats and edges.

Petal Tips

Petal Tips

With a long – and sometimes curved – opening, petal tips are perfect for producing a variety of petal shapes, from blossoms and pansies to roses. They're also fantastic for creating intricate ribbons.

Open Stars Tips

Open Stars Tips

The first type of 'star' tip available, open star tips have a wide star-shaped opening with jagged teeth, allowing you to create pointy stars, grooved shells or finely cut borders.

Closed Star Tips

Closed Star Tips

The second type of 'star' tip is the closed star tip. These tips have a more rounded, closed end with the teeth meeting inwards, allowing you to create softer stars, flowers and swirling borders.

Ruffle Tips

Ruffle Tips

Ruffle tips have varying shaped and sized openings, depending on how large or detailed you want the ruffle. These tips are primarily used to add texture and dimensional effects to borders.

Basketweave Tips

Basketweave Tips

With one smooth side and one serrated side, basketweave tips are specifically designed to create striped, woven designs. Use these tips to make textured borders, pleats and thatched patterns.

Speciality Tips

Speciality Tips

For an entirely unique appearance, specialty tips each have distinctive shaped openings that are a little out of the ordinary – find anything from Christmas trees and hearts to crosses and ropes.

Multi-opening Tips

Multi-opening Tips

Multi-opening tips allow you to pipe rows or clusters of designs. Each design varies from tip to tip, however they all pipe several shapes at once. Find anything from stars and dots to simple lines.

But don't get ahead of yourself – before you begin piping to your heart's content, you must ensure you correctly prepare your piping bag. We've teamed up with Wilton to show you exactly how this is done.

Once you've filled your piping bag and you're ready to go, hold the twisted part of the bag between your thumb and index finger, with the rest of your fingers wrapped around the top of the filled bag so that you can easily squeeze the icing out. For creating one-squeeze flowers and stars or for writing, hold the bag at a 90 degree angle. However for trim, more advanced flowers and continuous designs, you should hold it at a 45 degree slant. You should always practise your design before piping directly onto your cake to make sure you're completely comfortable with the way your bag works. If you're interested in learning how to create your very own piped flowers, please watch this handy tutorial from Wilton.

Using Edible Decorations

Cake Decorating

Edible decorations are the perfect way to embellish and enhance your designs, and the great thing is – they come in so many different forms! Perhaps the most commonly used decoration, other than fruit, chocolate and sweets, is sprinkles – which can be found in a whole host of different colours, shapes and sizes.

Edible dust is a firm favourite among bakers due to its versatility – use it directly to add colour and sparkle to cakes, dust over stamped impressions or sugar flowers to make them really stand out, or knead into sugar paste or marzipan to colour. Alternatively, you could also mix edible powders with edible varnish medium to create your own edible paint – a big trend in the baking world right now! Using edible icing paint truly extends your design possibilities, allowing you to use a brush to paint leaves, flowers, berries, bows and much more.

Creating Your Own Edible Decorations

Cake Decorating

Creating advanced edible decorations may seem like the most work, however they will most definitely give you the most satisfaction once complete. Edible decorations can be made in a variety of ways, but one of the most popular techniques at the moment has to be die-cutting intricate designs. Using a die-cutting machine, edible wafer paper and specialty cake dies, you'll be able to create your own decorative designs in no time at all. What's more, you can adhere your edible die-cuts to your cake with specialist edible glue!

Another firm favourite among bakers is using cuttersmoulds and modelling tools to create flowers and butterflies with sugar paste, marzipan or florist paste. Beginning by cutting out a shape from your chosen modelling paste, you then need to press it into your choice of mould to create a deep emboss, imprinting the finer, more intricate details. You can even use a variety of modelling tools to add more detail to the decoration – ball tools are favoured for frilling flower petals, while veining tools are great for adding veins.

Using Non-Edible Decorations

Non-edible decorations add that final bit of charm to your design. Whether you want to add ribbon around the base of your cake, attach stars or hearts made of pipe cleaners to the top of your cake, stick on plastic figurines of the bride and groom or add those all-important candles, these decorations will no doubt impress.

How to Pipe Fine Lines

We've already described the different types of decorating tips available, the various designs you can create, and explained how to fill your piping bag, but what if you want to draw thin patterns or write a special message on your cake? This page looks at how to pipe fine lines, giving helpful hints and tips to aid the process.

Tip 1

It's important to note that you should be using a fine round or writing tip specially designed for creating fine lines. Tip number 1 is perfect for the job, or alternatively you could purchase a writing tip set.

Tip 2

Pipe with a smaller piping bag than usual – and don't fill it more than two thirds! It helps if the bag is made of paper as this aids the control of the icing flow and can be easier to grip.

Tip 3

For intricate iced designs or writing, it's best to paddle the icing with a spatula first to rid your icing of any air bubbles that could disrupt your piped line. But what is paddling? Paddling is an alternative to stirring – instead of stirring your icing, you simply mix out the bubbles with a paddling motion.

Tip 4

Always pipe with two hands – if you fail to do so, it'll be much harder to control your piping. Hold the bag with one hand (also using that same hand to squeeze) and use your other hand to keep the bag stable, consequently preventing a shaky squeezing hand.

Tip 5

It's best to practise piping for a little while before you begin piping the design onto your cake. It's essential that you can reach a consistent squeezing pressure as this results in a line of constant thickness. Practising with a practise board may be beneficiary as they often come with sheets of fine lines and letters as templates!

Tip 6

To achieve a perfectly straight line whilst piping, gradually lift the bag higher and towards you as you squeeze, then gradually lower the bag down as you reach the end of your line, thus allowing the line to drop down naturally straight. Keeping your tip very close to the icing as you pipe gives the line more room to be wobbly as it'll pick up any slight shake your hand may make.

Tip 7

Consider your font when lettering. For example, don't start out with very intricate, swirly letters – begin with something simple and straight, then allow yourself to progress to something more challenging. Have a little look at different fonts online rather than free-handing, it'll help you to practise different styles!

Tip 8

It's important to plan out your piping visually – the worst thing you can do is begin piping and run out of room! Consider the size of your font or design, as well as the spacing between the letters and where you'll place each word. When lettering especially, it's preferable if the words to sit straight – it could help to use some sort of ruler or guide to ensure this.

Tip 9

Use a cake turntable if you want to pipe fine lines onto the side of your cake  –  this means that you won't have or stop and start or move into awkward positions, allowing more control and straighter lines.

Tip 10

Finally, if you do happen to make a mistake, it's not the end of the world. To fix it, simply dampen a brush slightly and gently wipe away or flatten where you've made an error. You can then continue to pipe over the top  –  no-one will ever know!

What is Brush Embroidery?

Ordinarily, brush embroidery designs sit on a fondant-covered cake or iced biscuit for a strong, smooth base – but what designs can you actually create on top? Well, a lot more than you'd expect! Traditionally, cake decorators favour dramatic floral designs, however you honestly can go as far as your imagination takes you. From animal fur to ocean waves, the world truly is your oyster – if you're short of time but looking to impress, brush embroidery is definitely the technique for you.

What Do I Need For Brush Embroidery?

Royal Icing

Royal Icing

Royal icing will act as the basecoat for cookies as well as the embroidered design for both cookies and cakes. If icing cookies, it's recommended to ice the basecoat at a flood consistency. For the design, it's important to use soft-peak-to-stiff consistency icing to allow for brush manipulation.

Piping Bags and Tips

Piping Bags and Tips

You'll require a piping bag and a round tip for the icing basecoat (that's assuming you're decorating cookies), and then another set to create the embroidered designs. Round tip #3 is recommended for the cookies' basecoat, then tips #1 or #2 are ideal for the design, depending on your image size.

Brushes

Brushes

As expected, brushes are your primary tools in brush embroidery. Different sized and shaped brushes will produce different effects, but flat brushes are often preferred. If you're still perplexed, take a look at our Cake Decorating Brushes page to see which types of brushes are best for this technique.

Step-By-Step Brush Embroidery Process

It's important to note that brush embroidery can be completed with the help of a pattern or free-hand – it's all up to personal preference. If you're not using a pattern, simply skip that step.

Step 1

Step 1:

In advance: Prepare your cake or cookies. Bake your cake or cookies, then leave to cool. Depending on what you bake, smoothly cover with fondant or ice with flood consistency royal icing, then leave to set for a good few hours.

Step 2

Step 2:

Prepare your design. If using a pattern, imprint it onto the surface of your cake or cookie. This can either be done by gently pricking or scratching the design into the surface, or simply tracing.

Step 3

Step 3:

Prepare your royal icing. Get your icing to a soft-peak consistency for easier manipulation, but stiff enough to hold shape. As the icing hardens quickly, only fill your piping bag one quarter full or less.

Step 4

Step 4:

Begin piping the outline. Use a smaller-sized piping tip, depending on the size of your design – round tips #1 or #2 are ideal. It's important that you pipe one small line at a time. As the icing dries quickly, it's much more difficult to brush when it's semi-set!

Step 5

Step 5:

Create brushstrokes in the icing. You should try to work quickly, or at least before the icing begins to set. Starting from one end of the line and working your way down to the other end, use your brush to sweep the line of icing towards the centre of your design in short strokes. Use different brush sizes and shapes to create different effects. It's important to note, however, that brush embroidery should always be worked from the outside, then pulled in towards the middle of your design.

Step 6

Step 6:

Complete the rest of your design. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the entirety of your design has been outlined and brushed. It's crucial that you clean or wipe your brush often, thus allowing the bristles to have more of an impact on the lines of icing.

Step 7

Step 7:

Build upon your design. If desired, you could continue your brush embroidery design by building up layers to add even more texture and dimension, by changing icing colours for a contrast effect, or by adding tiny dots of icing to accent the design.

3D Cake Toppers

The first thing you need to consider is what modelling paste you want to use – but what's the difference between them all? The distinction lies in the ingredients used to produce them, which in turn affects their elasticity, pliability and final appearance. But which modelling paste is right for your design? We've created a Modelling Paste Chart to make that choice a little simpler!

Whipped Cream

Florist Paste
(also known as gum paste)

Qualities:

Flexible and pliable. Dries quickly to a hard consistency, holding its shape.

Ingredients:

Egg whites, gelatine, water, tragacanth gum, glucose, shortening & icing sugar.

Best uses:

Realistic cake toppers (animals, people, objects) and highly detailed flowers.

Whipped Cream

Sugar Paste
(also known as Ready-to-Roll Fondant Icing)

Qualities:

Soft and pliable. Dries to a soft but firm, consistency.

Ingredients:

Gelatine, water, glucose, glycerine & icing sugar.

Best uses:

Simple cake toppers such as basic flowers, embellishments and figurines.

Whipped Cream

Modelling Paste

Qualities:

Firm, but pliable and flexible. Dries harder then sugar paste.

Ingredients:

Sugar paste, carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC).

Best uses:

Simple, fun cake toppers or decorations that require more strength.

Whipped Cream

Marzipan

Qualities:

Very soft and pliable. Dries to a soft, smooth consistency.

Ingredients:

Almonds, egg whites, sugar.

Best uses:

Basic shapes and flowers, or rolled out to cover fruit cake.

Whipped Cream

Mexican Modelling Paste

Qualities:

Strong, elastic and can be rolled thinly. Dries smooth and hard.

Ingredients:

Tragacanth gum, glucose, water, shortening, icing sugar.

Best uses:

Finer details in cake toppers. Perfect for use in moulds and with cutters.

Whipped Cream

Pastillage

Qualities:

Less flexible than other pastes. Dries very hard and extremely quickly, holding its shape.

Ingredients:

Gelatine, water & icing sugar.

Best uses:

Sturdy, strong structures like sugarcraft building, furniture or 3D objects.

You also need to make sure you have all the basic tools required to shape and add finer details to your modelling paste. These could include cutters, a spatula, a rolling pin, a work board, brushes, stamens, cocktail sticks and a variety of modelling tools. If you're working from a cake toppers book or other instructions, please refer to the author's recommendations before you begin. If you're still looking for that essential guidance and inspiration, then why not view our selection of Cake Decorating Books?

Ultimately, cake toppers are constructed from basic shapes, using simple techniques – which you will then carefully sculpt and colour. Create anything from animals, people and fairies, to objects like shoes and boats. You can even create toppers for a huge range of occasions – such as spooky witches for Halloween, cheerful reindeer for Christmas and a jack-in-the-box for a new baby – or for a whole host of different themes, such as pirate, jungle or princess cakes. The possibilities are truly endless – the only limit is your imagination!