Back when Nate and I started looking for cakes for our wedding, I developed a minor obsession with cake decorating. “I should just take a class or read a book and make my own dang cake!” I often exclaimed. I didn’t have time what with being bogged down in wedding planning, but I added it to my never-ending list of things to do. Finally, over two years later, I started a course at my local Michael’s store. Here are the cake decorating tips for beginners that I’ve learned so far!
Tools You Need
- Good Pans, the anodized aluminum kind
- Bake-Even Strips. These go around your cake pan so you don’t get as much of a “dome” in the center.
- Cake Leveler, because you will inevitably still get a little bit of a bump in your cake, and you don’t want that.
- Frosting Bags, Tips and Couplers
- Rolling Pin with Guides
- Dough Scraper for cutting straight lines, moving heavy cakes and smoothing frosting
- Basic Cookie Cutters
- Cake-Decorating Turntable
- Angled Spatulas
Ingredients. If you bake on occasion, you’ll have most of what you need already. Here are a few more things to add.
- Powdered Sugar will come in handy for homemade frosting
- Clear Vanilla, so you don’t darken your frosting
- Vegetable Shortening. I like Walmart’s brand because it’s more flavorful than Crisco and doesn’t have that weird buttery smell.
- Meringue Powder. It stabilizes the icing.
- Cake Release Spray or liquid. I prefer using the liquid kind with a brush so I can get it in all the nooks and crannies of the pan.
- Piping Gel
- Edible Food Coloring Pens. They take any dessert up a notch.
- Gel Icing Colors. These won’t thin your icing.
- Candy Melts
- Measure out all cake batter ingredients before mixing and mix for exactly as long as the recipe tells you to. Otherwise, you’ll get too much air in the mix and it will lead to cracking, or too little mixing which can lead to a sunken cake.
- Do NOT open the oven for the first 20 minutes while baking a cake. This will “shock” your cake. When finished cooking, test all cakes for doneness while they are still in the oven.
- Always put on more icing than you think you’ll need. This will ensure you don’t end up with crumbs on top of the icing. Always keep plenty of icing between the cake and the spatula so you don’t gouge your cake.
- Start small. Try decorating some cupcakes and cookies before moving on to cakes. Focus on one technique at a time – you have to master piped decorating before you can tackle fondant.
- To thin icing, add very small amounts of water at a time (approximately 1/2-1 teaspoon per cup of icing). 85% of your piping work will be done with medium-consistency icing. A spatula inserted into medium consistency icing will move slightly and start to lean when you jiggle the cup. When you do the same to stiff icing, the spatula will not move. In very thin icing, the spatula will fall over.
A Good Teacher
Whether it’s YouTube, a great book or an in-person class, find a guide to show you the ropes. I love the hands-on guidance I’ve received, but I’ve also gotten a ton of inspiration from books. Meagan Mountford’s book, Sugarlicious, shows step-by-step how to make perfectly decorated treats, with instructions for everything from how to use a piping bag to making petit fours. She understands how to communicate with beginners because she was recently just a beginner herself when she started what she thought would be a temporary job at a local bakery.
What I really love about this book is the vast array of advice. She includes everything from patterns and templates to instructions for how to wrap your finished sweets. She also walks the reader carefully through the basics of piping, handling fondant, coloring frosting, and more. There are a ton of cute treat ideas, with a few I plan to try out for Some Boy’s birthday!