Decorate a Cake

The purpose behind cake decorating is to turn an ordinary cake into a spectacular piece of food art. Decorating a cake can be as complex or as simple as you wish. Even a simple decoration can be highly effective, so you don't need to be afraid that you don't possess the skills needed to be good at decorating – much of it is about applying your creativity along with a little know-how on effective decorating.


  1. Visit a cake decorating supplier. It's worth spending time to wander around a cake decorating store to see what's available and what tickles your fancy. If there are items that you'd love to learn how to work with, consider talking with the store assistant to find out more and make a decision about what to try at home.
  2. Check out some cake decorations. You could head to a bakery, or just go on google images. The internet can definitely give you ideas and inspiration.
  3. Choose the right type of cake to decorate. Decorating a cake requires additional effort; hence, it makes sense for the reason to decorate it to be a good one. It wouldn't be worth trying to decorate cakes that are to be eaten warm from the oven, such as a cake topped in syrup or sauce. The point of such cakes is that they're already as good as they need to be. And some cakes are fine without decoration or with decoration, such as fruit cakes, and it is really the occasion that helps you to decide whether or not to decorate. Cakes that are suitable for decorating include:
    • Cupcakes
    • Christmas cakes
    • Wedding cakes
    • Children's party cakes
    • Special age birthday party cakes
    • A doll cake (known in the cake decorating world as a "Dolly Varden" cake)
    • Farewell cakes
    • Novelty "geek" cakes, often based on a computer, electronic, science fiction, etc., theme; often very fiddly work!
    • Gift cakes
    • Cakes for fundraising at bazaars, fairs, galas, etc.
    • Photo op cakes – cakes being photographed for a special occasion, a blog, a Flickr photostream, an instructional article, etc.
    • Cakes being entered into competitions.
  4. Decide on the type of frosting or icing you'd like to work with if icing a cake. It's important to feel comfortable with the frosting or icing techniques required for decorating cakes; some are more complicated than others and if you're just starting out, it's recommended that you don't take on difficult decoration projects until your confidence increases. Typical frosting or icing styles include:
    • Buttercream or Vienna cream – this is an easy-to-use frosting that fills gaps and covers up all sorts of unsightly cake bumps and dips! It produces a whipped cream style of appearance and can be smoothed down or allowed to settle in peaks. Buttercream frosting is easy to color and flavor, with typical flavors including chocolate, vanilla, lemon, coffee, and strawberry.
    • Fluffy frosting – this uses a frosting created by beating in an electric mixer. This must be applied on the day it is to be served; it has a marshmallow type consistency. In storage, the frosting becomes a little crisp and loses its gloss.
    • Sugar paste – sugar paste is rolled fondant. It's usually easiest to purchase it ready-made from cake decorating suppliers.
    • Royal icing – this is similar to sugar paste and is often available ready-made.
    • Pastillage – this icing comes from the cake decorating supplier in powder form and is very useful for intricate decorating work that you need to keep in shape. It's a sugar paste dough or gum and can also be made from scratch. The icing dries very quickly, and once dry, it is so hard it will "snap" if bent. It has a high ability to resist breaking down in the presence of moisture. The downside to this icing is that you'll need to work with it very fast, before it dries. If you want to use pastillage for modeling, you'll need to mix it 50/50 with sugar paste.
    • Petal paste – this icing is ideal for making flowers, as it produces extremely fine detail. It's a good idea to slightly dampen your fingers when working with this paste.
    • Sugar glue – this isn't icing but a "glue" that allows you to stick together pieces modeled from icing.
    • Modeling paste – this is a combination of sugar paste mixed with tragacanth gum to make an edible modeling paste.
    • Pre-made icing sheets with printed designs – these are popular for children's cakes and feature such designs as movie, cartoon, and TV show characters. Follow the instructions provided on how to apply these to the cake's surface.
    • Dusted icing sugar – while very simple, this can be very effective on the right type of cake, especially where the cake's constitution is already sufficiently rich without adding icing or frosting (such as flourless cakes and dessert cakes).
  5. Think beyond icing or frosting. There are many other means for decorating a cake besides icing or frosting. You can use such items in combination with icing, or add them direct to the cake. These include:
    • Arrange a Fruit Basket – fresh fruit pieces, dried fruit, fruit arranged into shapes such as flowers or animals, glazed fruit (with jam, etc.), toffee-dipped, crystallized rind, etc.
    • Flowers – edible flowers can make a cake appear very elegant
    • Cream – thickened cream can be shaped into quenelles, spread over a cake, used for filling or piped on
    • Candies – all sorts of candies can make excellent cake designs
    • Drizzled chocolate – either randomly drizzled, or in a pre-determined pattern
    • Dusted cocoa or other chocolate – chocolate curls, sprinkles, pieces, shapes, etc.
    • Nuts – especially halved, slivered, or shaved nuts
    • Streusel topping – baked on, no need to decorate other than a quenelle of cream next to each serve
    • Toffee strands, shards, or shapes – you'll need to practice making these until you get the knack of it but toffee can work well as a decorative element on a cake
    • Coconut (shredded or desiccated) – coconut can be colored using food coloring (use wet hands or wet gloved hands to rub the coloring through); it can also be toasted
    • Jam or preserves.
  6. Learn some other essential techniques required for decorating cakes successfully. There are a number of helpful techniques that can help your cake decorating experience:
    • Painting on sugar – use food coloring and a small, fine paintbrush for painting color on sugar paste, petal paste, pastillage, and royal icing. The paintbrush must be barely dampened, in order to avoid causing color run on the icing or sugar model.
    • Stippling – use a medium sized brush with a firm head to dot paint across a smooth icing surface.
    • Piping on icing or frosting – piping is an excellent way to create designs on the surface of a cake. Designs can include flowers, hearts, writing, borders, patterns, etc. Piping equipment can be purchased commercially, or you can make piping bags using paper or plastic at home.
    • Shaping cakes – the ability to create amazing shapes in cakes is about breaking down square, rectangle or circular cakes through "sculpting" and reassembling them into the desired shape. Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut a basic butter cake or madeira cake into the appropriate shapes, following the instructions of a recipe. If you accidentally cut off more than you wished, "glue" it back on using buttercream.
    • Always decorate the rim of the cake unless this would detract from your design. Take a piping bag and make draping designs around the cake. In general, leaving the rims and sides un-iced makes the cake look "unfinished".
  7. Use color creatively. When choosing the color themes for your decorated cake, consider the following things to help you choose the right colors:
    • Is the cake for someone who adores a particular color?
    • Is the cake a character cake that needs to be colored in a particular way? Many children's cakes will be like this, and you can use photos online to guide your coloring choices.
    • Is the cake for a special occasion, such as a graduation party? In this instance, you might like to use the person's future college colors!
    • Use Sprinkle Sprinkles, other frosting colors, or different types of chocolate for extra color.
  8. Learn how to turn an ordinary piece of food into something decorative. There isn't enough space to explain the art of making decorations out of candies, dried fruit, vegetables, other baked goods, etc., but it's important to be creative when you're trying to make features for a cake. For example, you can make a perfectly acceptable mouse by using a date with two small candies tucked in for ears and a long rope of Make Brownie Faces sticking out as a tail. When placed on a cake, it makes for a realistic mouse. Or, use round candies as porthole windows in a ship, sliced marshmallows as flower petals, button candies as keys on a keyboard or phone pad, form a white ball of frosting as a golf ball, etc., and many candies can be put to imaginative use as eyes, whiskers, ears, noses, tails, etc.
    • Use online searches for cake decorations (photos, blogs, etc.), to inspire new ideas for using food items creatively on your cakes.
  9. Use ready-made decorations. While there is no need to over-complicate a cake with anything inedible, sometimes adding plastic or paper decorations can add special touches that none of the previously discussed methods can achieve. Some examples include:
    • Wedding cake toppers such as depictions of the bride and groom, bells, doves, or an archway.
    • Animals for a farm, theme park, or zoo scene. Where making all these animals in modeling paste might be too time-consuming or frustrating, turning to the plastic equivalent is a cinch. Just be sure that they're thoroughly washed first.
  10. Use beautiful serving plates. Ensuring that the cake plate is suited to the overall design will ensure the cake's final decorative touch.
    • Plates with patterns should not clash with the decorative design. Yet, with a cake that is more plainly decorated, a patterned plate can set it off perfectly.
    • Basic white plates are elegant and easy to match to all decorative styles.
    • Bold colors on plates can work well provided it doesn't clash with the cake's main color.
    • Glass plates are lovely with decorated cakes; there is an old world effect brought about by a cake on glass.
    • Cake stands are perfect for many decorated cakes; they lift the cake up for ease of viewing and make it the centerpiece of the table.
    • If you don't want to use a plate or a cake stand, consider using a cake board. Cake boards make it easy to handle the cake for transportation, whether it be from your kitchen to the dining room, or from your kitchen via the car to somewhere else completely! These can be made at home using cardboard or thin wooden board covered with foil, or they can be purchased ready-made from a cake decorating supplier.

This video offers decorating ideas for any cakes.


  • Color mixes are as follows:
    • Orange = yellow + red
    • Purple or violet = blue + red
    • Aqua or teal = green + blue
    • Light or lime green = yellow + green
  • Gift wrappings for cakes can be considered another element of cake decoration, and can be as elaborate as you'd like, and even match your cake design if wished. Some presentation wrappings to consider include candy bags for cake slices, boxes, cellophane bags or wraps, baskets, cloth, glass containers, and wooden boxes. Whatever you choose, be sure that it is food-grade, non-toxic and will fit the cake or cakes properly.
  • If you're not sure about the design, always get a second opinion before presenting the cake.
  • Take your time when icing.
  • Food colorings come in powder, liquid, and paste forms. The powders and pastes tend to have more intense colors than the liquids. Dissolve powders in a small amount of hot water before use, while pastes and liquids can be added direct to frosting and icing. When adding color, always err on the side of caution and add more if needed.
  • If you find you enjoy cake decorating, consider buying secondhand and new cake decorating books off online auction sites or from bookstores, to increase your decorating knowledge.
  • You can make a piping bag by simply taking an air-tight bag or food bag and squeeze the icing to a corner and cut to adequate lengths.
  • Taking culinary and baking classes can boost your knowledge in cake decoration.


  • If you don't want to use an icing base that relies on egg white, use either a pasteurized egg white, or a no-egg replacer equivalent.
  • Don't use hard boiled candies or small toys on cakes for children under 3. They can present a choking hazard, even if you mean to remove them – it's too easy to be distracted during a party.
  • Food coloring stains. Be sure to wear an apron or other form of covering to protect your clothing. Wear latex gloves when handling; although it will wash off, it can take several days before this happens.

Things You'll Need

  • Decorative items
  • Food items
  • Icing or frosting ingredients
  • Serving plates or cake boards
  • Design inspirations
  • Decorative icing tips (optional)
  • Plastic bag

Related Articles

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  • Transfer Cupcake Batter from the Bowl
  • Create a Marbled Effect in a Cake
  • Stop Sponge Rolls from Breaking or Cracking
  • Make Frosting
  • Make a Sheet Cake You Can Decorate
  • Transport a Decorated Cake
  • Make Homemade Color Paste for Cake Decorating
  • Make Frosted Cake Plates

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