Basic cake decorating

Article by: Allrecipes staff  |  Picture by: Allrecipes
Basic cake decorating
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With our cake decorating tips, you can turn any cake into an impressive centrepiece with ease. Perfect for decorating birthday cakes, wedding cakes, christening cakes and more.

Basic cake decorating step picture 1
Layer cakes

To create multiple layers, you will need:

• A long serrated knife
• Cling film
• Sugar syrup - plain or flavoured
• Pastry brush
• Cardboard cake circles (available at speciality shops or online, or you can make your own: cut a circle slightly smaller than the diameter of your cake tin)

Trimming the tops and bottoms off of your cakes allows you to moisten the cake layers with a sugar syrup. This adds moistness and flavour, keeping the cake from drying out. Sponge cakes especially benefit from a sugar syrup, and while making the syrup you can add lavender, vanilla, citrus and more to add another dimension of flavour to your cake.

Basic sugar syrup
Brandy sugar syrup

Basic cake decorating step picture 2
Trimming

To trim the cake, place it on a flat cutting board. Keep the palm of your non-working hand resting on the domed top of the cake. With your knife hand, lightly score the edge of the cake where you'll be making your cut. Rotate the cake so you can score it around the entire diameter. Now, begin to cut:

• Keep your knife level
• Use a gentle back-and-forth sawing motion
• Once you've made one back-and-forth cut, rotate the cake about 45 degrees, and repeat
• Cut and rotate until you've worked your way around the entire cake. You should be able to cut through the whole layer with another steady back-and-forth cut

Remove the cake scraps (they're great for snacking) and repeat with the bottom side of the cake. Because it's flat, you probably won't need to make as deep of a cut - you just want to slice off the very top layer of 'skin'.

Basic cake decorating step picture 3
Slicing

Depending upon your recipe, the size of the cake tin and how full the tins were, you need to decide whether you can realistically split your cake into two or three layers. Err on the side of caution - it's better to have a few thick layers than to try to patch together broken halves of cake.

Set the trimmed cake on a cake circle. Keeping your knife level, score the cake's edge, as described above. Continue with the back-and-forth sawing as you rotate the cake, until your knife cuts clear through the layer. Slip your hand under the cut layer, and gently transfer the cake to a sheet of cling film. Cover both layers until you're ready to ice the cake. Repeat with remaining cake.

For rich cakes...
If your recipe is really rich and dense, it helps to sprinkle granulated sugar on the cardboard cake circle before setting the cake on it; this will help keep your cake from sticking on the bottom.
The crumb coat

Applying a 'crumb coat' is the best way to achieve professional-looking results, especially if you want a smooth-sided cake. This is essentially a thin layer of icing that will help seal in the crumbs so that your final coat of icing will be that much easier to apply and crumb-free.

Have handy your cake circles, sugar syrup, icing and a damp sponge or cloth for wiping away stray crumbs.

Set your least-perfect cake layer on a cake circle, and apply simple syrup with a pastry brush. Add a healthy dollop of icing, and spread it across the surface with a palette knife, almost to the edge - the weight of additional layers will spread it out further. Top with another layer of cake; if you have a cracked or broken layer, sandwich it in here. As you add layers, bend down so the cake is at eye level: ensure the layers are stacked flush. Apply sugar syrup and icing at each step. When you reach your final layer, apply syrup and icing, spreading it to the edge of the cake. Add a dollop of icing to the side of the cake, and spread it thinly to cover as much as you can.

Sharp edges

When the sides of the cake are completely masked, use your palette knife to make a final, steady pass around the sides of the cake. The icing will have pushed up to form a rim above the top layer of the cake. Holding your palette knife away from you at the far edge of the cake, pull it towards you; you want the flat blade to skim the edge of the cake so excess icing is smoothed onto the top surface, toward the centre. Rotate the cake, continuing the swooping and gliding motion until the sides and top of the cake are smooth. Don't worry if there's cake showing through the icing; you'll cover that on the second round of icing.

Now, chill the cake in your fridge or freezer until firm.

Final coat

Apply the final coat of icing following the same steps as above, but be a little more generous in the application. Once you've covered the tops and sides of the cake, you can either keep it smooth and modern-looking, or make it fluffy with peaks, swoops and swirls in the icing. Use the back of a spoon or the tip of your palette knife to make swirls and peaks, adding a little more icing if necessary.

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An easy finish

For an easy but impressive finish to your cake, top your icing with any of the following:

• Fresh berries
• Glace fruits
• Hundreds and thousands or Non pareils
• Chocolate shavings
• Chopped nuts
• Sugar sprinkles
• Dragees

Many easy finishing touches, such as coloured sugar sprinkles and pre-made sugar flowers, are readily available from speciality shops and online.

You can also buy decorating icing in different colours from most large supermarkets if you wish to write a message on your cake, such as 'Happy Birthday!'.

More cake decorating resources

Check out our entire collection of Cake decorating tips, including advanced cake decorating techniques and videos!

Find thousands of cake recipes in our Cake recipe collection.

Try decorating your cake with anything from Royal icing to Buttercream frosting with our Icing recipes.

Article provided by:
Allrecipes

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