Handy Tips when Cake Decorating

Putting on the fondant for a basketweave
SarahSphar/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Learning all the intricacies of cake decorating can take a long time and even veteran designers acknowledge that they are never done discovering wonderful techniques or tricks to create better easier designs. Here are a few important tricks to help you in your cake decorating adventures.

Piping Tips

  • Make sure your icing is stiff enough for piping otherwise your leaves, rosettes or basketweave design will collapse. Try a practice rosette and watch if the detail disappears and becomes smooth.
  • When piping ruffles as a border at the bottom of a cake you should ensure the heavy part of the design is against the cake to hide it. The "ruffle" will be on the outside.
  • When piping swags on an iced cake always take the time to measure around the cake with a flexible tape measure and mark exactly where each swag should begin and end to ensure even spacing.

Fondant and Marzipan Tips

  • When rolling out marzipan do not sprinkle your work surface with cornstarch because it dry out the marzipan and your work can crack.
  • Coloring white fondant to black using black paste is impossible because the fondant will end up gray. Try creating dark green first, then add brown color and finally the black in stages. This will create a true black.
  • Commercial fondant can be less elastic than homemade. Try adding tylose or gum tragacath to the fondant to make it more elastic and less likely to tear when rolling or shaping designs.
  • Store fondant cut outs in a sealed container or wrapped in plastic until you need them or they might dry out and look less attractive.
  • Knead a little vegetable shortening into fondant before covering a cake with the fondant to make sure that cracking at the shoulder or seams will be at a minimum.
  • To remove air pockets from a fondant covered cake use a pin to prick the pocket and then gently smooth the air out using a fondant smoother. This is similar to removing air bubbles from wallpaper!

    Buttercream and Royal Icing Tips

    • Buttercream covered cakes that have been refrigerated will on occasion sweat when removed from the fridge. Do not try to blot or otherwise fix this unfortunate circumstance. Simply leave the cake sitting at room temperature until the moisture is reabsorbed.
    • Most of the decorations you usually pipe in buttercream can also be piped using royal icing.
    • Royal icing will break down when exposed to any type of fat or grease so it is important to not use any utensils or piping bags that have been used for buttercream. Plastic piping bags, in particular, cannot be cleaned thoroughly enough to remove residual grease even in very hot water.
    • Never pipe royal icing on a buttercream iced cake.

    Gum Paste Tips

    • If your gum paste is too dry knead a little white vegetable shortening into it before using to soften the gum paste and make it easier to use.
    • Use luster dust to make the pollen on the flower centers of lilies. Load a paintbrush heavily with yellow luster dust and apply liberally to the flower.
    • Always make extra wired petals or leaves when creating gum paste flowers in case of breakage or color mishaps.

    Misc Tips

    • Cakes decorating entirely in vivid bright colors can sometimes be less successful than a pastel-hued cake with bright accents. Obviously, some designs, especially topsy turvy cakes, are gorgeous in bold colors, so use your best judgment.
    • If you are using paper cones to decorate try securing the edge of the cone with masking tape or scotch tape to lessen the chances of it falling apart mid-squeeze.
    • When creating icing colors add the paste or gel color in small amounts using a clean toothpick. Stir to incorporate the color completely and then continue adding color until the icing is exactly the right shade. It is much easier to add color than remove it.
    • Always practice your design element before trying it on the cake to ensure the flow and texture of the icing is perfect.
    • When a top tier is placed on the bottom tiers it is important to cut the dowels so the cake will sink slightly into the top. This will eliminate the need to pipe a wide border to hide the cake board and gap.