Cake Decorating Tips
I've been decorating baked goods since I was little, mostly learning by trial and error as I go, watching YouTube videos and baking shows. I'm still very amateur, but I've started to get more serious about my cake decor. I did my friend's wedding cake, as well as her bridal shower cake, my own graduation cake, and my parents' 25th Anniversary cake.
I am by no means an expert on this, but if you are an amateur or a beginner as well, here are some simple tips.
1. The cake itself is the foundation of any decorating process. Think about the height of your cake. I do tiered cakes, so the cakes I bake have to firmer to support the weight, while still being moist and delicious. If you're only doing a single or double layer cake, you don't have to worry so much about this.
2. Always make sure your cakes are cold before decorating them.
3. Your frosting must be the right consistency. I usually use buttercream when I decorate my tiered cakes. When you make buttercream, always use real butter, and powdered sugar. Please, never use granulated sugar! I usually use cold butter in my buttercream. It takes longer to whip, but in the end, It doesn't melt against your hands when you're piping, and it holds the cakes together better. Another tip is to always make extra. You will never have enough buttercream when making tiered cakes. I always have to make several batches.
Never use milk in your buttercream! Butter doesn't spoil but milk does! If your cake is going to be outside in the sun or in a warm environment where the butter may melt, I'd suggest making a Crisco based frosting. It sounds weird, I know, but it's actually really yummy, and it holds up longer than buttercream. You can look up recipes on Google.
4. Always level your cakes. Your cakes must consistently be flat, and not angled. I've made this mistake several times. You may think it doesn't matter, but it does when your cake starts to become the leaning tower of Pisa. Also, try your best to make sure the width of your cakes are the same size, and are smooth. This will also affect the end result.
5. Stack your cakes as straight as possible with generous amounts of buttercream. Don't skimp out.
6. After you stack the cakes, put in the fridge for 30 min. You'll want the buttercream to become solid and hold the cakes in a solid position before you begin pushing it around as you decorate.
7. There's this thing called a crumb coat. I know most of us usually want to just frost the cake and get it over with, but if you do that, you have a high possibility of very obvious crumbs making an entry. A crumb coat is a thin layer of buttercream that you put on the cake immediately after you remove the stacked and chilled cake from the fridge, to trap those annoying crumbs. After the whole cake is covered in buttercream, gently scrape off all the extra cream. You should be able to clearly see the individual cakes beneath white veil of cream. Chill for another 30 min. to set.
8. For a naked cake, I usually use two layers of buttercream. The crumb coat, and a thicker layer. If you aren't making a naked cake, you may need several layers of buttercream. Always chill for 30 min. between each layer.
9. If your making a tiered cake, always use dowels. Cake decorators use small wooden dowels cut to size, inserted in the middle of the bottom cakes to add support. If you don't use dowels, your cake may start to lean, or even worse, collapse. I don't use wooden dowels, instead, I use Bubble Tea straws. They work just as well, and are easier to cut to size. Cheaper too. I usually make two tiered cakes, so I only need to insert dowels on the bottom, larger cake. Then I add a dollop of buttercream and stack the second tier on top. The buttercream is chilled, so I don't have to work about messing it up with my hands as I try and situate it. I use three to four bubble tea straws in the center of the bottom tier.
10. If you're transporting the cake, it's probably a good idea to stick a longer dowel (or straw) straight through the top of the fully stacked cake. Cut off any extra straw, and stick it down until you can't see the top of the straw anymore. You can use a dollop of buttercream to hid the hole. Another tip is to always plate your cake before stacking it. It's really heavy and will be hard to move if you wait until after.
11. All you have to do now is finish with your own decorations. I'm not going to go into piping because I'm not very good at it yet, but I do enjoy pallet knifing. If you've ever taken an art class, you may be familiar with the term as it's a common tool for painting. The principles are pretty much the same. You can look at my Graduation cake below and see how I used this technique.
12. My last tip is to not overdo it. If you're anything like me, you may often want to just keep going and strive for the best, but I've learned that the best cakes are often the most simple. Okay, that's not my last tip. My last tip is, if you choose to decorate with flowers, please check whether or not your flowers are poisonous or not. Also make sure they are clean. Sticking them in a cake means that anything in or on those flowers is going to be coming into contact with someone's stomach, and a case of food poisoning is a lot worse than an ugly cake. When setting up my flowers, I cut the stems off until they're just little stubs. I use a piping back with a large tip to make a big dollop of buttercream and then I stick my flowers in that big dollop. This way, when you're ready to serve the cake, you just have to scrape off that extra mound of buttercream!