Our guide to cake decorating
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to cake decorating

First published date October 23 2013 Amended date March 10 2015

If you’ve perfected your Victoria sponge, and your cupcakes are divine, you may want to explore making the very most of your bakes by learning the fine art of cake decorating. From a foundation course to help you get your head around Royal icing to specialisms like sugarcraft or celebration cakes; cake decorating is a hugely creative and skilled craft that can be hugely rewarding – both personally and for a bakery business.


The basics of cake decorating

The simplest way of giving cakes and cupcakes the wow factor is to get to grips with some simple piping techniques. If you can master these relatively simple skills, you’ll be on a good footing to start experimenting.

Piping takes a little practice to build your confidence, but it won’t be long before you’ll be able to wield a piping bag like a pro. There are plenty of fabulous YouTube tutorials you can follow, but just getting started is by far the best way to begin.

We recommend metal icing tips – there are lots to choose from, but the basic selection is round, leaf, drop flower, ruffle, basket weave, rose, star and multi-opening. We also recommend you invest in a coupler; a nifty little piece of equipment that holds your icing bag and secures your tip; very useful if you want to change tips without changing bags.


Cupcakes from heaven

When it comes to decorative trends in recent years, no cake has been more audaciously adorned than the humble cupcake. Gone are the days of a simple fairy cake with a dollop of buttercream and a sprinkle of icing sugar, these days the cupcake is king; and his crown is enormous!

The best kind of icing for a majestic cupcake is, of course, glorious buttercream. This smooth, rich topping is made from blending butter, sugar (and sometimes eggs), adding colouring then piping onto the cake in bouncing, glorious peaks or curling, fluid swirls.


There are four main types of buttercream:

  • American: icing sugar blended with softened butter, a drop of milk and a little vanilla. This buttercream is very sweet and rich.
  • Swiss: beaten egg whites with a light corn syrup, white sugar and softened butter. This is lighter and less sweet than American buttercream.
  • French: beaten egg yolks with sugar syrup and softened butter. This delicate buttercream is light in colour and melts easily.
  • Italian: sugar syrup blended into beaten egg whites with white sugar and softened butter. This tastes much like Swiss buttercream, but care must be taken when adding the sugar syrup to the beaten eggs - not too fast, but not too slow!


The FONDations

Fondant icing can be used for is an integral part of any occasion cake. Almost every wedding cake you come across will be wrapped in a thin, even layer of fondant icing before any other adornments are added.

Working with fondant isn’t always easy. Getting a smooth, even and flawless finish comes with skill and practice. To whet your appetite, here are a few top tips:

●     make sure that your pre-icing layer is as smooth as possible; ganache works well to create a super-smooth layer, although apricot jam or a meringue buttercream also work well.

●     knead your icing in sections (keeping the other sections covered to prevent them drying out) then, when each section is smooth and pliable, knead them all together

●     use a little glycerine or shortening to help soften the icing

●     when you’re rolling out the icing, roll it larger than you’ll need, then roll the whole thing back onto your rolling pin rather than trying to lift it onto the cake


Practice makes perfect

Having a go at home is a great way to get started, but you may want some expert tuition when it comes to perfecting the art of cake decorating. Whether it’s a foundation course or something more advanced, a cake decorating course is likely to take you through sugarpaste, sugarcraft, piping, moulding, stencils and sugar modelling.

Delicate, beautiful fondant flowers can make a cake really special, and a course will help you understand the basics of construction. You may find yourself learning the intricacies of delicate orchids, blooming roses, smooth ivy, spikey holly or even twigs or pinecones. Colour matching is a vital part of creating fondant flowers, as well as specific sugarpaste techniques and balancing tone and adding those vital finishing touches.


Here comes the bride

Wedding cakes are big business – and it’s no wonder. The time and effort that goes onto a wedding cake is almost unrivalled. So, whether you’re looking to start your own business, expand your existing offering or simply gain some new skills, a course that will teach you the techniques and specialisms you’ll need to create a beautiful wedding cake is the perfect choice.

Wedding cakes are usually made up of multiple tiers, covered in smooth fondant icing and adorned with details such as brush embroidery, fondant flowers, lace or pearl details and beautiful, elaborate border work. A cake decorating course will help you with designing and planning, and may even help with working with customers to turn their dreams into a reality.


Celebrate good times, come on!

Celebration cakes for birthdays, weddings, special occasions or seasonal festivals are a fun and creative way of sharing an occasion. Part of a cake decorating course will often focus on sugarcraft; the manipulation of fondant icing or moulding chocolate into colourful figures that tell a story and bring the cake to life.

Sugarcraft combines artistic creativity with a very precise set of skills, and a master teacher can really help to get your creative juices flowing. Whether it’s a pirate atop a ship or monkey swinging through trees, the only limitation when it comes to sugarcraft is your imagination.

To get started, why not try and make a simple sugarcraft figure of yourself or a friend? Again, there are some wonderful YouTube videos to help you get started, and once you’re hooked you can choose from a range of cake decorating classes to find the perfect one for you.



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