How to decorate a cake
Here are Angela Romeo's top tips for decorating a show-stopper cake. From the perfect buttercreams, to intricate piping techniques, she covers it all.
Vintage style cake decorating is trending at the moment, and we're all for it! Whether it's for a birthday cake, wedding cake or christening cake, wow your guests with these expert decorating techniques. Your sponge can be any flavour, from chocolate cake to lemon drizzle, or red velvet to coffee cake, just pick your favourite flavour and get decorating!
It all begins with...
Get the foundations right. For a super smooth surface, ready to decorate or pipe on, start with a polished crumb coat and a fab final coat:
Apply a second coat of buttercream, applying little and often with a cutlery knife, then follow steps 4-5 above for a smooth canvas on which to decorate.
This buttercream is perfect for decorating celebration cakes. The mixture of butter and vegetable fat means the buttercream will form a light crust when set, which is perfect for heavily decorated cakes as it can be touched lightly without leaving a mark. Use 3 parts butter to 2 parts white vegetable fat. For a large celebration cake, with a hand-held electric hand whisk, whisk together 300g softened butter with 200g of vegetable fat until pale and fluffy. You need a ratio of 1 part fat to 2 parts icing sugar, so gradually whisk in 1kg of icing sugar, in batches. Add 2tbsp cold water and 2tsp vanilla extract, whisk until pale and fluffy.
Using the same ratio of 1 part fat to 2 parts icing sugar, and 1tbsp cold water, use vegan spread in place of the butter. You can use 3 parts vegan spread to 2 parts white vegetable fat to give a slightly lighter colour, but using vegan spread alone makes a really creamy buttercream. It won’t crust, but is great for piping on smaller, simpler designs, such as a rose-shaped swirl on top of a cupcake.
Bright white buttercream
Using white vegetable fat alone in a ratio of 1 part fat to 2 parts icing sugar will not crust but it will give you a brilliant white colour. As it remains tacky, it’s a great surface if you are wanting to completely coat a cake in buttercream and then stick sprinkles to part, or all of the surface.
Seamless run of piping
Make sure you have plenty of buttercream in the piping bag, give it a gentle massage to ensure there are no air pockets as these could break the line mid-flow.
Use an open star nozzle to create a line of shells – perfect for piping around the edges of your cake. If you are using a small or medium sized nozzle, hold the nozzle at a 45º angle to the top of the cake, squeeze and release so a shell-shaped bead of buttercream comes out of the bag, moving the icing bag along, whilst continuing with this squeeze and release motion. Unless you have a motorised turntable it’s best to pipe a quarter at a time using this method - it will not affect the overall design, it will be so highly patterned you won’t notice any ‘joins’.
If you are wishing to pipe a border of large shells using a larger nozzle, you will have more control piping them individually, rather than in a continuous line.
For beginners, a great place to start, is to pipe a border on a rectangular cake or traybake, as a straight line is easier to pipe.
String work and dots
To pipe string work, hold the nozzle at a 90º angle to the side of your cake. Start with a gentle squeeze to create a sturdy starting point, then ease off the pressure a little whilst continuing to pipe a ‘U’ shape. To finish each string, gently squeeze a little more on the piping bag to create a dot, this will enable a clean break before starting the next one.
Open and closed star nozzles are perfect for this. Closed star nozzles give a slightly more ‘frilled/ flower’ effect to pen star nozzles. To cover the top of a cake, hold the piping nozzle vertically to the surface of the cake, pipe straight down onto the surface to create a star shape then move around the star in a circular motion, whilst realising slightly towards the end. To decorate the sides of a cake, hold the nozzle at a 90º angle to the cake.
There are lots of piping nozzles coming in all shapes and sizes, out there, but here are 5 of my favourite styles.
Open star nozzles
Wider tooth star nozzles are great for getting the perfect Mr Whippy-style swirl on a cupcake! This is also a must for "shell" piping.
Closed star nozzles
Closed star nozzles, when piped in a rosette fashion, can give a very realistic flower shape.
Petal nozzles are a must for creating flowers. Large nozzles are great when positioned vertically against the side of a cake to create vintage-style ruffles.
Smaller round nozzles are perfect for piping dots, swirls and strings. Large rounds are great for modern swirls on cupcakes or use to squeeze individual peaks around the top of a tiered cake.
Large leaf nozzles
Great for adding leaves to flower designs. Hold the nozzle so the narrow opening is horizonal to the surface, then at a 45º angle, squeeze the piping bag gently and pull away.
Whilst we encourage you to invest in a non-disposable piping bag for eco-friendly reasons, even disposable piping bags can be washed and re-used a few times. To wash your piping bags, turn inside-out, wash with hot, soapy water, and leave to dry over a bottle.
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Speedy Cinnamon Roll Mug CakeClassic buttercream Vegan buttercream Bright white buttercream Seamless run of piping ShellsString work and dotsRossettesOpen star nozzlesClosed star nozzlesPetal nozzlesRound nozzlesLarge leaf nozzles