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Happy Wednesday everyone! I’m here talking about cakes again and I’m excited because this is the fun part. If you missed last week, I posted about how to bake birthday cakes and this week it’s all about easy ways to decorate them! You absolutely have to have solid, flat, delicious (obviously!) cake layers if you want to decorate a cake yourself so go back and read all those tips in Part 1 before you bake your cake.
Just as a side note, all my decorating tips are to be used with frosting. I’m not a fondant girl and I don’t think I’ll ever be one. 😉 Fondant doesn’t taste good and personally, I’m making my cakes so that they look cute but also so they taste delicious! Just taste the very best homemade frosting that I’ve been using for years (recipe down below in step 2) and I think you’ll see why.
I love to search Pinterest for cake inspiration. It is such a great idea resource! I find a few inspiration pins and then always put my own spin on an idea! You can check out my cake board here.
Decorating seems to be the scary part for everyone – I know it was for me when I started making my kids cakes. I promise though, these easy tips are all you need to make an amazing cake PLUS I’m going to share the very best homemade frosting recipe that I’ve been using for years.
Things you need:
Cake board (if your cake isn’t already on one) (Half sheet cake size, 8 and 9 inch round or 10 inch round)
Decorating Tips – see my favorites down in step 5
Gel Food coloring
Lots of my favorite homemade frosting – see step 2
Any decorating elements you choose (small toys, candles, etc.)
Angled Frosting knife
White piping bag couplers (totally optional – I use them when I need two different tips for the same frosting color – see step 5)
Rotating decorating turn table (also optional but makes turning cakes to decorate the sides a lot easier)
Step 1: Trim and/or carve your cake layers
If you followed all the steps in Part 1 for baking a flat (not raised in the center) cake then you really shouldn’t need to do much trimming off the top if at all. You do want your cake layers to be as flat as possible so if you see any raised areas, just easily trim them off with a serrated knife.
I love using cake shape as an easy part of my design. You can do this by carving the cake or using different size cakes to form a shape. I made this Paw Patrol cake by using a double layered 9 inch round cake and four cupcakes to form a paw.
I made these “2” cakes for my twins by carving 8 inch round cakes and an 8 x 8 square cake with the below tutorial from Cakebaker that I found on Pinterest for easy ways to make number cakes!
Whenever you carve a cake, I prefer to do the carving with a serrated knife on a separate cutting board and then move my carved pieces to my cake board. Doing it that way prevents tiny pieces of cake from getting stuck all over your board. (TIP: I put a tiny bit of frosting on the cake board where I am going to lay my cake so that it doesn’t slide around when the board is moved!)
Step 2: Mix up your frosting and color it!
I’ve made a lot of frosting when I’ve been baking but this recipe I’m going to share is my very favorite. I’ve been asked for this recipe a bunch of times when I bring my cakes places because it’s really amazing.
Wilton Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups of powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons of milk (I usually use the full 4 to make sure that the icing is not too thick to spread)
Cream butter and shortening together with a stand mixer or hand mixer. Mix in the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar, mixing between each cup you add. Gradually add the milk, until you reach the right consistency.
The amount of frosting you need to make depends on the size of the cake you have. In order to have enough frosting for a base coat and any frosting decorations I want to do, I listed below how many batches of my frosting I make up. It’s just a guide though, you may need more or less depending on how thickly you frost your cake and how many colors of frosting you need!
8 inch round double layer cake – 3 batches
9 inch round double layer cake – 3 batches
10 inch round double layer cake – 3-4 batches
Half sheet cake (12 x 18) – 4-5 batches
I strongly recommend that you mix up these batches individually or the frosting doesn’t mix properly. For example, if you need 3 batches do NOT triple the recipe in your mixer. Mix the recipe up 3 times. It’s worth it.
Use gel food coloring to color frosting in the amount you need for your design! I always use gel coloring instead of the traditional liquid. It gives brighter, deeper colors and also doesn’t add liquid to make your frosting too thin! In my experience, the color does get deeper with time. I’ve had trouble trying to mix up a bright red that just wouldn’t change from a dark pink. I used it anyway and the next morning it was very red!
Step 3: Stack your cakes
If you are making a single layer cake (like a half sheet cake) – you can skip this step!
If you are making a double layer cake, put a dab of frosting in the center of your cake board and place one layer of your cake with the top facing up. (The flat side that was in your pan should go against the board for a flat, level base.
Put a good layer of frosting in between them. It always needs more than I think. Nobody wants a dry cake!
Then place your second layer on top of the frosting, with the top side down and the flat side up. It’s okay if there is a bit of a gap in between the layers- you can fill that in with frosting!
Step 4: Give the whole cake a base layer of frosting
Before you begin, make sure your frosting is the right consistency to spread. It should not be too stiff or it will not spread easily and will pull off the top layer of your cake! If it’s too thick, just mix in a little more milk in half teaspoon increments.
With your frosting knife, take big dollops of frosting and place a few of them over your cake. Gently spread them around until the top is covered. Then carefully do the sides, making sure to fill in any gaps between your layers of cake. You want a good, thick layer of frosting. Your knife should not be scraping the top of your cake, only touching frosting if that makes sense.
If you have a small gap between the bottom of your cake and the board, don’t worry. We’ll cover that up. If you have carved your cake and find that your cake is breaking apart as you frost, you can always follow the below step for putting frosting in a piping bag and pipe on your frosting with a large tip. Just gently smooth the top out.
Step 5: Add your decorations!
This is the fun part! Now that you have your base layer over all your cake, you can go back and add anything you want. Place your frosting tip of choice in your piping bag, snip off the end and place it into a glass. Then fill up your bag with frosting, leaving enough room that you can twist it closed at the top.
There are probably hundreds of piping tips out there but these 5 are my favorites and the ones I most use.
# 1M – I always use for frosting cupcakes or for piping borders on cakes
# 12 – I use for general decorating, filling in shapes, or borders on cakes
# 3 – I use for fine decorating details and any writing I do
# 233 – Grass, Elmo’s hair, dog fur, anything fun like that. I love what this tip can do.
# 47– I think it’s purpose is supposed to be a basket weave or straight ribbon but I love using it for a border.
I’m not very good freehanding my designs so I love to use guides. I’ve lightly traced around cups, straight edges, etc. with a toothpick, then piped over it with frosting to make a design. I also love to print images off the computer on regular paper, cut them out and gently lay them on the cake to trace the shapes (especially with character cakes!). I traced the shield and the bone in the Paw Patrol cake I mentioned earlier.
I used a ruler to mark the web on this Spider-Man cake and traced the Batman shape from something I printed online.
And this soccer cake, I laid a smaller cake pan on top and lightly traced the shape for the soccer field!
I also love to decorate cakes with small toys or edible items. It’s an easy way to make your cake fit the theme without having to free-hand difficult decorations. The soccer balls and goals on that soccer cake and the Paw Patrol pups were perfect for those cakes. The train tracks on these “2” cakes were made with upside down Hershey bars, black icing and small toy trains. I loved using tractors and crushed up Oreo “dirt” to decorate this construction themed cake too!
Finally, I always place a border around the bottom of the cake to cover up the messy gap where it sits on the board. You can do anything with this you choose. Sometimes I just do dots of frosting, sometimes I try to be fancy with the basket weave tip.
** You can also use these white couplers if you want to use the same color frosting with different tips. You place the larger piece of the coupler inside your bag and snip off the end. The tip fits on the coupler outside the bag, and then the other piece of the coupler screws in around the tip to hold it in place. You can unscrew that and replace the tip with another without having to get a new frosting bag.**
Also, if you mess something up don’t panic! Either roll with it or scrape off your mistake, replace your base layer of frosting and try again. 😉 I may have done that a time or two.
That’s it! If I can do this, you can absolutely do this too. If you have any questions, contact me or post in comments! Your cake does NOT have to look perfect to be perfect for your child!
Happy cake decorating!