Decorations and garnishes turn a simply delicious dessert into a work of art.
With a pastry bag fitted with a variety of tips and a little practice, you have almost unlimited options for making beautiful designs on your desserts with whipped cream or frosting.
Two-Tone piping: Fill your decorating bag with two different colors of frosting or whipped cream to pipe marbled decorations or decorations with tinted edges. For these, use a decorating bag fitted with a medium or large star tip (about 1/4- to 1/2-inch opening). To make marbled stars, shells, or zigzags, carefully fill each side of the bag with a different color frosting or whipped cream. To give tinted edges to stars, shells, or zigzags, use a long metal spatula to spread a thin layer of one color frosting or whipped cream onto the inside of the entire decorating bag. Carefully spoon another color frosting or cream into the bag.
Edible flowers: Top almost any dessert with naturally colorful, edible flowers. Scatter small flowers over cakes or tortes, or break off some petals and sprinkle them over desserts. Choose any edible flower to decorate your dessert. If you plan to eat the flower, select one with a flavor that is compatible with sweets. Some good choices are pansies, violets, rose petals, and dianthus. Be sure to use only edible flowers around food even if you don't plan to eat them. To be edible, the flower must be free of both naturally occurring and man-made toxins. To find edible flowers, look no farther than your own garden, provided that neither you nor your neighbors use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Pick the flowers just before using, rinse, and gently pat dry. Or, look for edible flowers in the produce section of your supermarket. Flowers that come from a florist are usually treated with chemicals and should never be used with food.
Dusting: Dusting is one of the easiest decorating techniques to master. You can dust over cakes, tortes, cheesecakes, cookies, and even puddings. For toppings, try ground nuts, unsweetened cocoa powder, ground spices, coarse-grain or crystal sugar, extra-fine-grain sugar, cinnamon-sugar, powdered sugar, powdered sugar mixed with spices, unsweetened cocoa powder, or powdered food coloring. Sift the topping through a sieve or sifter onto the top of the dessert. When selecting the utensil to use, consider the fineness of your topping. A sifter works well for powdered sugar or unsweetened cocoa powder. Ground nuts will require a sieve with a coarser mesh. To dust a dessert top, spoon the topping of your choice into a sieve or sifter. Hold the utensil over the dessert. With your free hand, gently tap the utensil so a little of the topping comes out. Dust lightly, moving the sieve over the dessert to cover the whole surface. For a heavier coating, dust again.
Stenciling: Personalize your dessert by stenciling a unique design. It works best on cakes, tortes, and pastries with flat surfaces. For a stencil, use a purchased doily or a purchased stencil, or make your own stencil from lightweight cardboard. A doily can be cut into small pieces to use part of the design. To make your own stencil, draw a design on a piece of cardboard (a gift box or a manila folder works well). Then use a crafts knife to cut out the design. Place the stencil on top of the dessert surface. Sift the desired topping over the stencil, as directed for Dusting. If your stencil has large designs, use a clean, dry brush to brush any topping left on the stencil into the holes. This keeps the edges of your design sharp and clean. Carefully lift off the stencil. If you like, brush any remaining topping off your stencil and save the stencil to use another time. To stencil a design on a plate, choose a stencil with large holes. Place the stencil on the plate and lightly brush melted butter or shortening in the holes (or spray the holes with nonstick spray coating). Sprinkle the desired topping over the stencil as directed for Dusting. Carefully lift off the stencil.
Marzipan: Marzipan, a creamy almond confection, can be formed into a variety of fanciful shapes and decorations. Marzipan can be found in your grocery store or a gourmet or specialty store. To tint marzipan, break off a small portion and knead in a little liquid or paste food coloring. Add a tiny bit of food coloring at a time until the marzipan becomes a shade you like. Shape the tinted marzipan into tiny fruits; paint or roll out and cut with small cookie cutters into hearts, stars, etc.
Painting: Paint a colorful design on desserts, such as cookies, pastries, and frosted cakes. For paint, use powdered food coloring or petal dust. (Petal dust is a fine dusting powder that is available in many colors, including gold and silver. Use gold and silver petal dust to give a shimmery, glistening highlight to foods. Petal dust is available through mail-order sources or specialty stores.) You can use powdered food coloring or petal dust either diluted with a little alcohol or in its dry form. If you want a smooth finish, mix a little powdered food coloring or petal dust with a few drops of 90- or 100-proof alcohol. (Do not use rubbing alcohol.) The alcohol will evaporate quickly, so you may need to add a few more drops of alcohol to the coloring while painting. With a clean, small paintbrush, paint designs on your desserts. To give soft highlights to decorations made from marzipan, paint with the dry powdered coloring or petal dust. Use a dry, clean, small paintbrush to brush the coloring on the decoration. You may want to try brushing the powdered coloring or petal dust along the edges of the decorations.