How to Decorate a Cake: Pastry Bag Techniques

Create a beautiful birthday cake or a cake for a special celebration. Our Test Kitchen expert walks you through how to decorate a cake with a pastry bag, including the answer to the question: “Are disposable pastry bags OK to use?”

-I'm Sue with the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen. Using a pastry bag to decorate cakes or cookies is a technique that's a ton of fun. And with our secrets to success, you'll see how easy it is to hone your pastry bag prowess. Let me show you a few basics. First, the bag, the key is to choose one that's large enough for the job. In the test kitchen, we generally use a 12-inch bag for most decorating tasks. Some of us do like to use larger ones though, say about 10-inches which gives us plenty of room to grip and twist the top easily. While reusable canvass bags are traditional, we love the disposable plastics ones. They're inexpensive and available at any kitchenware store. And if you're in a pinch for piping, a gallon size re-sealable plastic bag will work just fine. Now, for one of our secrets, there are 2 ways to fit the bag with the tip. The first is using a coupler. Cut the tip of the bag so that it just goes over the first line of the coupler. Insert the coupler into the bag, select the tip you want to use. Place it on the coupler and then secure it with the ring. Using a coupler is especially good if you need to change the tip shape several times. If you don't have a coupler, simply cut the end of the pastry bag so the hole is large enough to expose half the tip yet tight enough to hold it in place. Now you're ready to fill. Turn the top of the bag over to make a large cuff. Form your hand into the letter "c" and slip the cuff over your hand, kind of like a pastry puppet. There's a good reason for doing this. It not only protects your hands from the sticky frosting but it also gives you an edge to scrape the frosting off your spatula. Beginning filling the bag that only about half way, this prevents the frosting from squeezing out the top and it also gives you much better control in piping. Unfold the cuff and then twist the top to force the frosting down into the tip. Now, this is important. Before piping, give the bag a good squeeze over your frosting bowl to remove any air bubbles. To pipe, twist the top of the bag again with your dominant hand and squeeze to force the frosting through the tip while your other hand guides the tip. Before tackling the cake, you might wanna practice on a piece of wax paper to work on your squeezing technique and to see how different tips work. Round tips are good for lines and writing while star tips makes more of a decorative statement with shapes like shell and simple zig-zag borders. Once you have it down, jus scrape the frosting back into the bag and use your new skills on a smoothly frosted cake. With a little practice and a few secrets from Better Homes and Gardens, it won't be long before your piping like a test kitchen pro.