Cake Decorating Ideas and Tips

Does the idea of baking, frosting, and tastefully decorating a cake from scratch seem a bit overwhelming? It shouldn't. If you need to know how to decorate a birthday cake, how to decorate a cake with frosting, or just a few general cake decorating techniques, you've come to the right place. Get cake decorating inspiration with our easy ideas, and follow our basic steps to turn batter, frosting, and your desired toppings into a showstopping centerpiece.

Cake Decorating Techniques

We share the secrets for decorating a cake like a pro -- watch as our Test Kitchen expert frosts a gorgeous layer cake, sharing her tips about the tool she uses, plus the best way to keep your cake pedestal clean for a beautiful presentation.

Easy Cake Decorating Ideas: Add Piping

Using a pastry bag with a large star tip will help you re-create the look of this Double-Layer White Chocolate Cake. Tint each row of frosting a darker shade to produce an ombre effect.

An easy technique that gives your cake a sophisticated look is piping your frosting through a pastry bag. There are different types of bag tips that will get you different looks on your cake:

  • Round tips are used to make lines, dots, and writing.
  • Star tips are used to create stars, shells, flowers, decorative borders, and rosettes.
  • Leaf tips are used to make leaf shapes.
  • Basket-weave tips are used to make lattices and ribbonlike lines and borders.

How to Decorate a Cake with Frosting

  • Fill a pastry bag about two-thirds full of frosting.
  • Fold the corners over, and roll the bag down to the frosting.
  • With one hand, grip the bag near the roll above the frosting.
  • Apply pressure with the palm of your hand, forcing the frosting toward the tip.
  • Use your other hand to guide the tip of the bag.

Try the recipe for our Double-Layer White Chocolate Cake

Get step-by-step instructions for how to frost a cake

Easy Cake Decorating Ideas: Add Creative Toppings

Our recipe for the cake shown uses a sweet combination of sliced strawberries and halved chocolate sandwich cookies.

Instead of achieving the perfect look for your cake with piped frosting, you can get a creative look by adding fresh fruit, purchased cookies, and nuts. Here are a few creative cake-topping ideas, including inspiration for how to decorate a cake with strawberries:

  • Whole small berries
  • Sliced fruit
  • Pecan, cashew, or walnut halves
  • Sliced or slivered almonds
  • Chopped hazelnuts, pistachios, or peanuts
  • Toasted or raw flaked or shredded coconut
  • Gingersnaps
  • Cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies

Cake Decorating Tip: Be sure to serve cakes embellished with cookies or fresh fruit within two hours.

Get the recipe for our Berries & Cookies Cake Topper

Easy Cake Decorating Ideas: Use Baking Decorations

Our Rainbow Pinwheel Cake pops with color. To get clean lines when decorating with nonpareils, use strips of waxed paper to provide borders.

Check out the baking aisle at supermarkets, crafts stores, or specialty food stores for some of these edible garnishes. Here are a few that you'll find, plus tips on how best to use them:

  • Nonpareils: Available in mixed or single colors, these tiny opaque balls add a touch of color and texture to your cake.
  • Colored decorating sugars: Choose from a wide variety of colors of coarse sugars, such as sparkle sugars, or finer-grain sanding sugars to add sparkle to your cake.
  • Pearl sugar: These small, opaque white balls of sugar add a unique texture to cakes.
  • Edible glitter: This flaked, colored sugar adds a glistening look to cakes.
  • Jimmies: Also called sprinkles, these tiny cylindrical decorations are available in single or mixed colors.
  • Confetti: These colorful, flat cake decorations come in many shapes for just about every occasion and holiday.

Cake Decorating Tip: Use stencils to create shapes such as hearts with edible glitter, decorating sugars, or nonpareils.

Get the recipe for our Pinwheel Rainbow Cake

Easy Cake Decorating Ideas: Use Candy

Gum balls are an appropriate candy choice for this creative cake. Get the recipe!

Decorating a cake with candy provides you with tons of creative ideas. Here are a few types of candy that can easily be arranged to make decorative patterns and borders:

  • Miniature candy-coated chocolate pieces
  • Chocolate-covered peanuts or raisins
  • Jelly beans
  • Gumdrops
  • Licorice strips
  • Fruit rolls or leather
  • Peppermint sticks
  • Whole or crushed malted milk balls
  • Sour fruit-flavor straws

Get the recipe for our Gum Ball Machine Cake

Check out 11 more fun ways to decorate a cake with candy!

Easy Cake Decorating Ideas: Hide a Surprise Inside

Sometimes you can't judge a cake by its frosting. For our Pot of Gold Rainbow Cake, we used frosting to make the cake look like a rainbow, but we hid the real surprise inside. The outside doesn't have to be plain (it can be just as candy-coated as the inside!), but it's a fun surprise to cut into a simple cake and reveal overflowing sprinkles or candies. No matter how basic the surface decorations are, nothing is more impressive than cutting into a cake to reveal chocolates, sprinkles, or other candies tucked away inside. To create this effect, bake four round cake layers. Leave two of the layers intact, and cut a small circle out of the center of the two remaining layers. Place one whole layer on the bottom and frost, then stack the two layers with a cut-out hole on top, frosting each layer in between. Fill the center hole with your desired filling, then top it off with the last whole cake layer. Frost as desired, and wait for the big reveal when you cut the first slice! Here are a few ideas for filling the inside of your cake:

  • To make a pot of gold worthy of St. Patrick's Day, use gold candy-coated chocolate balls
  • For the ultimate chocolate lover, fill a cake with miniature versions of their favorite candy bar or other chocolate treat
  • To celebrate a birthday, fill the center with multicolored sprinkles for a festive surprise after blowing out the candles
  • Try using just pink or blue sprinkles for a sweet surprise at a gender reveal party

Cake Decorating Basics: Choosing the Frosting

Before you can start cake decorating, you have to generously spread the base frosting along all sides of your cake. We used the Vanilla Sour Cream Frosting recipe in this photo.

Before getting started on any cake decorating, you'll have to choose a frosting. You can easily whip up a homemade frosting, or if you're tight on time, use storebought frosting (it's just as good!). Keep in mind that creamy frosting varieties work best for piping, and whipped frosting varieties spread and swirl smoothly and evenly.

Having trouble choosing a frosting? Learn how to make our classic buttercream frosting.

Cake Decorating Basics: Adding Color to Frosting

When cake decorating, the color options for frosting are practically limitless.

After choosing the frosting you'll use, you have to decide whether you want to tint or flavor your frosting. Butter frostings, white frostings, and cream cheese frostings can be tinted almost any color and flavored to match the cake's flavor.

How to Color Frosting

There are three ways to add color to frosting (one also adds flavor!). Paste or gel food coloring is highly concentrated and comes in a variety of colors (you can find it at hobby stores and specialty cooking stores). A little goes a long way with this type of food coloring—just swirl a toothpick into the coloring and mix well with your frosting. Add the color little by little until you have your desired hue.

Liquid food coloring is more commonly found in grocery stores and is usually packaged in a set of four colors: red, yellow, green, and blue. To use, stir drops of food coloring into the frosting (mix and match the primary colors to get creative hues!) until you achieve your desired color.

If you want to skip the artificial dyes, you can follow our instructions for naturally coloring frosting. Since this method uses blended fruits and veggies, it will add a little bit of flavor to your frosting. Feel free to get a little creative mixing up your colors, but you can also follow our guide for using strawberries, peaches, mangoes, and more to make pink, purple, yellow, and green frosting.

Get our instructions for how to color frosting with fruits and veggies

How to Flavor Frosting

For a little something extra, you can add flavor to your frosting to complement the flavor of the cake. Choose from various flavorings and extracts, such as vanilla, almond, rum, or maple, as well as different liqueurs (raspberry, hazelnut, coffee) and citrus zest to add standout flavors before decorating your cake.

Quick How-To: Bake and Frost a Cake

Best Cake Decorating Tools for Frosting

Whether you're throwing on a quick crumb coat or trying to create the ultimate smooth edge, any cake decorator needs a few trusty cake supplies for frosting. For spreading frosting across the top of the cake or along the sides, use an off-set spatula. This tool can also be great for creating pretty frosting swirls on the top and sides. If you want to smooth out the frosting on the cake, or blend piped stripes of frosting together, be sure you have a bench scraper handy. And of course, to make frosting and smoothing much easier, be sure to place your cake on a turntable or rotating cake stand before frosting. This will make adding and smoothing frosting SO much faster!

Learn how to use a bench scraper for the ultimate smooth edge on frosting

Best Cake Decorating Tools for Piping

If you want to create wavy rows, gorgeous flowers, or pretty swirls, piping is the answer. You can use a piping bag with tips if you want to be able to pipe different shapes of frosting, or you can fill a plastic bag with frosting and cut off a small corner if you just want to be able to pipe straight frosting. This method is best for piping lettering, stripes, or drawing freehand designs with frosting.

Don't have a piping bag? Learn how to decorate with a few cake tools you already have on hand!

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