Cake Decorating Ideas and Tips for Your Most Stunning Bakes

Create stunning cakes and other confections with these ideas for using frosting, candies, and other creative toppers.

Sure, you could score a pretty special-occasion cake at a bakery, but cake decorating at home brings its own sweet rewards. First, you get to choose exactly the kind of cake you want to make. Feel free to go beyond chocolate, white, or yellow (malted vanilla cake, anyone?). Then you can make your own cake decorating icing, which is generally so much better when it's homemade! Plus, you earn that sense of accomplishment. Whether you go "all in" and stock up on the latest cake decorating supplies or keep it simple by going with a few creative and well-placed candy toppers, it's hard to beat the satisfaction of making something beautiful, joyful, and delicious with your own hands.

Cake Decorating Idea: Add Piping

Using a pastry bag with a large star tip will help you re-create the look of this cake. Tint each row of frosting a darker shade to produce an ombré effect. To give your cake a sophisticated look, pipe your frosting through a decorating bag ($10, Michael's) fitted with a decorating tip. These cake decorating tools are generally inexpensive and easy to find. To get started, look for these shapes in a set of decorating tips:

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

How to Decorate a Cake with Frosting

Once you've got your cooled cake recipe and the crumb coat or base layer of frosting applied, here's how to use that piping bag.

  • Fit a pastry bag with the desired pastry decorating tip.
  • Fill the 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.
Berries & Cookies Cake Topper
Andy Lyons

Cake Decorating Idea: Add Creative Toppings

To decorate a cake without using a big supply of cake decorating tools, simply use purchased cookies, fruits, and/or nuts. By artfully arranging these toppers, you'll have a showstopping cake in minutes. Use these ideas to get you started or look at what's already in your pantry that could work.

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

Test Kitchen Tip: Serve cakes embellished with cookies or fresh fruit within 2 hours to avoid soggy toppers.

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

Cake Decorating Idea: Use Baking Decorations

Check the baking aisle at supermarkets, crafts stores, specialty food stores, and online 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, also sold as luster dust or pearl dust, to add sparkle to your cake.
  • Sprinkles: Also sometimes called jimmies, these tiny cylindrical decorations are available in single or mixed colors.
  • Edible Confetti: Also called edible accents, these colorful, flat cake decorations come in many shapes for just about every occasion and holiday.

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

Gumballs are an appropriate candy choice for this creative cake.

Cake Decorating Ideas: Use Candy

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
  • Candy Corn

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.

Cake Decorating Basics: Choosing the Frosting

Before getting started on any cake decorating project, you'll have to choose a frosting. You can easily whip up a homemade frosting, or if you're tight on time, use store-bought frosting. Keep in mind that creamy frostings work best for piping. For a classic frosting, try our Creamy White Frosting; because it's made with shortening, it's perfectly white, making it a great "blank slate" to build upon. Note that while whipped cream frosting spreads and swirls smoothly, it won't keep its shape when piped.

Cherry-Almond Vanilla Cupcakes
Blaine Moats

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 ($7, Target) 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.
  • To skip the artificial dyes, you can follow our instructions for naturally coloring frosting using fruits and vegetables. Because this method uses blended fruits and veggies, it will add a little bit of flavor to your frosting. Feel free to get 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.

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, mint, or maple, as well as different liqueurs (raspberry, hazelnut, coffee) and citrus zest to add standout flavors before decorating your 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.

  • Offset spatula: Use for spreading frosting across the top of the cake or along the sides. This tool ($11, Bed Bath & Beyond) can also be great for creating pretty frosting swirls on the top and sides.
  • Bench scraper: Use a bench scraper ($12, Target) to smooth out the frosting on the cake or blend piped stripes of frosting together.
  • Cake turntable: To make frosting much easier, place your cake on a cake decorating turntable or rotating cake stand before frosting. This will make adding and smoothing frosting SO much faster!

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 or stripes, or drawing freehand designs with frosting.

Whether you keep your cake decorating simple by calling on some creatively placed candies, cookies, and nuts, or get all fancy with a piping bag and tips, the important thing is to have fun with it! The joy you take in making a beautiful cake is second only to the pleasures of sharing it for the happiest of occasions.

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