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Cake Decorating: Tips to Get Started

With the advent of television shows like Food Network’s Ace of Cakes and TLC’s Cake Boss, there’s been a renewed interest in the art of cake decorating these past few years. Experts like Duff and Buddy wow their audiences with over-the-top creations that will leave you with your mouth hanging open. And they make it look so easy!

The fact remains, however, that decorating such a creation is far from a piece of cake…pardon the pun! Getting to the level of skill demonstrated on these television hits takes years and years of practice and plenty of professional instruction as well.

That’s not to say that ordinary folks can’t tackle the art of cake decorating. Many do and get to be very good at it. But it does indeed take patience and practice and there are some basic things you’ll need to know before taking the plunge into the world of cake decorating.

Tools You’ll Need

Your foray into cake decorating will demand that you purchase a few fairly inexpensive tools to get you on your way. If you’re just starting out, it’s not necessary to get carried away with the purchases, but there are a handful of necessities that are essential to good skills.

o Decorating bags – Simply, these are the bags you fill with icing/frosting in order to make flowers, figures, printing, etc. They come in a variety of sizes and also a variety of materials. You’ll probably want to start with a few that measure about 8 inches. These are easy for the beginner to handle. You can choose from the re-usable “featherweight” bags, which are dishwasher safe, or go for the disposable plastic bags. You can get lots of the latter for just a few dollars, so they’re much more affordable than the reusable ones. Companies like Wilton® also sell parchment triangles that can be fashioned into a bag, but these can be tricky.

o Decorating tips – It’s best to purchase a set of tips when you’re starting out rather than just one or two. The set will generally include tips that can produce flowers of various sizes, borders, printing, and those famous frosting roses. You’ll also need couplers that seal the tip to the bag.

o Coloring – Unless you plan to work only with white frosting, you’ll need some food coloring. You can use the standard liquid stuff you find on the spice aisle, but the gel colorings found with cake decorating supplies work much better. Buy a starter back of basic colors.

o A Spatula – You’ll need a good icing spatula to frost your cakes. These cost only a few dollars and are necessary to create a crumb-free layer of frosting. Don’t opt for using a knife. It doesn’t work!

o Cake boards and turntable – Cake boards are merely cardboard circles on which you place the cake to frost it. They cost a few dollars per 10. A turntable isn’t a must, but it’s helpful in that you can easily turn the cake as you frost it.
o Cake lifter – This will help you move your cake from the decorating plate to the serving plate. Again, not a necessity, but helpful.

Getting Started

When you’re ready to practice, make some simple cakes – box mixes will do – and find a good icing recipe. Usually, a basic buttercream is best. It will need to be of thin consistency to frost the cake but flowers and other decorations will demand a medium to stiff consistency, so you may need to experiment with adding more water or powdered sugar.

When filling your decorating bags, be sure not to fill them more than halfway or you’ll have frosting coming out of both ends! Also, be sure that the frosting is pliable enough to exit from the tip. If you’re really straining to squeeze the bag, add some water to the icing.

Next, practice with the different tips and a basic instruction book, which are quite easy to find at a book store or a craft store that sells Wilton or other cake decorating supplies. Practice on a laminated piece of cardboard before you move on to the cake.
Remember, your first creations may be a little shaky but as you continue to practice, they’ll get better. Before you know it, you’ll be volunteering to make the next cake for that big family party or other social event.  


Craft stores, community colleges, and other locales often offer basic cake decorating classes. If you’re struggling on your own, enrolling in one is a great way to gather some helpful tips. They’ll also teach you more advance methods of cake decorating as well, including working with the materials that are regularly used on those popular television shows to make those incredible creations, like fondant and gum paste.