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Cake decorating tips

Making and/or decorating a cake is lots of fun.  It's usually the pinnacle of the event - when happy birthday's are sung or newly married couples cut their wedding cake together.

Here are some tips, tricks and ideas along with some other resources for additional information.


Icing the cake

Get organised 

  • Make sure you have everything you need on hand.
  • Prepare icings, piping bags, utensils.
  • Ensure you have room to put things as you work.  I have a very small kitchen so I set up a small folding table to give me a little extra space.
  • Have a handy bin that you can drop things into - not one you have to open with your icing covered hands.
  • Crumb coating and covering cakes with butter cream or ganache

Crumb coating and covering cakes with butter cream or ganache

  • Prepare your butter cream or ganache.  Make sure you have plenty. There's nothing more annoying than being almost finished your cake and having to stop and make more icing, particularly if you need to match an existing colour.
  • Have your equipment ready (spatula; large, smooth knife; a turn-table/lazy Susan if you have one.  A turn-table is very handy when trying to get smooth surfaces and saves you lifting and moving the cake or bending around it).
  • Ensure your surfaces are clean and clear of crumbs - particularly if you have just cut the design in your cake.  The fewer the crumbs, the less likely you'll end up getting them in your icing.
  • Ensure the cake has cooled completely.  You don't want your icing just melting straight off.
  • Using your spatular or large smooth knife, very liberally coat the cake all over.  Cover every surface with icing. Don't worry about it being too smooth and even at this stage.
  • Put the cake in the fridge to let the butter cream or ganache firm up.
  • Remove the cake from the fridge and recoat it with another layer of butter cream or ganache.  This time being careful to ensure the cover is even and smooth.
  • Tip: it is at this point I generally have a large tall glass or dish of very hot water which I dip my spatula or knife into to heat it up.  I then give my spatula or knife a quick wipe before I use it to smooth the edges, then top of my cake.  I continue to dip and wipe, sometimes replenishing the water if it gets cold too quickly.  If you have a turn-table it comes in very handy here as you can hold the knife in place and turn the cake to get a smooth, even finish.
  • Sometimes I would smooth everything as best I can, then put the cake back in the fridge to set again and have another go.  I might repeat these steps a few times if I want a particularly smooth finish.

    Popular icings


    Named for the buttery, creamy texture that makes up this sweet and popular topping. It colours well even when using supermarket bought food colourings. You can also use gels or pastes if you wish.  You can also flavour it easily too. This is an easy, versatile icing to work with.  Using a hot spatula or smooth knife, you can create a smooth, shinny finish.  Alternatively you can create a textured, fluffy look using rough strokes or a fork.  It is versatile enough that you can also use it to pipe flowers and boarders. This icing is great for most light textured cakes (vanilla, chocolate, sponge etc). This icing remains a soft soft, creamy texture.


    A the key ingredients for this icing are beaten egg white, and icing sugar, this icing tastes very sweet and dries stiff. It colours well but uses more colour than butter cream to get the same result. It colours okay using either liquid, paste or gel colours. It's great for gluing gingerbread houses together, decorating biscuits and making piped icing decorations. Due to the nature of this icing to dry or set, it is important to keep icing covered with a damp cloth to prevent crusting when you're working with it.

    Rolled Fondant

    I liken using fondants to working with play-dough. You can roll it out to cover flat surfaces and cakes or fashion it into just about your imagination can dream up, flowers, figurines, clothing.  It colours best with gels or pastes but I would avoid liquid colourings as they tend to make the fondant sticky and wet.  Fondant is best used as a covering on dense, heavy cakes such as chocolate mud cakes, fruit cakes and similar firm cakes.  It is also perfect for sculpting the decorations that can be used on cakes using other icings or rolled fondant.


    This is a yummy mix of melted chocolate and cream.  It can be used to as a crumb coat on a cake or as a shiny icing on it’s own.  You can also use it as a sauce for dipping fruit, pouring over pancakes, waffles or banana sundays. 

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