You’ve got the cake baked and ready to go. You’ve got a bowl full of fluffy frosting. Now what? Cake decorating can be very intimidating if you either haven’t done it before or had a few fails (don’t worry, everyone has!). Cake decorating doesn’t need to be stressful or frustrating though, all you need are a few basic techniques. Today we are going to go through a few simple birthday cake decorating ideas that will give you some inspiration and help get you on your way to decorating a cake you can be proud of.
If you’re in need of a simple and delicious cake recipe, check out this post
Prepping Your Cake
Have you ever tried to decorate a cake and the frosting ended up full of crumbs? You need a crumb coat! A crumb coast is basically a thin layer of frosting that traps crumbs and prevents them from spreading to the outer layers of frosting.
Crumb coats are best done using a frosting that crusts, such as American buttercream. You can also do this with other frostings such as Swiss meringue buttercream, but you need to refrigerate the crumb coast and do the rest of the frosting once the crumb coat has hardened and is still cold.
American buttercream will form a crust after about 30 or so minutes. If you’re in a rush you can also put the cake in the fridge which causes frosting to harden quickly. I do this if I have room in my fridge since it also makes the whole cake harder and easier to frost. Once the crumb coat has hardened, you can spread more frosting on top and you won’t end up with the rest of the frosting full of crumbs.
If you’ve used a cake mix or a recipe that produces a cake with a very soft crumb, you may find that it’s difficult to get the layers completely flat and even. I suggest putting your crumb coated cake into the fridge for at least 1/2 hour. Once it has hardened up, apply more frosting to any divots and dips on the top and sides.
Once the cake has more structure it is easier to cover any imperfections. If you’ve tried to frost a cake mix cake with a thick frosting you probably know how frustrating this can be. Bottom line is the firmer the cake, the easier it is to deal with.
Alternatively, a new trend in cake decorating is naked cakes. Naked cakes are typically layer cakes with no or very little frosting on the outside of the cake. Essentially you do a very thin crumb coat. Top the cake with some flowers, fruit, or nothing at all, and you’re done.
These cakes have a rustic look and are often used for weddings. If you’re going to try a naked cake, choose a cake with a dense crumb (not a cake mix) since the layers have more structure and have more definition. These cakes are so easy to make and great if you find frosting to be a bit sickly sweet.
Pile On The Frosting
Now that our cake has sat in the fridge and hardened up a bit (don’t worry, it will soften again once it becomes room temp), we are ready to add the outer layer of frosting. I added pink gel food coloring (on request of my daughter), whipped it up again, now I’m ready to decorate.
I find the best tool for spreading frosting is a large offset spatula. Once you have the frosting spread fairly evenly on the cake, it’s time to smooth out the frosting. Some frostings tend to have quite a few air bubbles in them which makes a perfectly smooth cake seem impossible. Which is pretty much is, unless you’re using fondant and even then it’s difficult. So don’t worry about ripples, dips, and bubbles in your cake. Rustic is in.
If you do want a smoother finish, try using a cake scraper. It’s basically just a piece of metal with a thin flat edge which you run around the sides of your cake to even out the frosting. If you happen to have a cake decorating turn table this makes smoothing easier, but it’s not necessary. If you find the frosting isn’t meeting the entire edge of the scraper, add more frosting.
Once your cake is smooth, you can move on to piping, sprinkles, or nothing at all. A very easy effect is to run your large offset spatula around the cake pushing is slightly to do a ribbon effect such as this:
If you’re using a thicker frosting such as seven-minute frosting you can use your spatula to create ripples, swirls, and peaks. This makes for a really appealing fluffy marshmallow look.
I’m not going to get too much into tips in this article since we’re talking about simple cake decorating ideas. If you are interested in experimenting with tips, you can buy each separately or as a set. You will also need couples for attaching the tips, and frosting bags, either disposable plastic or reusable that you can wash and use over and over.
Basic decorating with tips is very simple and adds a sophisticated look to your cakes. Piping around the bottom edge of your cake is an easy way to cover where your frosting meets the cake plate since can be hard to smooth there. I find it’s much quicker just to pipe around the base. Much like sprinkles, piping adds a classic look to your cakes without much effort.
If you’re making cupcakes piping is a super easy and quick way to frost. For cupcakes, I suggest the larger tips but I’ll be covering cupcake decorating in a later post.
Tips are very easy to use and if you make a mistake you can just clean it off your cake, put it back into the piping bag and start over.
Decorating for a special occasion? A certain holiday? There’s a sprinkle for that. Sprinkles have come a long way from the multi-colored jimmies (which are still awesome) we remember from our childhood. You can find sprinkles in just about any shape, size, and color. Sprinkles are super easy to decorate with, and give a vintage look to your cakes. What is more fun than sprinkles on a birthday cake? My kids always want to know if we’ll be adding sprinkles.
If your kids are like mine and always asking to help with cake decorating, leaving them in charge of the sprinkles is a great way to get them involved. I do suggest putting your cake on a cookie sheet with edges, this helps to catch most of the escaped sprinkles so you won’t be stepping on them from days.
Everyone Loves Cake
I hope you’ve learned some simple birthday cake decorating ideas that you can use for your next celebration. Cake decorating doesn’t have to be complex or difficult. Have fun with it and don’t worry about a few mistakes here and there, as long as it tastes great everyone is going to love it.
If you have any questions or comments about cake decorating, please leave a comment below and I will be happy to help!