How to Have Your Cake – And Decorate It, Too!

Tips for Adding Edible Artwork on Cakes

Sssshhhh! We Take The Cake reveals some of the secrets for transforming cakes and cupcakes into edible art.

Few things turn heads at a celebration like a show-stopping cake: the kind that looks so delectable that it makes even the most dedicated dieters unable to resist taking a bite.

Gone are the days when sprinkles and a few homemade frosting roses were enough to impress. TV shows like TLC’s “Cupcake Wars” and “Cake Boss” have set expectations high for desserts that are true works of edible art. At We Take The Cake, we carefully craft every sweet treat by hand to guarantee that they will wow your guests from the moment you lift them out of the box, from cakes covered top to bottom with elegant swirls of fluffy pink roses, to customized full-color printing that literally puts the icing on the cake with perfectly replicated illustrations, sayings, or corporate logos.

Customers constantly demand, “How do you do that?,” after feasting their eyes on our intricate creations. While our secret ingredient is the time and practiced care that we pour into every design, we are happy to share tips and tricks for trying your hand at the latest cake decorating trends that will help budding bakers learn to have their cake – and decorate it, too!

• Getting your grooves on. The key to those perfect grooves and ridges you see in frosting is a piping bag. You can choose from various piping tip sizes like regular, large, or jumbo, depending on the style you have in mind. Each tip also creates a different design, from lines to ruffles to flowers to basket weave patterns.

The secret to frosting with piping bags is applying constant pressure and moving in one fluid motion – it takes practice! We recommend practicing on flat boards and vertical surfaces to mimic what it’s like to pipe on cakes. Don’t forget to release pressure on the bag before you lift up.

• Easy stenciling. You don’t have to be a professional baker to decorate your cupcakes like one. Stencils make it almost effortless to produce artistic designs that are guaranteed to impress. Find a stencil that fits your occasion – maybe a flower for Mother’s Day or a baseball for a World Series party. Apply a layer of frosting and hold the stencil so it’s just over the cupcake. Then sprinkle a topping of your choice – colored sugar or cocoa work well – onto the stencil. Remove the stencil and repeat on another cupcake.

You can also use stencils to apply frosting designs. With the stencil directly flattened on the surface of your cake, apply icing over the top and smooth with a spatula. Do not let the stencil move! When the stencil is covered, carefully remove and repeat in other spots until you are happy with your decorated cake.

• Edible pictures. Using edible illustrations or corporate logos to customize your cakes always gets a big reaction. Nowadays even some home printers can print edible photos with the right materials, although bakeries have special printers that are only used for these creations.

If you have a digital photo file and the right printer, all you need is edible paper and edible ink. The earliest edible papers were made from rice, but now a variety of icing papers and frosting sheets are available. Non-toxic, edible inks print the photo onto these sheets with beautiful color – do not under any circumstances use regular ink! The sheets are designed to dissolve when placed on a moist surface – like the top of a frosted cake – making the photo look like it was printed directly onto your treat.

• Rainbows of color. No matter what other decorating methods you choose, color is an easy way to create eye-catching designs on cakes and cupcakes. A word to the wise: soft gel pastes are the best choice for mixing color, as the amount of liquid contained in regular food coloring will affect the consistency of icing or fondant. Powdery shimmer dusts are a fun way to add sparkle, and luster sprays and foils can provide a metallic sheen.

Some bakeries also use airbrushing systems, which allow you to add different layers, accents and dimensions of color to icing or fondant. At home, this might be an easier trick: adding a clear, alcohol-based liquid like vodka to gel paste creates a paint that can be applied by hand to fondant cakes with food-safe brushes. The alcohol evaporates but allows for a smooth mixture that creates beautiful designs.

• Getting in shape. Shaped and sculpted decorations transform sweet treats into edible works of art. Materials such as fondant, modeling chocolate, marzipan, and gum paste can be used to sculpt flowers, animals, people, and an abundance of other shapes.

Although you can create these decorations by hand, one of the simplest ways to make them is with metal or plastic cutters that punch out shapes in the material you choose. Molds made from food-grade silicone are another easy choice. If you are using fondant, for example, simply fill the mold, wipe excess material from the back, and then remove the sculpted shape inversely with your hands and fingers. If it does not come out easily, putting the mold in the freezer for a short time should do the trick. Finally, fondant and gum paste tools can be used to add features, details and dimension to your sculptures.

• The crowning jewel. Although most people outside the baking industry have never heard of it, cake decorators experienced in sugar are creating eye-popping designs out of isomalt, a sugar substitute that can be molded to resemble glass and stones when heated to a high temperature. It is an excellent way to create design elements for cakes that look better with a clear color, such as sparkling gem stones, windows for gingerbread houses and intricate mosaics.

Isomalt can be sculpted or molded into almost any shape, but it is important to use molds that can withstand very high heat, and to avoid plastic molds that are likely to warp or melt. A note of caution: you must take special care to work carefully and safely with this medium so you don’t get burned.

• Another dimension. Although this trick can’t yet be replicated at home, we thought it would be fun to provide a sneak peek of the future of cake decorating: 3D printing. In the fall, CSM Bakery Solutions and 3D Systems Corp. inked a deal to bring the first 3D printers, products, and materials to the bakery and food markets. That means professional cake decorators will soon have the ability to create full-color, bespoke confections with sky’s-the-limit applications, from sculptural, ornate cake and cupcake toppers to delicate latticework to logo sugar cubes. At the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, creators of this amazing new technology dazzled attendants with a dessert cake topped with a 3D-printed coconut shell, 3D-printed candy boxes, a 3D-printed skull covered in chocolate and a 3D honeycomb constructed entirely from honey.

Although the technology seems magical, the ingredients used to print 3D food confections are actually quite common: sugar, salt, oil, and water. Flavor can be added with dehydrated fruit, floral or nut essence. At a rate of two vertical inches an hour, these printers will make imagination the only limit to cake decorating.

Cake decorating is a fun way to dazzle your guests and connect with your creative side. By following our tips and tricks, you can learn to transform cakes and cupcakes into edible art that turns every head as you bring it across the room. We Take The Cake’s gorgeous, hand-crafted designs have delighted recipients for more than 15 years – even drawing the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who named our Famous Key Lime Bundt Cake as one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” Of course, the best part is that these beautiful creations taste just as good as they look – although make sure you take plenty of pictures before you dig in!

 At We Take The Cake, we understand the personal touch. For over twenty years, we’ve continued to craft each cake by hand using only the finest ingredients. We are proud to include among our customers nationally recognized caterers, party planners, private clubs, world-famous hotels and exclusive resorts. If you’d like to know everything we can offer, drop by our contact page and get in touch!