12 Best Cake Decorating Ideas + 6 Best Tips and Tools
Did you know that cake decorating is actually a fairly new thing? In the mid-1600s cakes were elaborately decorated to be displayed at parties and banquets hosted by European aristocrats. Find here the best modern cake decorating ideas and a simple recipe.
Cakes and desserts began being decorated for normal people in France around the 1850s. It was around this time that cakes were provided as a separate course during meals. Cakes became a showstopping highlight – the question is, how do you make your cakes just that today?
It’s actually pretty easy: where cakes of bygone eras relied on just minimal variety, today’s bakes can be decorated with so many things. From sprinkles and sugar paste to dried and fresh edible flowers.
In this article we delve into the best ever decorating ideas for your cakes. We’ll also give you some inspiration for some of the occasions you can bake cakes for (top tip: every occasion is better with homemade cake.)
Best Cake Decorating Ideas
Cake decorating isn’t just beautiful, it’s also a fun hobby to get into if you like baking across the seasons. Below are some of our favorite cake decorating ideas for different styles, finishes, and celebrations.
Choose your favorites to replicate at home or mix and match them for your own unique style.
Chocolate Cake Decorating Ideas
Chocolate has been loved for thousands of years, and for good reason: it’s delicious. When it comes to cake, chocolate has a variety of uses.
You can add it to the batter to make it gooey and delicious, and you can decorate your cakes with it. Here are some of our favorite chocolate cake decorating ideas.
You can use a squeeze bottle to ‘drip’ chocolate ganache on top and over the edges of your cake. This is a popular modern effect for all kinds of cakes, and looks really fun.
Pair it with other chocolate decoration ideas or a simple cake topper for a professional-looking finish.
This looks just as effective with light and dark chocolate.
One of the simplest ways to decorate a cake is to add a selection of chocolates to the top.
Start by frosting your cake with a delicious chocolate buttercream and smoothing it all around and on top using a cake scraper.
Add a selection of M&Ms, kitkats, chocolate bars, and more to the top of your cake for a fun and easy effect.
Fall Cake Decorating Ideas
Fall is a time for cozy blankets, hot drinks, and cake. The best Fall cakes epitomize the season with pretty orange, brown, and beige hues. They make use of autumnal fruits and Fall foliage to bring in the season. Below are our favorite Fall cake decorating ideas you can easily replicate at home.
Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice
Spiced pumpkin sponge cake frosted with luxurious white vanilla buttercream is a thing of beauty. Make sure you frost rustic lines (use a butter knife for this) around your cake to add to the Fall vibe.
Decorate with different-sized fondant pumpkins and present on a rustic wooden board. Serve alongside – you guessed it – homemade pumpkin spiced lattes for the perfect rainy afternoon treat.
Unsure how to decorate your perfect Fall cake? Just frost it using a beautiful white buttercream (cream cheese goes well with a lot of Fall flavors, including pumpkin spiced cake and carrot cake.)
Next, decorate the top of your cake with a selection of harvest fruits: late summer berries, figs, and ripe pears look wonderfully juicy. Add a drizzle of caramel sauce and enjoy.
Birthday Cake Decorating Ideas
Not much brings joy to the eyes of both kids and adults like birthday cake. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of celebrating your birthday in itself, you’ll likely enjoy a slice of moist vanilla cake studded with lots and lots of sugary sprinkles.
Here are some of our favorite birthday cake decorating ideas.
Decorations with Numbers
If you’re happy to buy another cake tin (or several), a number birthday cake is really fun and easy to make. Simply whip up your favorite batter and fill the well-greased number(s).
Bake and allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.
Finally, decorate your cake with fruits, sweets, edible flowers, swirls of multi-colored frosting, chocolate – anything you like. Number cakes will always look sweet and fun.
Birthday Cake with Sprinkles
Nothing says birthday cake like lots of rainbow-colored sprinkles.
Our favorite birthday cake design is actually also the simplest one to make at home.
Just bake your favorite recipe (our basic one below is great for this.) Once your cake has cooled to room temperature, frost it all over with vanilla buttercream.
Pat rainbow sprinkles liberally around the sides of the cake until these are fully coated. Finish with a fun ‘Happy Birthday’ cake topper.
Christmas Cake Decoration Ideas
For some, the turkey is the centerpiece of the Christmas meal. Others would say it’s the Christmas cake. Christmas cakes are usually liberally spiced and elaborately decorated.
Below are our two all-time favorite Christmas cake decoration ideas. One is just the most fun, while the other is an elegant centerpiece that’s sure to impress the in-laws.
Fondant Friends and Lights
You can bake this fun cake from scratch or get a little bit of help by buying sugar paste figurines from a shop.
You’ll want a little Christmas tree as well as some festive friends: a reindeer, penguin, Santa, and snowman are all fun options.
Make your favorite cake recipe (our simple one below is great) and cool to room temperature once baked. Frost using your favorite white buttercream – we like a slightly rustic finish using a butterknife to make even marks all over the cake.
Add your festive fondant friends to the top back of the cake. Finally, thread a line of sugar paste from one end, swirling to the other across the figurines. Finish with colorful mini M&Ms ‘lights’ along the line.
Snowflake Village Cake
There are a few varieties to this pretty cake, but all are equally impressive. Start by baking your favorite cake recipe or our basic one below.
This cake is particularly good made using a spiced Christmas cake recipe with plenty of dried fruit and nuts. Frost your baked and cooled cake using white buttercream and smooth all over using a cake scraper.
Create fondant snowflakes by using sheets of white sugar paste and cookie cutters.
You may also wish to ‘draw’ on additional snowflakes using white icing used for writing. Serve as is or finish with some festive trees or miniature sugar-topped gingerbread houses on the top of the cake.
Sheet Cake Decorating Ideas
Sheet cake appears to have a relatively recent history that originates somewhere in Texas. While the history is a little murky, the popularity of modern sheet cakes is unrivaled.
Their large size makes them great for elaborate designs and messages written in icing. Here are our favorite ways to decorate sheet cake.
Paint a Picture
Sheet cake is perfect for ‘painting’ pictures using buttercream and fondant. Some of our favorites are summery designs that really bring a scene or occasion to life.
Whip up a delicious vanilla sheet cake and lace the batter with heaps of freeze dried strawberry pieces. Frost using a liberal amount of pale pink buttercream spread on in a rustic, swirly fashion.
Decorate with fresh strawberries and fondant strawberry flowers. The latter can be bought ahead of time but are easy to make using yellow and white sugar pastes. Serve alongside freshly made whipped cream.
Write a Message
Sheet cakes are ideal for writing messages, thanks to their large size. This is also one of the easiest ways you can decorate a sheet cake. Just bake your favorite recipe and cool to room temperature.
Frost liberally with your choice of buttercream. Write your message or greeting in the middle of the cake using icing.
Finally, decorate around the message using a variety of treats such as chocolates, cookies, fruits, edible flowers, herbs, or candies.
Carrot Cake Decorations
Carrot cake likely originated in England some time during World War II, when home bakers would use sweet produce such as carrots to make their cakes tastier.
Modern carrot cakes are still amongst the most popular bakes today. They’re moist, fragrant, and delicious. Below are our two favorite ways to decorate your carrot cakes at home.
Everybunny Likes Carrots
One of the most common decorations for carrot cake is to use fondant or icing to make little carrots. To achieve this pretty look, bake your favorite carrot cake recipe.
Once cooled, coat with liberal swirls of cream cheese frosting. Decorate your cake with little sugar paste carrots either on top or around the perimeter of the cake.
You may also wish to add a sprinkling of candied chopped pecan nuts for extra goodness. Serve alongside a mug of hot coffee.
This is one of the prettiest modern interpretations of carrot cake we’ve seen. It’s easy to make and looks more elegant than other varieties. Simply whip up your favorite carrot cake recipe.
Once baked and cooled, frost with smooth cream cheese buttercream using a cake scraper.
Top tip: the cooler your cake before frosting, the less likely you’ll lose unsightly crumbs amidst the buttercream.
Add pecans and toasted pumpkin seeds to the top of your cake in a thin half moon shape. That’s all you’ll do for decorating this cake, now let the flavors speak for themselves.
Simple Cake Decoration Ideas
Some of the best cake decoration ideas are the simplest. You can go a long way by using a few high quality ingredients and taking your time with the decorating process.
Below are a few of our top super simple cake decoration ideas you can replicate at home.
Play With Frosting
The simplest way to make a cake look beautiful is by adding frosting. If you’re new to this, try and make or buy more buttercream than you’ll need so you have extra to work with.
You can frost a thicker layer all around and on top of your cake and smooth it with a cake scraper for a smooth look. Use a butter knife to create rustic dents and textures.
You can also add only a thin layer of buttercream around and on top of your cake and smooth it for a ‘naked cake’ effect that still showcases your beautiful sponge.
Add Some Color
Adding a pop of color to your cakes and bakes can really give it a unique, pretty finish. Try and play with adding food dye or natural additives to your sponge or frosting.
Natural ingredients such as beetroot, spinach, and berries all add a fun pop of color.
Play with different shades and hues to create ombre and subtle rainbow effects, or recreate flowers in their natural colors. Most of all, have fun.
Make Use of Nature
When in doubt, let nature inspire you in your decorations. Seasonal fruits, herbs, and edible flowers are all great additions to a pretty cake.
Dried citrus fruit slices look very elegant paired with mediterranean herbs, chocolate covered strawberries are romantic next to rose petals, and figs look beautifully autumnal alongside fondant pumpkins.
Recipe for Cake with Easy Design: A Guide
If you’re looking for a simple recipe to start your cake decorating journey with, this is the one. It’ll make a delicious, moist vanilla sponge cake with vanilla buttercream.
If you have food intolerances or allergies, feel free to replace the flour with a gluten free variety, the eggs with aquafaba or yogurt, and the milk and butter with vegan substitutions.
You can also use coconut sugar or fruit extract if you’d prefer to steer clear of refined sugar.
Ingredients for the cake:
- 2 cups of all purpose flour
- 2 ½ tsps of baking powder
- 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
- 1 ½ cups of caster sugar
- ½ cup of salted butter (at room temperature)
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 3 tsps of vanilla extract
- 3 tsps of vegetable oil
Ingredients for the buttercream:
- 2 sticks of salted butter
- 1lb of powdered sugar (sifted to remove lumps)
- 3 tsps of vanilla extract
- 2-4 tbsps of whole milk
Now that you have all the ingredients, you should move on in the recipe. And here’s how you do it:
- Preheat your oven to 350 F. Meanwhile, prepare two 8” cake tins by greasing them with butter or vegetable oil. Line the bottoms with greaseproof paper.
- Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl: mix the flour and baking powder and set aside.
- Beat the eggs and, while continuing to whisk, add in the sugar. Keep whisking until they have tripled in volume and are pale in color.
- Warm the butter and milk in a pot until just foamy.
- Whisk the egg mixture with the flour mix until just blended. Don’t over-mix your cake batter as this will affect the rise.
- Gradually add the hot milk and butter mixture into the batter while continually whisking. Add the vanilla and vegetable oil and mix.
- Pour the batter into your prepared cake tins. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and fluffy. Top tip: insert a toothpick into the sponge. If it comes out clean, your cakes are done.
- While your cakes are cooling, prepare the buttercream. Start by beating the butter with a mixture until it becomes creamy and fluffy in texture.
- Add the powdered sugar and continue to whisk.
- Finally, add the vanilla and some of the milk, and whisk. Use as much or little of the milk as needed to make your buttercream nice and fluffy.
- Once your cakes have cooled, frost between the layers and stack them on top of one another. Frost around the sides and top using a cake scraper to smooth the buttercream. Top with sprinkles or a pretty cake topper of your choice.
Cake Decorating Tips
If you’re still needing a bit more inspiration or a final nudge to dive into baking beautiful cakes at home, we’re here for you. Coming up are our top tips for decorating your cakes per our design ideas above.
Use Quality Tools
Having good quality tools goes a long way at avoiding frustrations when it comes to cake baking. A good cake tin with a removable bottom is a useful investment.
These will save you tons of time on removing cakes without losing bits of sponge to a sticky bottom. Cake scrapers and a variety of piping bags and nozzles are also helpful.
And of course, if you can afford one, a stand mixer is a great investment and will bring you much joy in your baking adventures.
Buy the Best Ingredients
It’s always worth buying the best and freshest ingredients you can afford. This doesn’t mean splurging on top of the line stuff for everything, but rather being mindful of your choices.
A good quality vanilla extract will give more flavor and last longer than a poor imitation. Good cocoa powder or chocolate chips will make for a much more delicious cake, and so on.
Take Inspiration from Magazines
It needn’t just be magazines, but the point is: take inspiration for your bakes from your surroundings. Look at magazines, books, TV shows, and even social media, and enjoy planning your cakes.
Experiment with different flavors and designs, and don’t get disheartened when one doesn’t turn out great the first time. You can always try again.
Best Cake Decorating Tools
You don’t have to have a lot of tools if you’re just starting out — a few sizable bowls, some spoons, a spatula, a whisk, greaseproof paper, and a cake tin are enough for the complete novice.
However there are tools that will help you take your baking to the next level, especially when it comes to decorating. These are our favorites.
Squeeze Drip Bottle
A squeeze drip bottle is nothing more than a glorified ketchup or mustard bottle, except, of course, minus the ketchup or mustard.
You can use it to drip chocolate ganache over the top of a cake for a very modern and pretty effect.
You can also use it to write messages on top of cakes, add drizzles of fruit sauce, and make pretty designs.
Cake scrapers come in a variety of finishes, and are really useful at making professional-looking designs in your frosting. They’re used to apply buttercream either smoothly or with a pattern.
A cake scraper is an absolute must if you want to frost your cakes in a pretty, even way, though a butterknife is a good alternative for a more rustic finish.
Piping nozzles are also available in a number of styles. Depending on the type of nozzle, you can pipe swirls, stars, flowers, weaves, ruffles, and even petals.
A good piping kit is really helpful if you’re looking to experiment with your frosting.