How to Decorate your first Cake
Back in 2017, I was a new mom planning my son’s 1st birthday party. My sister asked if she could make his birthday cake except I was determined to do it myself. We agreed that she would make the cake for all of the guests and I would make his smash cake! We were both happy and I immediately started watching a cake decorating tutorial for beginners video on the internet.
Fast forward 3 years… I cannot even count how many cakes I have made to date and I am fulfilling my dream by running this blog. If you would like to read more about me and why I take the time every day to write, check out my about me page. Now that I have a few years of practice under my belt, I would like to share my knowledge and experiences with all of you! If you haven’t already, check out some of my other cake decorating tutorials for beginners here. I have a descriptive list of what cake decorating tools I would suggest for beginners to buy. If you would like to try out a great cake or frosting recipe click here. If you are ready to dive in then let’s do this!
Building Your Cake
Lets take a look at the 5 major steps to decorate a cake;
- Level Cake Layers
- Stack and Fill
- Crumb Coat
- Icing the Cake
I am going to break down each one of these 5 steps and define the technique I use to get my end result. Hopefully, my description and images will help you learn how to decorate a basic cake. As you get better, you may find another way of doing something to get the same result. You can watch other cake decorating tutorials for beginners and learn alternative ways. There is no right or wrong way to decorate a cake. Especially if you are self-taught like me. You just kind of figure out what works and go with it!
1. First Things First: Level Cake Layers
After you have baked your cakes and removed them from their pans, you can level them so when you’re stacking your cake it will be stable and not all wobbly. (We will get to stacking in a minute). If you would like to bake your cake layers in advance check out my post that’s all about freezing cake layers.
Step 1: Start by placing your cake layer in the center of your turntable. Place your hand on the top of the cake holding it in place (my hand is not in the picture). Bring your serrated knife to where on the cake you want to cut. This is usually where the top of the side meets the top of the cake which is usually a hump.
Step 2: Using the hand that is on the top of the cake layer, spin your turntable. At the same time, using your other hand with the knife, cut using a sawing motion (back and forward). You want to keep the knife in the same spot, not moving your hand up or down. I like to rest my elbow on the side of my body to steady my arm. As you saw and turn the cake, bring the knife in closer to the center of the cake. If you’re doing the technique correctly, by the time you get to the center of the cake layer the whole top of the cake with be sliced.
A helpful tip- GO SLOW! It’s not a race and the slower you go, the more control you will have with the knife. The more practice you have, the better (and faster) you will be.
2. Now it’s time to Stack and Fill your cake!
Start by placing your cake board in the middle of your turntable. This is not necessary, but I like to place a slip pad under the cake board to help it from sliding around while I’m icing the cake.
Next, spread a small amount of icing on the cake board to hold the cake down. Now place your first cake layer onto the board and press onto the icing. Try to aim for the center of the cake board, although it’s not super important.
Now it’s time to fill your first layer. Go ahead and plop a bit of frosting onto the cake layer. Don’t worry about doing the correct amount, just make sure it makes it all the way to the edges. Too much is better than not enough. You can see in the picture that the icing will be coming out of the sides. This is what you want!
Next, place the second cake layer on top so it lines up with the first one, and it’s even. Once the cake layer is centered, use your hand to press the cake layer down. Eyeball the top to make sure it looks flat and even on top.
Repeat the filling process as many times until you are ready to put your top layer on the cake. Place this cake layer upside down. This will help give you a sharp edge to the finished cake.
3. Time to Crumb Coat!
What is a crumb coat? A crumb coat is a thin layer if icing you do first to keep all of the crumbs from getting into the icing. It is not a necessity because some cake recipes aren’t as crumbly as others. I think it is still important to do this step because it gives you a smooth starting point when you are icing the cake.
Start by spreading some icing on the top of the cake. The thickness of the icing depends on how crumbly your cake is. If your cake doesn’t have many crumbs this can be very thin. If your cake has a lot of crumbs then start with a thicker layer of icing. Frost the top and sides of the cake.
Don’t worry about having smooth edges yet. Just make sure there is no bare cake showing. Also, make sure that you are getting the icing all the way down the sides to the bottom of the cake at the cake board, as shown below.
The last step of the crumb coat is to take either your spatula or straight edge, hold it tight up against the side of the cake at the same time that you are spinning the turntable. Once you have made it around once, check to see if there is any icing building up anywhere or spots you missed with the straight edge. Repeat this process until you have achieved a smooth side. It doesn’t have to be perfect because you are still going to put another thicker layer of icing on after. Drag your straight edge on the top of the cake as well to smooth out the top.
Your cake is ready to chill! Place it in the fridge for about 15 minutes to let the icing harden and the crumb coat set.
4. Icing the Cake
When your cake is done chilling, place it back on your turntable. Scoop some icing on the top of the cake. Using your spatula, spread the icing all on the top and down the sides. As you’re working down the cake, scoop more icing onto the spatula as needed. You want to be very generous here. Make sure there is an even amount of icing around the whole cake.
Next, hold your spatula or straight edge (both shown below) against the side of the cake and spin the turntable. The same way you did while doing the crumb coat. You don’t want to press too firmly and take off too much icing at once. If you see a lot of air bubbles you are pressing too hard. Go around as many times as needed, taking off a small amount of icing each pass. After you spin the cake around one whole turn, stop and clean off your straight edge.
As the icing builds up on the top of the cake, hold your straight edge horizontal and pull the icing backward towards the center of the cake. Do one pass, turn the cake a little bit, then do another pass. Between passes clean off your straight edge.
Keep smoothing out the sides and top of the cake until you are pleased with the outcome. A tip that some decorators use, dip the straight edge in hot water every time you clean it off. The icing will sort of melt as your smoothing.
Don’t forget to clean up the cake board that’s showing and any icing that is not on the cake. You can use your straight edge, spatula, or a napkin.
I know I said this at the beginning of the post, but I’m gonna say it again… Go Slow! Take your time and really focus on learning the process. As you get more practice, it will come easier to you. All of the videos you watch on social media are of people who have had a lot of practice. Also, their videos are in fast motion, which makes you think that they’re actually decorating a cake super quickly.
Another insider tip… The cakes you see in photos are not perfect. There are flaws in every cake. Actually, in the cake decorator world, there is a front and a back to most cakes. After your done icing your cake, take a close look. If your cake can have a front and back (a.k.a. good side and bad side) add your finishing decorations to the front of the cake. I took a couple of close up pictures of my finished cake to show you what it actually looks like. So don’t go crazy trying to make your cake look picture perfect! Usually, your decorations will cover some up anyways.
5. Decorating your cake!
Last but not least, it’s time to add the decorations to your cake! This is where you can customize your cake to look however you want it to. You can buy pre-made decorations or a cake topper if you want. Or you can do them yourself with endless ideas and techniques using icing, fondant, gum paste, and more! There are so many cake decorating tutorials for beginners out there and plenty of people putting their ideas on social media.
If you would like to learn how to use a piping bag and piping tip, check out my tutorial here.
Want to learn how to make your own sugar sprinkles that are in the picture below? Check out this post
If you want to learn how to cover your whole entire cake with fondant, Wilton has a great tutorial you can check out here!
The possibilities are endless when it comes to decorating cakes. There are so many ways to make your cake look unique and beautiful. Everyone has their own style and ways of decorating. Learn new techniques and turn them into masterpieces! Let those creative juices start flowing, and most importantly… welcome to the world of cake decorating!