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I Want to Ice/Decorate a Cake for the First Time; I Need Some Tips

Hello all.

Calling all experienced cake frosters/icers and decorators. I need your help.

I want to decorate a birthday cake for the first time and would like some tipas to make my venture sail smoothly. I should mention that:

(1) I am intimidated by the idea of cake decorating. I am not the most artistic person and sometimes I am not great with my hands but I do LOVE to bake.

(2) My past experience with frosting havent been great. I always get the crumbs all over the icing. I have only ever frosted a "cake mix" cake and I used pre-made over-the-counter frosting (it was a red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting).

But will all this in mind I do want to go ahead and try this once and for all. It will at least be fun.

The following questions float in my mind: Is there a particular kind of frosting or icing that is best for this purpose? Are some cake (texture-wise) better for frosting than others? Do i absolutely need a cake turner thingy (not sure of the name)?

Some trusty websites, videos and other resources will be great! (I have already checked out The Cake Boss and Wilton but err... more please).

All forms of help will be appreciated. Thanks.

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  1. Make a crumb coat, a thin layer of frosting. Then frost over that. Some folks freeze the cake to avoid crumbs.
    I add flour to cake mixes to make a more dense cake, fewer crumbs.
    An offset spatula is very, very handy and not expensive.
    Keep it simple. Maybe just a simple star tip border. Simple is elegant.
    Practice with some cheap store-bought icing, using a disposable pastry bag with a variety of tips. Practice on foil, or a cookie sheet. Let the kids lick it off!
    Some people swear by royal icing, some by buttercream.
    and this advice is coming from someone that has actually dumped a whole birthday cake in the garbage and ran to the store and bought a cake. That was many years ago, I've gotten better.

    8 Replies
    1. re: wyogal

      OMG @ "...dumped a whole birthday cake in the garbage and ran to the store and bought a cake..."

      Tell me more about this crumb coat. Is it just regular frosting?

      I want to bake a cake from scratch this time. But do tell about your cake mix tip as I always find them to be too fluffy.

      Any good recipes for royal or buttercream icing (I've seen one with shortening and I'm not sure how I feel about that)?

      1. re: claritas

        I just toss in about 1/4 cup of flour to the mix.
        The crumb coat is the same frosting, just a thin layer. Then like someone else suggested, chill it. Then when you put the real layer of frosting on, it won't pick up any crumbs.
        and if I'm going to eat cake, especially a cake mix, I don't care about shortening. It works.
        Yes, the cake was sad. it was blue, for one of boys' birthday. It was awful, lopsided, and really, really ugly.

        1. re: wyogal

          This is going to be a real adventure. Wish me luck!

        2. re: claritas

          Definitely do not use royal icing to frost your cake. Royal icing hardens to a candy-like texture when dry - it's used for making decorations and for icing cookies when you want a thin candy shell type icing, but you don't want it all over your cake. Buttercream is the way to go. As for which recipe, American style buttercreams (just powdered sugar, vanilla, butter or shortening and a little milk) are easy to make and to work with, but many people find them too sweet. French, Swiss, Italian and German buttercreams use melted granulated sugar and all require an egg component - they are also fairly easy to work with but IMO extremely buttery. I prefer American buttercream myself, but that's probably because it's what I grew up with. You'll find lots of recipes for all of these online.

          1. re: biondanonima

            Yes, I was thinking decorations. That's that egg white stuff, right? I always use a buttercream.

            1. re: wyogal

              Yes, royal icing uses egg white (or egg white powder) and lots of sugar. It's great for making candy flowers, etc., but they're more pretty than tasty, IMO.

              1. re: biondanonima

                We call it sweet concrete. It's only for decorations you want to last for a long time, like gingerbread houses. I use American buttercream for cakes where I'll do more decoration but if it's simple, I'll use something else. My daughter thinks the european buttercreams are too eggy and doesn't like them. I love stabilized whipped creams to add a nice lightness to the cake, instead of overly sweet heavy frosting.

      2. You don't need a turntable to ice a cake nicely. Layer cake recipes are made to be iced, whether they are American butter cakes, carrot cakes, or something like genoise. There are ways to minimize the crumb problem. First, brush all the loose crumbs off the outside cake layers. Then you can apply what's known as a crumb coat, a thin layer of frosting all over the exterior of the cake, the point of which is to trap any remaining crumbs so they don't mess up your icing job. The crumb-coated cake goes in the fridge for a bit to set up that thin layer, then you go ahead ahead and finish frosting the cake, decorating, etc., without pesky crumbs.

        This NY Times video shows the basic method: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

        1 Reply
        1. Make sure the cake is thoroughly cool before icing it! Don't be afraid to use a lot of icing -- it's much easier to ice a cake nicely if you're not trying for a thin layer of the stuff.

          1 Reply
          1. I'd recommend you to check out tutorials from iambaker.net and bakersroyale.com. These tutorials are so inspiring to get me to try my hand on decorating some cakes. :-)

            /// From iambaker.net ///
            Rose Cake Tutorial (Wilton #1M tip) : http://iambaker.net/rose-cake-tutorial
            Lilac Cake Tutorial (Wilton #103 tip) : http://iambaker.net/lilac-cake-tutorial
            Quick & Stunning Frosting Idea : http://iambaker.net/pink-cake-2 and http://iambaker.net/that-cake and http://iambaker.net/easter-cake-frost...
            Daisy Cake Tutorial (Wilton #127D tip) : http://iambaker.net/thin-mint-cake-da...
            Ruffle Cake Tutorial : http://iambaker.net/ruffle-cake-tutorial
            Hydrangea Cake Tutorial : http://iambaker.net/hydrangea-cake-tu...
            Decorating different patterns with Wilton #150 tip : http://iambaker.net/cake-by-the-numbers
            Decorating different patterns with Wilton Grass tip : http://iambaker.net/cake-challenge-wi...

            /// From bakersroyale.com ///
            Baking Basics:Cupcake Decorating Part I : http://www.bakersroyale.com/cupcakes/...
            Valentine’s Rose Cupcakes : http://www.bakersroyale.com/cupcakes/...

            Happy decorating!!!

            1. It's not that difficult but it needs some practice. First step... get the 1st wilton cake decorating class book. This one will do: http://www.wilton.com/store/site/prod...

              Buy some of the "Wilton creamy decorator icing" and the tips and dyes the book calls out.

              Buy some plastic placemats in solid colors. If you can't find those get some pastel colored 8" x 10" paper and have it laminated in plastic. Practice on these until you are comfortable. Wilton sells practice boards but I liked the size of the placemats, myself.

              When you are comfortable, you can make some good buttercream and decorate your cake. If you have the time and want the hand holding take one of the Wilton classes. You can usually find them in craft stores. Afterall, they want to sell you the tips.

              Don't get carried away and buy too many tips until you have tried it a few times. You will be surprised how few you need.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Hank Hanover

                THIS -- this is how I taught myself to decorate cakes years and years and years ago -- it's a really good introduction with very easy-to-follow instructions.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  I bought the DVDs, too. I watched them several times.

                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    I taught myself so long ago that they didn't even offer lessons on VHS, and DVDs didn't even exist yet!