Cake Decoration: 101

True confession time here, the Practical Cook loves cake. The Southern cooking tradition is full of cakes, often intensely sweet and involving Cool Whip. In my past professional life, I had the privilege of working with the Cake Mix Doctor. It is absolutely impossible to spend a chunk of your working day talking, writing, and promoting conversations about cake and not do some field research. So the Practical Cook headed to the local craft store and took a class on cake decoration.

For some of you who know me in real-life, this is probably a shocking admission, but yes, I can produce a “Wilton rose” and fold parchment into a makeshift icing bag.

Here’s someone on YouTube to show you how:

If you have time or inclination, I highly recommend taking a class. It was fun, and it’s a great skill to have up your sleeve. (Special thanks to partner in crime Dr. Particular for taking the class with me; they encourage you to sign up with a friend.) Look for cake recipes in future posts, but for today, take what you’ve got, and make it pretty. Here’s how.

1. Work your theme. This is a Little House on the Prairie cake with fruit strip log cabin, plastic figurines, candy sky, sugar grass, and the good old bulldog Jack, who is actually a licorice Scottie from Trader Joe’s.

Little House on the Prairie Cake

Little House on the Prairie Cake

2. Buy or borrow the right pan. It’s not a hassle when you can provide a castle for the princesses on bikes party. A little sugar glaze, some sparkly purple sugar, licorice in the turrets, and a photoshopped Princess on a Bike flag.

Princesses on Bikes Castle Cake

Princesses on Bikes Castle Cake

3. Cut-up cakes are your friend. Search for Baker’s Coconut Cut-Up Cakes to see the classics. The Practical Cook’s Mom passed her copy down to me, and it’s a treasured resource. This is a homemade Carrot Cake (recipe now available!). It’s easy to maneuver and contains 1 pound of carrots and some whole wheat flour.

Butterfly Cut-Up Cake

Butterfly Cut-Up Cake

4. Fruit strip art is hip, and requires no icing skills. My favorite trick here is the cherry juice and powdered sugar I mixed to make that bright pink shiny nose. This is just two 8 or 9 inch rounds cut into shapes. It’s the carrot cake again, perfect for Easter, and slightly post-modern.

Bunny rabbit cut-up cake with fruit strip detail

Bunny rabbit cut-up cake with fruit strip detail

5. Be unafraid, frosting covers all sins. The cake was slanted, the frosting refused to become smooth, so I went bridal on it. The drop flowers are very easy to make and place, and the bright colors liven up a chocolate cake.

Vertical Height and Frosting Make Simple Cakes Festive

Vertical Height and Frosting Make Simple Cakes Festive

A few ideas to get you started. Obviously, my primary work is kid’s birthday cakes, but the lessons apply to any cake. Add some fruit, some gummies, some jelly beans, and you’ve got a decorated cake. Cut up fruit strips and “draw” with them. Use candies creatively. Cake is fun—there’s never been a better time to play with your food.

Coming up tomorrow, Peanut Butter Powerhouse Snacks recipe. Snack time has never tasted better.

Share a birthday cake idea: practicalcook at gmail dot com

Twitter: practicalcook



Filed under Kitchen Philosophy, On the Table

4 responses to “Cake Decoration: 101

  1. Allison

    I love your blog! Please share the homemade Carrot Cake soon. My daughters 1st birthday is coming up and I would love to have a good carrot cake recipe for her big day! Thanks so much for the decorating tips!

    • The Practical Cook

      Thanks Allison! I’m planning on sharing the recipe next week. Good luck with your daughter’s 1st birthday party (I hope you’ll share a picture of the cake with us).

  2. AHi (aka Sleep Deprived Southern Mother)

    I am a little late to the Cake 101 party, but wanted to share my trage-triumph from the wee one’s 2nd birthday.

    “Big Trucks!” were the obsession of the month and the theme of the festivities, so I determined at 11 p.m. the night before the big bash to produce a confectionary replica that would both complement the trucking motif and satisfy the eyes and palates of our dear guests. Armed with the best pound cake recipe on the planet, various-sized loaf pans, a plethora of geometrically diverse candy and cookies, and the half-crazed creative zeal of a sleep-deprived Southern mother, I got to work. Alas, in my haste to prepare I took for granted the salubrious state of the key ingredient in a firm, delicious pound cake – shortening. The sniff test quickly revealed that it was past its prime, but at 1 a.m. neither calling the neighbor nor dashing out to the store was a wise or viable option. So I pressed on (comforted by the knowledge that – in my infinite wisdom and healthy level of self-doubt – I had purchased store-decorated backups). The result was, as you can see in the album below, an artistic triumph if not a culinary coup. Lesson of the day: Take a sniff before you make your list.

    The Big Bad Birthday Truck a/k/a the Incredible Inedible Cake:

    P.S. I have spared the PC and her gentle readers from graphic photos that reflect the sheer disgust and horror on the faces of those intrepid sugar addicts brave and foolish enough to ignore my sincerest warnings and take a big bite. As one insightful young lady commented: “It tastes like feet”.

    • The Practical Cook

      This story is beyond awesome! A triumph and tragedy, all in one. And great advice–sniff before you bake!!

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