Anyone can use this cake decorating tutorial for impressive results on cakes without using a piping bag!
I had promised to do this post a while ago, however like most things, it took quite a bit longer than I expected, but I hope it was worth the wait. And Murphy’s Law: I baked all these cakes during the hottest day of the year!
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
You may already know that I’m getting ready to travel to Scotland to be a judge in the Scottish Baking Awards Competition on September 28th. I can’t wait to see and taste what all the incredible Scottish bakers have to offer this year!
In order to enter a cake/baking contest, one needs to have a certain level of skill, technique, and experience, not to mention, talent. However, none of those are necessary in order to create an impressive cake, which is the reason I want to write this post. If you follow my three simple steps, you will be able to garner compliments and comments such the wide-eyed, “You made that?”
I have baked so many cakes, I could never try to put a number on just how many, yet I hardly ever decorate two in the exact same style. I have never taken a cake decorating class or course, although I was given some instruction in how to do basic piping, from my mother who had a business decorating and delivering wedding cakes (including my own, which we made together).
The point of this cake decorating tutorial is to show you that you can make a basic cake look impressive with no cake decorating experience or skill whatsoever! And without a piping bag or tips–t’s true.
You’ll see that with this cake decorating tutorial that once you have some basic ideas, tips and tricks (which I will show you below) to decorate and present a cake, you will be able to incorporate your own ideas and realize that the possibilities are endless.
How to decorate a cake to look professional
STEP 1. The most important step in making a cake look more impressive and professional, is to make the layers level. You’ll never see a domed, uneven cake on display in a bakery or baking competition, right?
The simplest way to do this is to use this wonderful tool, a cake leveler/slicer which a child can use with perfect results. Simply adjust the wire to the depth needed to make a level cake layer and saw away with the feet placed on the counter. Remove the top and you have a perfect layer!
Now, if you truly don’t want to spend $5 (I would advise that you splurge, btw), then you can use a large, serrated knife or even dental floss, but I know I can never keep those perfectly level.
Jam and Whipped Cream
If you choose to use jam and whipped cream, put the jam on the bottom layer and spread the cream on top of the jam, then carefully place the second layer on top.
I use a cake lifter to move the cake from the counter to the serving plate, it works really well.
Choose a flavor which will complement the cake. I used chocolate mocha for the chocolate cake, and plain vanilla for the white cake, or you could make vodka buttercream for an adult’s cake. After leveling the cake, fill the middle of the layers with frosting, trying not to get a lot of crumbs into the frosting in the bowl; always pull the frosting from the center, outwards, so that it avoids contact with crumbs.
Next, spread a thin layer over the entire cake, as this is only a “crumb coat”. As you can see, there are some crumbs stuck in the frosting, but this is totally fine when using this method.
Put the cake in the fridge for about an hour or so, then spread another thicker layer of frosting, and this time, you won’t have to worry about crumbs!
This is one of my very favorite ways to decorate a cake because it looks so difficult, but it’s actually the easiest of all!
Here’s the recipe: EQUAL AMOUNTS OF CHOCOLATE AND CREAM. Yes, that’s all, but be sure to use really good quality chocolate and good quality cream. Put both ingredients in a pot over low heat and stir until you have a smooth, thick sauce. If it gets too hot, it will run over the cake too quickly, so let it cool a little and stir often so it doesn’t get a “skin”.
Let it drip over the edge.
You can also cover all of the sides completely if desired. For this small 6″ cake, I melted 4 oz (1/2 cup) Trader Joe’s chocolate chips with 4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy whipping cream and still had leftover ganache, which is great for dipping fruit into, such as strawberries and bananas.
A Few Other Ideas
-flavored whipped cream
-fruit and whipped cream
-cream cheese frosting
-chunky filling, like a sweet coconut as used in German chocolate cakes
-plain powdered sugar glaze (only for top)
STEP 3. Garnish and decorate. Here are some examples:
Never underestimate the power of powdered sugar. This cake decorating tutorial would be amiss in not including powdered sugar! A little sprinkling on almost any dessert or baked good just makes it say, “I’m just so much better now!”
Not to mention its other super-power of being the best “cover up”, hiding mistakes and blemishes in the most opportune way!
Biscuits, Cookies, Wafers Etc.
If you’d like to make the cake in the photos which is lined with ladyfingers, then all you need to do is press them on while the buttercream is still soft. If it gets hard, a little smear of buttercream is all you need to make them stick.
Tying a ribbon around the cakes isn’t necessary, however it’s nice to know that none of the ladyfingers can fall off, and I think it just looks lovely, as you can see in the photo below. I used Italian ladyfingers, but you can use soft ladyfingers (French) or any type of cookie or biscuit which can line the perimeter of the cake; pirouette cookies are another great choice.
Use a ribbon to tie in a theme: a blue ribbon for a baby shower for a boy, and blue pacifier decorations for the top, makes a gorgeous centerpiece for the buffet table.
Such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, cherries, etc., any fruit that won’t turn brown, and as you can see, even just three strawberries are enough to dress up a cake.
I love using fresh flowers, especially roses, on cakes! How can you beat Mother Nature’s work? It makes the cake look classy and elegant, but it’s so easy; just place it (them) on top or on the side! However, just make sure not to use anything poisonous, such as oleander flowers; Google it if in doubt.
Stands and plates
As you can see from the photos, I’ve used pretty cake stands. Nothing looks worse than a paper plate under a cake. Use the cake plates to your advantage; there are some really pretty ones available now.
Other Decorating Ideas
-sprinkles, but unless it’s a children’s cake, I’d advise holding off on the rainbow kind (just my opinion, btw)
-candies, jelly beans, brittle, crushed candy bars, sugar flowers, purchased decorations like these roses, for example
-plastic decorations (remove prior to cutting, especially if children are present)
So as you can see, it’s not that difficult to get professional looking results! And when you want to start with the piping bag, it’s even more fun!
Don’t miss another recipe or travel post; sign up for my free subscription below.
(I promise not to sell or share your info, ever!)
Here are two cake recipes for you to use, too.
- about 4 small or 2 large (375 g) cooked, cooled beets (I like baking them in foil to keep them dry)
- 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups (400 g) sugar
- 16 oz (500 g) oil (I used olive oil and avocado oil)
- 5 eggs
- 2 1/2 cups (340 g) all purpose flour
- 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 3/8 tsp salt
- 50 grams (9 tbsp) good quality dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Barry)
BUTTERCREAM FROSTING INGREDIENTS
- 1/2 cup (113 g) butter, at room temperature
- 5 cups (625 g) confectioner’s sugar
- 1/3 cup (43 g) good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 to 120 ml) cold strong coffee
- 1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).
- Prepare two, 8″ or 9″ baking pans (or one, 9×13″); butter and flour them well.
- Puree the beets in a food processor along with the eggs, vanilla, oil and the sugar.
- In a large bowl, place the dry ingredients, then add the pureed mixture. Beat with an electric or stand mixer on low speed until well combined.
- Pour batter into prepared pans and bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done a a tester (or skewer) comes out clean.
- Remove from pans after a few minutes and allow to cool completely on racks.
- Meanwhile, make the buttercream frosting by beating the butter until soft, then adding the sugar, cocoa, 1/4 cup (2 oz) coffee and salt, and mixing until creamy and smooth. Continue to add more coffee until a soft, spreadable, or pipe-able consistency is reached.
- Cut the tops off the cake to make them level, you can see photos on this post. Place one layer of cake on a serving plate and spread some buttercream on top.
- Place the second layer on top and decorate as desired with the frosting and other decorations, if desired (I put some almond crunch pieces on the sides.)
Serving Size:1 slice
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 1186 Total Fat: 53g Carbohydrates: 81g Protein: 6g
- 1 3/4 cups (14 oz) sugar
- 1 cup (8 oz)good quality, unsalted butter (I like Kerrygold) at room temperature
- 3 cups (16 oz) flour, good quality
- 1 cup (8 oz) buttermilk, room temperature
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- raspberry jam, good quality (I like Bonne Maman)
- 1 cup (8 oz) heavy whipping cream, whipped
- powdered sugar for dusting
Prepare cupcake tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350º F (175º C)
- Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; set aside.
- In a large bowl (preferably in a stand mixer), cream the butter and sugar, slowly for 2 minutes. Increase to high and beat for another 8 minutes, or until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl occasionally.
- Add the 2 of the eggs, one at a time, clearing after each addition, then add half of the flour mixture, scraping the sides with a spatula if needed.
- Add half a cup of the buttermilk and mix well, then add another egg. Continue to mix; then add the remaining milk, egg, vanilla and flour. Mix on high for 2 minutes, scraping sides with a spatula at least once.
- Fill the cupcake liners half full with the batter and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when placed in the center of a cupcake. Place on cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
- When ready to decorate, cut out the center of each cupcake, angling the knife at a 45º angle, then cut the pieces in half to resemble butterfly wings. Place a small amount of jam in the center, followed by a dollop of cream (or buttercream, if desired), then place the "wings" on top.
- Repeat with all of the cupcakes, then dust each one generously with powdered sugar.
- Serve immediately, especially if using fresh cream, as it can spoil quickly, especially in warm weather. Keep refrigerated if you do not serve them right away.
Christina’s Cucina is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.