Cake Decorating

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Posted by Dharm

Although I've been baking cakes from a very young age, I never had any rhyme or reason to decorate them. Sure, I've had lots of experience in covering a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and maybe even a little ganache. But that was it.

And then everything changed when my son Michael turned one!

That was when I decided that I HAD to make his birthday cake and not order one. That decision meant that I had to learn to decorate it too.

The first cake I decorated was for Michael's First Birthday. I baked a butter cake in a Wilton Teddy Bear pan and the cake came out of the pan with the pattern embossed on it. Thus, it was fairly straightforward to pipe out an outline on the embossed pattern and then fill in the outline with piped stars. Easier said then done though!

Due to a lack of experience, I didnt realise that I should have iced the mouth and nose first before piping around it. So, to compensate, I used M&M's for the mouth and nose. After doing that, I realised that this made the bear seem a little evil!

It also took a lot of time to decorate the cake, basically due to my inexperience.
Nonetheless, I though it was a pretty fine effort for a first timer and what mattered most was that my son was pleased with his Teddy Bear cake.

The following year for his Second Birthday, he had developed an interest in Construction Equipment. Although he had been hinting at a Dinosaur Cake the whole year, he suddenly decided he wanted a Bulldozer for his birthday cake.

I had spent the preceding few months before his second birthday doing some research on how to transfer patterns on to a cake. What you are about to read is with the benefit of hindsight and gleaned from my failures and lessons learnt. Hopefully it will be simple and easy enough to follow and you wont have to learn the hard way!

  • First off, find a nice picture from the Internet, a colouring book or any other place, that you want to use.

  • Enlarge the picture (using a photocopier) to the size you want. I find that A4 or Letter size is large enough for a large rectangle cake.

  • Trace the pattern out on to tracing paper or greaseproof paper.

  • Bake your cake and then prepare a thick buttercream icing. I normally use a ratio of 1:2.5 meaning 1 part butter to 2.5 parts icing sugar. The icing should be firm enough to roll into a ball. Then when you press it between your fingers, it should become a flat circle and hold its shape. The reason you want it firm is so that you can place a sheet of tracing paper/greaseproof paper on top of the icing without causing it to smudge.[See, I didnt do this the first time and when I covered the icing with the paper, it all stuck to the paper and was a right royal mess!)

    "How do I ice the cake with icing so thick then?" I hear you ask. The trick here is to 'pat' the icing on. Take an amount of icing in your hands (of course
    make sure your hands are clean!) and press it out onto the cake. Flatten the icing, spreading it out slightly as you do so - much like you are lining a tart pan or mould. The icing will not be smooth but dont worry. Once the cake is covered, smoothen out the icing by dipping a metal spatula in hot water, wiping it dry and then smoothening out the icing.

  • Let the icing set for a bit.

  • Place the tracing paper with the image on top of the cake. Using a toothpick, prick holes into the icing following the pattern on the tracing paper.

  • Remove the tracing paper from the cake and you now have your pattern transferred on to the cake like a join-the-dots puzzle!

  • Connect the dots by piping icing along the dots and you have an iced outline.

  • Fill in the outline with piped stars or flowers or any other shape you like. Or simply use piping jelly or thin icing to 'flow' into the outline.

  • And there you have it! This is the Bulldozer cake that I iced using the method described above.

    The following year, for his Third Birthday, I made him an African Elephant. I used the same method as above but with a slight difference. I created the base icing out of three different colours - for the grass, the middle and then the sky. Also, I used melted chocolate for the outline.

    Having only decorated two cakes before this, I must say that I was amazed at how well this cake turned out. The Lovely Wife was equally amazed and to this day she says – “that cake was made with 20% skill and 80% love!” Proof that with a lot of dedication, anything is possible!

    Cake decorating didn't scare me anymore and I think I was really getting the hang of it. It was still hard work, but the happy look on my children's faces was reward enough. It was then time to celebrate my daughter Sarah's First Birthday. Her brother used to affectionately call her Bunny and so I decided on a Bunny Cake for her.

    This cake was another labour of love as would you believe that my icing set broke on me halfway through the decorating? I stayed up until almost midnight finishing the cake using various methods of ingenuity to pipe out the icing. I have since learnt the art of using piping bags rather than an icing set.

    For my son's Fourth Birthday, I made him this Dinosaur Cake. For any of you that have been forced to learn about Dinosaurs, this particular dinosaur is the Carnotaur that was little Michael's "most favourite dinosaur in the whole world." I added a few of his toy dinosuars around the cake to make it seem like the Carnotaur was stalking them!

    Practice really makes perfect and for Sarah's Second Birthday, I made her this Tigger Cake. I used some store bought plastic grass and coconut trees to further decorate the cake and give it more character.

    So you see, decorating cakes is really not that difficult. All it takes is a little patience and it gets easier the more you do it. I still dont think I'm particularly skilful at cake decorating but I think the more I do it, the better I get. It doesn't really have to be perfect either and the only thing you really need though,
    to make it very special, is a Whole Lot of Love!

    Speaking of Love, with Valentine's Day tomorrow, it's not too late to bake a cake for your other half. A simple square or rectangle cake decorated with a heart would be super. Or maybe his/her favourite sports team logo or even their favourite cartoon character. The possibilities are endless!

    The next time I write, I'll share my experience in making 3-Dimensional Cakes as well as share with you my experience in hosting Themed Birthday Parties for the kids. See you soon and in the meantime, Happy Valentine's Day!

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by Dharm from Dad ~ Baker & Chef


    You are an artist!! I bet your family LOVED these gems. I liked them all.

    Meg Wolff said...
    February 13, 2008 at 2:12:00 PM GMT+1  

    Your "Cake Decorating Tutorial" is very much appreciated. I make cakes but have never done ventured into decorating of any sort.
    My daughter wants me to bake her birthday cake 4 months from now. So I need to learn fast!
    Thanks, Dharm.

    February 13, 2008 at 6:12:00 PM GMT+1  

    Wow! You make me want to try my hand at it all over again! I decorated cupcakes last year and then put the nozzles away so well that I haven't been able to find them again! I must look for them...

    February 13, 2008 at 6:54:00 PM GMT+1  

    Thanks for the kind words. Would you believe I can't draw??!!

    Glad you liked the article. It's really not all that difficult and I'm glad I could help by sharing my experience. Good luck with your daughter's cake and I'll be happy to help where I can.

    Go get your nozzles out!!

    Dharm said...
    February 14, 2008 at 6:39:00 AM GMT+1  

    Beautiful cakes! My grandkids would love these.

    February 14, 2008 at 10:09:00 PM GMT+1  

    fabulous caks dharm! mny mum used to do fabulous iced cakes like yours and we always loved them.

    Abby said...
    February 15, 2008 at 11:54:00 AM GMT+1  

    This is such a wonderful thing to share with the world! I've yet to make a children's cake but these look fabulous and perhaps, one day, I will make one for my niece or nephew. Thanks for sharing.

    Pixie said...
    February 15, 2008 at 5:41:00 PM GMT+1  

    Lydia, thanks! bring your grandkids over!! I'm actually in the midst of preparing my little princess's bday cake now for tomorrow :)

    Abby, I'm hoping my kids will always remember this when they are grown up too....

    Pixie, Thanks for the compliment. Its always nice to share and I hope you DO try it out someday! :)

    Dharm said...
    February 16, 2008 at 3:34:00 AM GMT+1  

    absolutely gorgeous! I'll do them because I have to for family and friends but it's not my favorite part of baking. Now 3D cakes, I love...any ecuse to chop away cake!!

    Helene said...
    February 17, 2008 at 9:33:00 PM GMT+1  

    Those are some've never ventured into icing further than the plain piping...

    Anonymous said...
    February 23, 2008 at 10:28:00 AM GMT+1  

    Your cake decor is beautiful! I like to bake cakes, but I'm scared of decorating, I only put ganache and sprinkles. Maybe I'll try out your methods. :)rjce

    Jen said...
    February 25, 2008 at 5:27:00 AM GMT+1  

    Hi!I found your site when I was looking for tips on decorating a cake for my son on his 2nd birthday (in March) with butter icing. I asked many ppl - ppl who took baking courses but they all said that they play it feel, which was not much help at all. You were the only one that gave the ratio of 1:2.5 - thank you for that.
    I will try my hand again in this for his next birtday!! Btw, I love the deco on the cakes you made.
    I tried my hand at decorating - but eventually ended up making the picture on a stiff butter icing - I rolled it out, poked the pattern on the rolled out cream and pasted it onto the iced cake. I have no complaints - my son recognised that it was Barney and he loved it. That is all that matters to me.
    Thank you again for all your tips and help posted on your site. I have marked your site and will visit now and then to see if there is anything new.

    Anonymous said...
    October 5, 2008 at 12:11:00 PM GMT+2  

    bookmarked....nice explainations.. as far i understand u'r using eggfree icing for cakes... & the kind of icing u'r using for pat technique, is it same for piping also, please do let me know...

    Spice said...
    January 9, 2010 at 3:59:00 PM GMT+1  

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