Simple Cake Decorating Ideas

In this article I’m going to explain some basic cake decorating ideas. It isn’t going be fancy, it will be simple. It is geared towards someone who doesn’t have experience decorating cakes. If you find that you enjoy cake decorating, I do encourage taking a class! You’ll learn how to make beautiful frosting flowers and work with fondant!

I love making my own cakes. There are many reasons. I love decorating them, which I find fun and gives me a creative outlet. Also, my grocery store bakery usually doesn’t offer the design I’m looking for to match my theme. For those of you that have read a lot of this website you know that my children often pick out of the ordinary, creative themes for their parties! Let’s put it this way: I don’t think I would have found a bakery that could put a squid on a cake! Also, I tend to be frugal. I can’t believe how much the bakeries charge. I buy a box of cake mix for $1.09 and think it tastes great.

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 1:

Decide on Your Cake Design

The very first thing to do is decide what you want the cake to look like. You can browse our cake photo directory for ideas, or come up with your own. Try to refrain from using too many frosting colors, and keep your design simple. Knowing your design will allow you to determine if what shape cake you will be making, and what your frosting colors will be.

butterfly cake

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 2:

Bake the Cake

It is personal preference if you want to make the cake from scratch, or to go from a box. As I mentioned above, I bake my cakes from a box. I think they come out really good and moist. However, if you have the time and patience, there is nothing like a homemade cake from scratch!

cake mix

I use one box to make two layers of a 8 inch round cake. I have found that this size cake serves 12 to 15 people, depending on how small you cut the slices. For more guests, buy more than one box and move up to the rectangle size pans.

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 3:

Make the Frosting

I usually always make my own buttercream frosting. I do this because I find the frosting easy to decorate with, and many times I decide to use the buttercream transfer technique of decorating which calls for this type of frosting. You can find my buttercream frosting recipe by clicking the link.

Of course, you can always buy your frosting too. It is very inexpensive and is sold in little containers near the cake mixes.

Divide up the frosting depending on how many colors you will need, and tint each with food coloring.

green frosting

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 3:

Layer Your Cake

If you are layering the cake, apply a thick layer of frosting on top of one of the halves, and then stack the layers. But which side?

You may find that your cake top is uneven, and it is rounder and sticking up higher in the center of the cake, and tapering at the edges. Or, perhaps it is higher on one side, like the cake shown below. You have two choices to fix this.

uneven cake

You can position the two flat bottoms of the layers to be flush and form the middle of the cake. Be aware that the top of your cake will be slightly rounded, but this is the easiest way to fix the problem.

flat sides of cake positioned together

If you need a flat top to your cake (for example, you need a flat top for the Buttercream Transfer Technique or for a fondant layer), then you should put the rounded tops of the layers together to form the middle. To get these rounded sides to be flush, gently slice off the rounded area with a large knife, as shown in the photos below.

cutting layer of cakecutting through cake

removing layershaved off layer

Place the rounded layers, that you shaved off to make even, together. See how flat the top of cake is?

layered cake before frosting

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 4:

Apply the Crumb Layer

The first layer of frosting you apply to the cake is called a crumb layer. Its purpose is to give you a clean layer which will prevent any crumbs from falling off the cake. This is especially important if you have sliced your cake (as mentioned in the step above). Slicing the cake will reveal a moist cake center that is difficult to frost, since those crumbs cling to the frosting!

Apply a thin layer of colored frosting on the entire cake, using a butter knife. Don’t go for full coverage, and it is ok if you see crumbs clinging on the frosting. Doing this complete thin layer gets all those crumbs contained.

adding the crumb layer

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 5:

Apply the Final Layer of Frosting

Next, you can spread on a thicker layer of frosting over the entire cake, to get full coverage.

frosted cake

For a very smooth appearance, you can use a cake frosting knife. This is a special smoothed utensil with no serrations. You can dip this knife into a glass of warm water, which helps to smooth out the frosting surface.

cake frosting knife dipped in warm watersmooth surface of cake2

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 6:

Adding Your Design

At this point, if you are using the Buttercream Transfer Technique, click here to go to the next set of instructions.

Otherwise, draw out the design you want to add using a toothpick. Keep it simple!

sketching design with a toothpick

Fill another frosting bag with a different color frosting with a star tip.

star frosting tip

Fill in the design by making little stars. Making a star is a simple technique. You can practice on wax paper first if it is your first time. You will apply some pressure to the bag to allow the frosting to push out, while your tip is about 0.5 cm from the surface. After some frosting has dispensed release the pressure on the bag and push the tip slightly down into the star, then bring the tip up as you release.

creating a frosting starcreating a frosting star

frosting staradding stars to a cake

Once all your stars are filled in, use a contrasting color frosting next. Add a round hole tip, and add an outline around the design, as shown.

adding frosting outline

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 7:

Add Your Messsage

Adding a “Happy Birthday”? If so, now is the time to add it using a round tip and some darker colored frosting. The key is to take your time, and allow enough room! Try printing or cursive.

Cake Decorating Ideas, Step 8:

Add Your Border

Cakes don’t seem complete unless they have a shell or star border around the bottom of the cake (where it sits on the cake plate) and along the top rim of the cake (the exception is with fondant, which has such a clean look this isn’t necessary).

adding a frosting shell border

butterfly cake

To master a shell border, add on a star shaped tip. Start with the tip at a 45 degree angle to the surface. Apply some pressure, and back the tip behind where you are dispensing, just slightly. Then bring the tip back forward and release the pressure.

making a shell border with frostingmaking a shell border with frosting

A Few Tips:

  • Don’t get hung up on using cake decorating frosting tips if this isn’t your thing. You can also decorate a cake by finding small pictures of what the guest of honor likes best. Add a toothpick to stick these little photos up from the cake. For example, for a soccer cake: Frost the cake in green and add little soccer balls on toothpicks and stand them up all over the cake. This also works great for the birthday message, if you don’t want to take a chance with your own handwriting using frosting.
  • Decorating a cake with fresh flowers is beautiful, or make a design with candies!

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