Cake is one of those things that just spells PARTY! I mean, can you imagine arriving at a birthday that doesn’t have cake? That would just be sad… and it is! We’ve all been there. We go to a friend’s birthday to find that no one thought to bring a cake! In my friend group, this often leads to a candle being stuck in whatever the birthday boy or girl is having for dinner and, to be honest, a mound of mashed potatoes with a candle sticking out of it is not the most magical thing to behold…
Cake, in all its forms, is always a welcome addition to any table, and I’m here to give you some super-simple tricks for decorating a beautiful celebration layer cake that will make you feel like a cake wizard!
1. The perfect layer cake
I like to bake my cakes the day before I’m planning to assemble and decorate. This allows the cakes to cool completely and for the bubble structure in the sponge to settle a bit. It makes for a less “crumby” cake, which helps when slicing the layers and applying the buttercream. Be sure to wrap the cakes in plastic once they have cooled to room temperature. They will keep tightly wrapped in plastic on the counter for up to two days or frozen for up to two months. One note on the storage of an un-iced cake: never put it in the fridge! The refrigerator tends to dry out the sponge, leaving you with a less than delicious treat.
2. Dry cake? No way!
Simple syrup (a combination of 1 part water to 1 part sugar, boiled together until the sugar dissolves) is your secret weapon when it comes to fixing up a dry cake. I like to use a pastry brush to dab a bit of simple syrup over my cake layers to make sure that every bite is perfectly moist and delicious!
Make your frosting the day you plan on decorating your cake — this will ensure that it’s the perfect consistency for slathering over those lovely layers.
3. Stacks on Stacks
The key to a tall and sturdy cake is even layers and even icing. Each time you lay down a new layer of cake or spread on a new layer of buttercream, you have a new opportunity to even the whole thing up! For each cake layer, I like to step back to take a look and see if the cake is leaning to one side or another and, using my hand, press the top to even it out. For each layer of buttercream, I like to use a piping bag. This allows me to fill every inch of the cake with just the right amount of icing, without having to spend too much time fussing with an offset spatula, pushing the buttercream around to even it off.
4. Crumb Coat
A crumb coating is the easiest step in cake decorating because, well, it’s pretty darn messy! A crumb coat is a thin layer of buttercream spread all over the outside of the cake that acts to seal in all of the little crumbly bits of cake so that they don’t transfer to the outer frosting layer. To crumb coat, spoon about a cup or two of your buttercream onto the top of your cake and, using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer all over the top and sides of the cake. Make sure to fill any gaps or holes that you might have missed when filling the cake layers and even off the sides and top. Pop this into the fridge to firm up for about 20-30 minutes and you’ll be all ready to decorate one heck of a beautiful cake!
5. Ombre Cake
If you’re looking for an Instagram-worthy cake, I’d suggest giving ombre icing a try! To achieve this look, simply divide your icing into four separate bowls. Leave one bowl of buttercream plain/white and, using food colouring drops or gel, colour each of the remaining three bowls so that you have a light, medium, and dark version of one colour. Fill a piping bag with the darkest hue and pipe around the bottom quarter of the cake. Squeeze all of the darkest icing back into its bowl, then fill the bag with the medium hue. Pipe just above the darkest rings until you get about halfway up the cake then refill the piping bag with the lightest hue and pipe ¾ of the way up the side of the cake. Finally, pipe around the remaining quarter and top of the cake with the white buttercream.
Using a bench scraper, hold it against the side of the cake and spin your turntable to smooth out the buttercream. Continue lightly scraping and smoothing until the sides of the cake look just right. The colours will blend together slightly, leaving you with just about the prettiest cake you ever did see!
6. The Scallop Technique
Scalloped icing looks pretty difficult, but don’t be fooled! If you have a spoon and a piping bag or even a Ziploc freezer bag, you can master this super-simple look!
Start by applying a thin coating of buttercream on top of your crumb coat to cover up any specks of cake, then fill your bag with the rest of your buttercream. In a vertical line, pipe little bloops of icing that are around the size of a loonie down the side of the cake. Using the spoon, swipe each little spot of buttercream to the right. Pipe another vertical line of loonie-sized dots down the side of the cake just to the right of your first row and swipe to the right with the spoon. Continue until the whole cake is covered in lovely little scallops!
7. Flawlessly Smooth
Seamlessly smooth buttercream might seem a little basic and boring but, in my opinion, there’s nothing more beautiful than that satiny finish of perfectly applied buttercream! It’s the ideal base for other finishing touches, such as sprinkles or chocolate ganache, and looks oh-so professional.
To achieve a perfectly smooth finish, apply a very thick layer of buttercream on top of your crumb coat. Using your bench scraper and turntable, hold the scraper against the side of the cake and turn the table by a full rotation to ensure that there’s little to no seam. Continue scraping and turning until your cake looks like a canvas!
8. Leave it Naked
This is, by far, the simplest icing technique, because you’re pretty much already done! For a naked cake, just leave the cake with a crumb coat only and decorate with a chocolate drip and maybe a flower or two!
9. The Drip Cake and Finishing Touches
Finishing touches such as crushed cookies, flowers, chocolate covered nuts, candies, sprinkles or a chocolaty ganache drip are the best way to send your cake over the top! I like to highlight the flavour and/or colour palate of the cake in the garnishes I use, and pretty much all of my cakes are topped off with a chocolate drip (recipe follows). One of the hidden benefits of this over-the-top garnishing is its ability to fix or cover up a less-than-perfect cake or icing job. My motto is, if all else fails, sprinkles can fix anything!
- ¼ cup 35% whipping cream
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the whipping cream for 30 seconds or until very warm.
- Add in the chocolate chips and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Stir the chocolate and cream together until all of the chocolate has melted and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- When ready to use on the cake, remove the cake from the fridge and spoon the ganache over the top, pushing it over the edges at random intervals.