Cake decorating

Cake decorating

Cake decorating is one of the sugar arts that uses icing and other edible decorative elements to make otherwise plain cakes more visually interesting. Alternatively, cakes can be molded and sculpted to resemble three-dimensional persons, places and things. In many areas of the world, decorated cakes are often a focal point of a special celebration such as a birthday, graduation, bridal shower, wedding, or anniversary.

The art of cake decorating dates back to mid-17th century in Europe and has since flourished in many regions and countries, including Northwestern Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and South America.


While the history of cake dates back to ancient Egyptian times when cakes were more bread-like, the art of cake decorating has a relatively short history that dates back to the mid-17th century when cake pans made their debut in kitchens across Europe.

For the next two hundred years, elaborately decorated cakes were mainly displayed at banquets hosted by Europe’s aristocracy. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century, when the French began including dessert as a separate sweet course served at the end of a meal, that decorated cakes began making regular appearances on tables throughout France and then across Europe.

During the 1840s, the advent of temperature-controlled ovens and the production of baking soda and baking powder made baking cakes much easier. [ [ The Food Museum Online Exhibit] , Accessed 2007-05-20]

Cake decorating continues to thrive today as an integral part of the sugarcraft industry and as a popular art form, with unique styles being developed in North America, North Western Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Even though baking from scratch decreased during the latter part of the 20th century in the United States, decorated cakes have remained an important part of celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions. [ [ The Food Museum Online Exhibit] 2007-05-20] and designs range from simple to complex.

Styles of cake decorating

Decorating a cake usually involves covering a cake with some form of icing and then using decorative sugars, candies, chocolate or icing decorations to embellish the cake. But it can also be as simple as sprinkling a fine coat of icing sugar or drizzling a glossy blanket of glaze over the top of a cake. Icing decorations can be made by either piping icing flowers and decorative borders or by molding gum paste, fondant, or marzipan flowers and figures.

The precursor to most styles of cake decorating is the European style, which entails covering a cake with a smooth layer of icing, either royal icing or rolled fondant, and then using royal icing to pipe flowers, borders and decorative stringwork to adorn the cake. Traditionally, the wedding cake is a graduated multi-tiered cake stacked in Victorian style or separated by pillars with flowers and other decorations applied to each tier.

The Lambeth Method uses intricate dimensional overpiping of borders on a fondant covered cake. Scrolls, scallops and stringwork are piped, one layer of icing on top of another, until a very three-dimensional effect is achieved.Much of the cake decorating in the colonized regions of South Africa, North American, New Zealand and Australia, evolved from the Lambeth Method.

The Australian Method also uses intricate royal icing piping over fondant-covered cakes, but then adds delicate lacework and detailed extension and curtain work.

The Wilton methods use buttercream icing to both cover the cake and then pipe flowers and decorative borders. Buttercream is much less refined making for heavier and less intricate decorations. Wilton has also popularized the baking of cakes in a shaped pan and then decorating with piped, colored buttercream.

The Wafer Mache Method, a new dimension in cake decorating, created by Donna Horn of New Jersey,uses edible rice paper to create three-dimensional figurines, animals, and other imaginative cake decorations.

Cake decorating as an art

Cake decorating attracts artists from many different mediums. Several current cake artists were trained in other fine arts before turning to cake making.

Colette Peters was a former painter, [ [] Accessed 2007-06-20] Ron-Ben Israel of New York was a former dancer, [ [] Accessed 2007-06-20] Duff Goldman of Maryland was a graffiti artist, [ [ Duff Goldman] Accessed 2007-06-20] Judy Uson of the Philippines has a degree in Fine Arts, [ [ Judy Uson] Accessed 2007-06-20] and Bonnie Gordon of Toronto was a student of art history and is the daughter of Shirley Gordon, a well-known Canadian fashion designer. [ [] Accessed 2007-06-20]

For some other decorators, such as Donna Horn (New Jersey), Roland Winbeckler (Washington), Earlene Moore (Texas) and Lindy Smith (Great Britain), cake is their first medium.

Cake designers can spend days - even weeks - designing, building and decorating their cakes.

Cake decorating terms

Airbrushing: A quick way to cover a scene or background on the cake’s surface with food coloring using an artist's paint gun used with an air pump (compression).

Border: A continuous ribbon of icing used to decorate the top, sides and bottom edges of a cake.

Buttercream: A rich icing made by combining either butter or shortening (or a bit of both) with icing sugar and beating until smooth. Buttercream is an easy all-purpose icing that can be used to both ice and decorate a cake.

Concentrated Food Color: Food color that is available in liquid, gel, paste, or powder form which is concentrated to produce high quality color in icing or cake batter. [ [] ]

Decorating Bags: Small triangular shaped bags made from cloth, plastic or parchment paper which are fitted with decorating tips and filled with icing and used to pipe decorative items such as icing flowers, borders, scrollwork and lacework designs.

Decorating Tips: Sometimes called nozzles. These tips are used to create decorative items such as icing roses, shell borders, basketweave patterns and more. These come in various shapes and are used with an icing or pastry bag so that when the bag is squeezed the icing or cream is piped out in the shape of the tip, which may or may not be the final shape desired. For example, drop flowers are created with a single squeeze, while rose petals are created with skilled maneuvering.

Flower Nail: Shaped like a nail with an oversized head, this is used for piping royal icing and buttercream flowers onto before transferring to the cake.

Frosting: Americans tend to use the term frosting when referring to covering a cake with a creamy, sugar substance, while those in other English speaking countries tend to use the word "icing". In America, frosting often refers to icing that is spread in a freehand way over the cake while icing more often refers to decorating icing, such as piped borders and icing roses.

Ganache: A velvety smooth icing made by melting chocolate (either white or dark) and combining with heavy cream.

Gumpaste: Edible clay-like dough made by combining glycerin, gum Arabic and icing sugar and used to mold edible flowers and figures. Gum paste can also be rolled extremely thin and used to make intricate ribbons and lacework as well as delicate flower petals.

Marzipan: A palatable almond substance made from the same ingredients as almond paste; however marzipan has more sugar, less almonds and is milled to a smoother consistency. It's often used for modeling cake decorations and as a base covering underneath fondant.

Piping: A decorating technique where a decorating bag or tube fitted with a decorating tip and filled with icing is gently squeezed to produce shaped dots and ribbons of icing to decorate cakes and other baked goods.

Royal Icing: A sweet white icing made by whipping fresh egg whites (or dried egg whites, meringue powder) with icing sugar. Royal icing produces well-defined icing edges and is ideal for piping intricate writing, borders, scrollwork and lacework on cakes. It dries very hard and preserves indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but is susceptible to soften and wilt in high humidity.


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