Can you tell us the techniques used to pipe icing onto cakes using icing tips?
--Nancy Bowden, East Berlin, CT
You'll be amazed at the many beautiful designs you can use to decorate a cake when you know how to handle a pastry bag and pastry tips. Our favorite frosting is buttercream, which is made with softened butter, sugar, and egg whites. Scoop it into a pastry bag, leaving plenty of open space at the top so you can cinch the material together and squeeze the frosting downward when you're ready to decorate. Then, attach a pastry tip to the bottom of the bag and secure it with the ring-shaped adapter that screws on the bag. Some of the more popular tips include the plain round, leaf, star, curved petal, and basketweave tips.
Each tip will create a different effect, depending on the motion you use to apply the frosting. It's a good idea to practice on parchment paper; you can always scoop a design you're not happy with off a cake, but if you've practiced beforehand, you won't need to run the risk of damaging the base coat of frosting on the cake. Hold the frosting bag at the top with one hand, and guide the tip with the other. Squeeze from the top, and pull the tip along the cake, lifting up when you've made the design you desire.
A cake decorated with piped-on frosting can be very simple and still achieve a beautiful effect. As your skills improve, you can begin using more and more detailed designs that can really make your cake a piece of art.