Put Down the Piping Bag and Try These Low-Stress (but Beautiful!) Ways to Decorate a Cake
The party is around the corner and it's your turn to make the cake. No pressure—just because everyone in attendance will whip out their phones and share your creation on multiple social media channels, never mind that you have a million other things to do besides go to cake decorating school. Don't stress! Instead, use our easy cake decorating ideas when you need a low-effort, high-impact look for your cake.
The Real Pro Tip (It's Probably Not What You Think!)
Before you break into a sweat thinking about spending the next three nights sculpting a fondant menagerie to top a birthday cake, consider this timeless wisdom:
Less is more.
And this motto holds especially true when it comes to cake decorating. If you want to express your creativity with exquisitely piped icing, then go for it! But it's also possible to decorate an absolute stunner of a cake in 30 minutes or less with a simple glaze and some artfully placed fruit, chocolate curls, or edible flowers.
First, the Frosting
The frosting is your canvas to display and complement the rest of your cake decorations.
Buttercream Basics and Beyond
Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a classic, all-purpose frosting with silky, stable texture that spreads beautifully over cakes and can be piped into perfect peaks and patterns. See our guide to the basics of piping frosting, or skip ahead to the test kitchen's secret formulas for vibrant buttercream colors and learn a few easy-but-impressive piping techniques.
We did say 'put down the piping bag' but there are some artful methods for coloring, spreading, and yes, piping buttercream that are so gorgeous on their own, your cake won't need any additional decorations at all.
Use this test kitchen trick: Paint the inside of your piping bag with gel paste food coloring or strained fruit jam before putting in the frosting to achieve whimsical multicolored swirls. Or make ombrè frosting. Or triple down on the icing swoops and swirls with Martha's Berry Layer Cake. Stripes more your thing? Watch how to pipe stripes
Icings, Glazes, and More
Beyond the piping bag and the buttercream box, there are plenty of other options for coating a cake. A poured glaze, such as a glossy chocolate ganache or a cosmically cool Galaxy Glaze are real show-stoppers.
If the occasion calls for a rustic, "basic is best" ethos, all you need is whipped cream, an unfussy confectioners' sugar glaze flavored with vanilla or citrus, or simply a dusting of cocoa powder or confectioners' sugar—whichever one contrasts most beautifully with the color of the cake. (Hint: wait until just before serving to sprinkle on any powdery toppings.)
Fun Cake Decoration Ideas: No Piping Required
Look for them in the fresh herbs section of a gourmet grocery store, or ask the flower vendors at your local farmers' market if they have any unsprayed (pesticide-free) blooms. Look to the experts for advice on decorating with edible flowers.
Edible flowers that look gorgeous on cakes include:
- Roses—buds or petals
Other All-Natural Decorations
Look to the grocery aisles for other easy, edible garnishes like fresh mint, candied citrus peel, toasted coconut shavings, candied ginger, candy-coated nuts (hazelnuts and pecan halves are especially pretty), or shards of nut brittle. And of course you can never go wrong with chocolate curls or colored sprinkles!
Choose brightly colored fruits that can be left whole, or that are not so juicy that they'll leak all over the frosting. We love whole strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pitted cherries, and halved figs.
Cake Toppers That Do the Decorating for You
If you're crunched for time, or simply want to do something different, there are fun toppers that do all the decorating for you, such as fancy candles, mini pinwheels, or sparklers. See more of our ideas for crafty cake toppers.
No matter which cake decorating ideas you decide to try out next time, remember to have fun. A homemade cake is an act of love!