How to Decorate a Cake

A chocolate birthday cake

There are so many different techniques and tricks out there that it's difficult to know where to begin when you're searching for information on how to decorate a cake. Whether you're just a beginner or an aspiring professional, there's always room to improve and learn new things. Cake decorating is a creative art, and design ideas can be as crazy or as traditional as you'd like to make them.

Applying Frosting

When you're learning how to decorate a cake, frosting is a big part of the lessons. Frosting is easy to make and an essential part of most cakes. If you're short on time or you'd rather not go to the trouble, you can pick up canned frosting at the grocery store.

Buttercream Frosting

To apply buttercream frosting, you'll need a utensil that spreads evenly, such as a flat spatula. If you don't have a flat spatula, you can use a regular spatula or even a butter knife. A cake is easier to frost when it's chilled, so if you have the extra time, freeze your cake for 20 to 30 minutes until it firms up.

  1. Using a large spoon or your spatula, apply frosting to the sides of the cake.
  2. Smooth out the frosting and spread it evenly from top to bottom.
  3. Add more frosting if necessary.
  4. Smooth the sides of the cake with your spatula, and return any extra scraped frosting to the bowl.
  5. Scoop additional frosting onto the top of the cake.
  6. Using your spatula, spread the frosting out and apply it evenly.
  7. Sharpen the corners of the cake with the spatula if necessary.

Frost a cake with whipped cream or ganache topping in the same way.

Fondant Frosting

Fondant is a sweet sugar-paste dough that is similar to modeling clay in consistency and texture. It can be used to form figures and decorations or to cover entire cakes.

  1. To cover a cake with fondant, ice the cake lightly with buttercream.
  2. Roll out the fondant, and loosen a large sheet of it.
  3. Press the sheet gently around the cake.
  4. Trim the edges with a sharp knife.
A cake decorated with strawberries

Piping Patterns

One of the most fun parts of cake decorating is applying frosting with a decorating tip and a pastry bag. If you don't have these supplies, you can also pipe lines of frosting with a zip-top bag if you cut a small hole at the corner.

Shell Border

To make a shell border around the top or bottom of your cake, use a star tip. Apply pressure to the bag until you have a medium-sized star dot, then pull to the side and taper off pressure. Move back to the tapered-off point and apply pressure again to form another medium-sized dot, and taper off again. Continue in this pattern until your shell border is finished.


To form a rosette shape with frosting, use a star tip. Squeeze the pastry bag gently until you have released a large dot. Taper off pressure slightly and move the tip in a quick circle, then release. That forms one rosette.


To form words, letters, and lines with frosting, use a small round tip. Apply even, constant pressure, and move the tip and bag slowly and steadily. To end a letter or a line, stop applying pressure to the pastry bag and continue to move the tip slowly until no more frosting comes out.

More Tips and Ideas for How to Decorate a Cake

  • Try applying a fruit border to your cake or garnishing with fresh berries.
  • Use a variety of candies on the top and sides of the cake for a mosaic effect.
  • Unless you're applying frosting or cutting into a cake to shape it, work with cakes that are at room temperature because the frosting will be better able to hold add-ons.
  • Advanced cake decorators or ambitious beginners can build roses on dowel sticks or flower nails and use them to adorn a cake.
  • You can top a set of cupcakes or a special-occasion cake with a ready-made or homemade cake topper.
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How to Decorate a Cake