A beautifully decorated cake can add delight to any special occasion. It`s a personal touch that will be appreciated by everyone present (even those watching their waistlines). And while anyone can slap some frosting or sprinkle some powdered sugar on a cake, true decoration takes patience and skill. It also calls for a little imagination.
The cake you`ll be decorating must be completely cooled before any icing even gets near it. When it`s finished baking, let it cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes before placing it on a cooling rack. Following that, it will take several hours to cool. You might even consider baking the cake the day before you decorate it, and then refrigerating it overnight.
Prepare the icing
Any type of icing will work, including ready-made icing you can buy at the store. Mix the icing with a rubber spatula or an electric mixer (use a paddle attachment and set the mixer on the lowest speed). You can add water or milk to thin the icing as needed. It should hold about a 1/4-inch peak when properly thinned. Once you`re finished mixing, place a small amount in a separate bowl.
Level the cake
With a long, thin knife, flatten the cake`s top by cutting away just enough to remove any roundness. This will create a level surface on which you can more easily place any decorations (such as borders, flowers, and the like). Measure the sides with a ruler so you`re sure you`ll be cutting off an even amount, then mark an even height on each side to use as a guide.
Assemble a decorating bag
Decorating bags come in various models. If you want to get into cake decorating for the long haul, purchase several featherweight bags, which are made of washable polyester that`s specially coated to prevent leaks. If you`re a one-time-only decorator, use a disposable (plastic) or parchment paper bag. You can find these ready-made at most grocery stores.
Put in the filling
Fill the cone with icing about halfway - you`ll want to start with a small amount so you can get the hang of the technique. Don`t overfill the bag, or the icing will end up on you instead of the cake. Twist the bag closed just above the icing. This will push the icing down toward the tip. Using a large, round tip on the decorating bag, squeeze a thick border of icing along the top edge of the bottom layer. This edge will prevent any filling from spilling out the side of the cake once it`s put together. When the entire edge is covered, put the filling in. You can use more icing or something different such as fruit preserves, pudding, custard, whipped cream, etc. Start at the center of the cake and work your way out toward the border, creating a nice, thick layer. When you`re finished, gently replace the cake`s top layer. Make sure the layer is sitting level by measuring the height on all sides. If necessary, press down slightly on any areas that aren`t laying flat, using the border and filling as a moldable cushion. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes.
Borders add elegance and style to what would otherwise be an ordinary looking cake, but creating them takes practice. Usually they`re placed around the top and bottom edges, but sometimes just the bottom. Where you put them will depend on the cake`s design and shape. Use your best judgement to decide where your borders should be.
Add the final touches
You can find ready-made decorations where baking items are sold. These not only include icing flowers, but also borders, beads, ruffles, figurines, and more. Or you can go for nontraditional decorating items such as toys. Candy, nuts, or colored sugar sprinkled over the top or formed into a pattern look good too. You can also practice using a small tip to write a special message in brightly colored frosting.