Cake Decorating Techniques

Professional cake decorating techniques are the difference between the cakes your mom made for you growing up and that gorgeous wedding cake you see on the cover of Bon Appétit. Both are created with love, but unless your mom was Martha Stewart, or dad was Paul Hollywood, the cake probably wasn’t the most photogenic slice of art.

Professional cakes are designed to be stunning, and as baking show judges tell us: presentation is just as important as taste. All professional cakes are designed for photo opportunities, whether they are for weddings, birthdays, or other formal events.

So to really reach the level of star baker, and design your picture-perfect cake, here are the professional techniques you will need to master to set your cakes apart from homemade ones.

1. Use a Scale to Measure Your Ingredients

It sounds simple – but it matters. Baking is a science, and requires a bit of math to make sure recipes are precise, more so than just regular cooking. Measuring your ingredients by weight using a scale can give you a more exact amount of light, powdery ingredients like flour and sugar you might be using.

Differences can come from how tightly your bags of ingredients are packed, how tightly you pack them into your measuring cups and more. Use an ingredient weight chart to find the weight you should use for a cup of white flour (135 grams) or granulated sugar (200 grams).

2. Create a Smooth Frosting Base

Many amateur bakers struggle with getting a perfect, photo-ready smooth finish to their frosting. In cake decorating class, one of the first things you learn is how to prepare a cake for frosting.

Creating a crumb coat will help keep crumbs separate from your frosting, and it’s one of the first steps in creating a cake with a more professional appearance. Use a warm spatula or knife to spread a thin layer of frosting over your cake. Chill the cake for about 15 minutes to let this frosting barrier set, forming the ideal base for another layer of frosting. Use a cake turntable to spread the final layer and create a smooth finish.

3. Decorating With Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream frosting is one of the most commonly used kinds of frosting, making it an important skill to master. Buttercream is versatile and can easily be adjusted for stiffness, color, and flavor.

There are 3 main types of buttercream frosting:


The classic kind is based on butter and sugar. It has a fluffy texture and is ideal for textured designs.


Rolled buttercream is firmer, and has a base of shortening and corn syrup. It functions similar to fondant, and can be cut into shapes to apply to your cake. Unlike fondant, it has a glossy finish.


Meringue buttercream frosting is divided into Swiss and Italian. Swiss is smooth and creamy like classic, but has a smoother texture and more subtle taste. Italian meringue is a little bit stiffer than Swiss and is better to use in hot weather.

4. Piping Royal Icing

As you learn how to decorate cakes professionally, royal icing becomes an important tool in your arsenal. It can be intimidating to many bakers, but it creates a beautiful effect.

When mixing the icing, sift the ingredients carefully to ensure the icing will be smooth and shiny. Pipe the borders of your design first, to create a barrier. Let these dry and harden for about half an hour. After the edges are set, add water to the icing slowly until it has a syrupy consistency. Use this icing to flood the design, and let sit overnight to let the glossy finish set. Royal icing is ideal for piping on fondant, since it hardens and matches its firmness.

5. Applying Fondant

Fondant is used in many modern cake decorating designs, and when applied correctly it creates a flawless layer. Traditional fondant and marshmallow fondant can be used for the same purposes, but some people prefer the taste of marshmallow fondant.

Fondant needs to be rolled out on a flat surface dusted with powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar to fondant that feels too sticky or loose to work with. If it’s too stiff, glycerin can made it more malleable.

When it is rolled out to the desired size and shape, drape the fondant over your rolling pin so you can position it over the cake. Use a tool to smooth the applied fondant down. Air bubbles can be removed with a toothpick. Trim the fondant once it is smoothed onto the cake.

RELATED: 10 Things to Know About Working with Fondant

6. Piping Techniques

Piping techniques are the basis of traditional cake decorating. Once you have a firm grasp on different pipe tips and the shapes they create, you can get creative and use them to create just about any design on a cake.

Create a cactus garden on your cake or ice an homage to the 1970s with a shag rug icing job. The possibilities are endless and extend beyond shells, swirls and rosettes. Make sure to remove air bubbles from your piping bag, because they can ruin a piped design. Practice involves icing either on a piece of parchment paper or on a bottle, so you can get used to icing at an angle.

Learn How to Decorate Cakes Professionally

Think you know how to do all these techniques? Great! You’re on your way to becoming a master baker. But if you’re looking for professional guidance, and to hone your skills and techniques as a baker, reach out to the Oregon Culinary Institute today.

Learn more about admissions and how to enroll in a baking program that will help kickstart your professional cake making career.