Cake decorating

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Light green buttercream is piped in swirls onto a white cake.
Buttercream swirls are piped onto the sides of a cake with a pastry bag

Cake decorating is a form of the sugar arts that uses icing, frosting, fondant, and other edible decorative elements to make plain cakes more visually interesting. The cake itself may also be molded during baking and sculpted after baking, and may take on simple or elaborate three-dimensional shapes as part of its decoration or as its entire decoration.

Cakes can be baked and decorated for almost any occasion; whether social or simply for the baker's own enjoyment. Typically, they are decorated to mark special occasions and celebrations, such as birthdays, weddings, national or religious holidays or as a promotional good for a business.


Two 18th century cakes, said to depict Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst

The decoration of cakes arose in 17th-century Europe,[1] typically for special occasions as a luxury good. Wedding cakes have the longest tradition as a decorated cake and are considered the most artistic form of cake decorating.[by whom?][citation needed] Christmas cakes began to be decorated in the 18th and 19th centuries, having evolved from Twelfth Night cakes, an earlier tradition baked and eaten on Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Epiphany. These cakes were considerably rich and would be decorated elaborately only by the upper classes of society due to their expense.[2][3]

During the 1840s, the advent of temperature-controlled ovens and the production of baking powder made baking cakes much easier.[4][better source needed] As temperature control technology improved, an increased emphasis on presentation and ornamentation developed.[1] Cakes began to take on decorative shapes, were adorned with additional icing formed into patterns and flowers and food coloring was used to accent frosting or layers of cake.

Even though baking from scratch decreased during the latter part of the 20th century in the United States due to the increase in availability of ready-made cakes and cake mixes, decorated cakes have remained an important part of celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, showers and other special occasions.

Types of decoration[edit]

A cake may be decorated using small adornments or embellishments made separately and placed on top of or around the cake or may be decorated by being covered with a form of icing or paste, either alone or in accompaniment to other decorations. Cake decorations can be made of edible material or food-safe plastics.

Fondant icing[edit]

A fondant rose edible cake decoration

Fondant, also known as sugar paste or ready-roll icing, is a soft, thick paste made of sugar, water, gelatin, vegetable fat or shortening and glycerol. Fondant is typically sold in a variety of colours when bought ready-made, is easy to handle and provides a smooth, matte and nonstick cake cover.

Fondant must be rolled out with cornstarch to avoid it sticking to any surfaces. Once smoothed out and thin enough, fondant can be moulded into many different shapes, such as flowers or leaves and may be cut into shapes and applied to a cake to build up decoration. Though primarily used to cover cakes, it is also used to create individual decorations to accompany cakes, consisting only of fondant with no cake inside.

As a relatively heavy form of decoration in comparison to traditional knife-spread frosting, extensive fondant application may weigh a cake down considerably, requiring a suitably sturdy cake base for support. Fondant remains soft once sculpted, unlike other forms of icing, which may harden when exposed to air.

Royal icing[edit]

Royal icing is a sweet white icing made by whipping fresh egg whites (or powdered egg whites, meringue powder) with icing sugar. Royal icing produces well-defined icing edges especially when decorating biscuits and is ideal for piping intricate writing, borders, scrollwork and lacework on cakes. It dries very hard and preserves indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but is susceptible to soften and wilt in high humidity.


Marzipan is often used for modeling cake decorations and sometimes as a cover over cakes, although fondant is typically preferred as an outer layer.

Gum paste[edit]

A bow made from gum paste

Gum paste, also known as florist paste, is an edible, brittle material that dries quickly and can be sculpted to make cake decorations such as flowers or molded designs.[5]

Modeling chocolate[edit]

Modeling chocolate is a chocolate paste made by melting chocolate and combining it with corn syrup, glucose syrup or golden syrup. The chocolate is formed into a variety of shapes and structures that cannot be easily accomplished with other softer edible materials such as buttercream frosting, marzipan or fondant. Modeling chocolate can be made from white, dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolate.

Edible ink printing[edit]

Edible ink printing is also used in decorating cakes. After breakthroughs in nontoxic inks and printing materials in the early 1990s,[6] it became possible to print images and photographs onto edible sheets for use on cakes. The process uses preprinted images printed with edible food colors, which are then applied to various confectionery products such as cookies, cakes or pastries. Designs made with edible ink can be created with an speciality printer, which transfers an image onto a thin, edible paper, made of starches and sugars. Originally introduced as a specialty service provided by bakeries, this technology can now be used by home consumers using the specialized paper, ink and printers.


Decorating a cake usually involves covering it with some form of icing and then using decorative sugar, candy, chocolate or icing decorations to embellish the cake. But it can also be as simple as sprinkling a fine coat of icing sugar or drizzling a glossy blanket of glaze over the top of a cake like a mirror cake style that uses a glaze of gelatin, sugar, water and sometimes chocolate.[7] A cake turntable (or rotating tray) can be used to facilitate the process.

Icing decorations can be made by either piping icing flowers and decorative borders or by molding sugar paste, fondant or marzipan flowers and figures. An embossing mat is a tool for cake decoration[8] that creates embossed effects on the top of cakes, cupcakes or similar items. The user presses the mat down into cake dough or icing and the pattern embossed in the mat is transferred to the item.[8] Embossing mats are often made of silicone rubber or similar flexible polymers.[citation needed]

Many icing designs can be made by piping tips; these come in many shapes and sizes. Tutorials are often made to model the different designs created by different piping tips.

“Naked Cakes” are a popular trend, as of 2020. In this decorating style, fillings are used between the cake layers but the outside is left unfrosted or sparsely frosted with much of the cake itself still visible between and through the frosted areas. Naked cakes are often decorated with icing sugar or fresh flowers on top. They are especially popular as wedding and engagement cakes.[citation needed]

It may be necessary to secure cake layers in place to prevent sliding or falling, especially for large cakes with several layers. Various forms of wooden skewers or dowels and plastic straws are commonly used for this purpose.[9]

"Operation Crossroads" atomic bomb mushroom cloud cake, 1946

Large and complex structures can be made by cutting shapes out of cake and piecing them together (often secured together with many non-edible reinforcements). Pre-formed baking pans make it easy to create cakes in non-traditional shapes. Though while useful for producing multiple cakes of the same general shape, they do not have the endless customizability of hand-cut building blocks. Fondant and marzipan structures can also be used to modify the overall shape of a cake.[citation needed]

As an art[edit]

Cake decorating has become a unique art form, with examples ranging from simply decorated single-layer cakes, to complex, multi-layered three-dimensional creation with extensive edible decorations.

In popular culture[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Beckett, Lynlee (2015). "Cake Decorating: History, Overview and Techniques". Craftsy and Sympoz Inc.Terms of Use. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved March 30, 2015.
  2. ^ The Essential Guide to Cake Decorating. Murdoch Books Test Kitchen. 2001. p. 8.
  3. ^ "Twelfth Cake". Archived from the original on December 5, 2021. Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  4. ^ The Food Museum Online Exhibit, Accessed May 20, 2007 (archived link, February 3, 2010)
  5. ^ "What is the difference between florist paste, gum paste, fondant, Mexican paste etc?". Retrieved March 30, 2015.
  6. ^ Andel, Tom (August 1, 1997). "Get contractors on your team". Transportation & Distribution. Penton Pub. 38. Archived from the original on October 3, 2015.
  7. ^ Saelinger, Tracy (May 12, 2016). "These stunning, shiny cakes are making the internet drool". Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Sullivan, K. (2013). Step-by-Step Cake Decorating. DK Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-4654-1822-7. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  9. ^ Phillips, Sarah. "Cakes - Stack and Support Layers".
  10. ^ Bake it as a man
  11. ^ Hochman, David (October 13, 2009). "When the Icing on the Cake Spells Disaster". The New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2009.

External links[edit]

Media related to Cake decoration at Wikimedia Commons