The art of the cake: what you need to decorate

By easyFood

31 July 2018

If you are as passionate about baking cakes as I am, now is the perfect time to move on to the next level: the art of cake decorating. Cake decorating can be something as simple as filling and icing a cake with buttercream, or as complex as piping delicate flowers on the sides of a fondant-covered cake. When entering the world of cake decorating, it’s important to remember, it will take practice. The best approach is to start with the right arsenal of tools…

Cake on board

A cake board is the support to any cake and they come in a variety of sizes and shapes. There are two types of cake boards. A straw board is thin and often used as a base board when stacking cakes; these should be the same size as the cake so they can be hidden when creating tiers. Thick boards are used as bases for entire cakes, as well as to transport and serve the cake.

Turn the cake around

A turntable isn’t essential, but it will make your cake decorating a lot easier. It allows your cake to turn with ease when decorating and gives a 360˚ view, which is helpful when applying buttercream or decorations.

Spatula/palette knife

A basic rubber spatula is the staple tool in cake decorating as it will get every bit of icing out of the mixing bowl. A palette knife or offset spatula is one of the most frequently used cake decorating tools. It is used to smooth buttercream all over a cake. Whether you decorate in buttercream or fondant, an angled palette knife is essential for a smooth cake.

Bench scraper/scotch scraper

Bench or scotch scrapers are primarily used to divide pieces of dough. In cake decorating, once the cake is covered with buttercream, place your bench or scotch scraper against the side of the cake and turn the turntable. This process spreads your buttercream evenly and gives a smooth finish.

Top tip: Cut a half moon shape out of a plastic lid from a container to create an easy DIY scotch scraper.

Nozzles and piping bags

A piping bag with a nozzle is used to fill a cake, pipe designs and boarders with icing. A small and a large round nozzle, a star nozzle and a reusable/disposable piping bag is enough to get started, but there is an endless range of nozzles available that you can invest in as you continue to experiment with decorating.

Fondant off!

Fondant, also known as ‘roll out icing’, is made of sugar, water and corn syrup. It can be bought pre-rolled or in blocks, white or coloured, and is found in supermarkets or cake supply shops. Fondant is my favourite way to decorate cakes.

Gel colouring

Sometimes buying ready-coloured fondant isn’t essential. Gel food colouring can be found in cake supply shops and comes in an array of colours. Liquid food colouring will work, but isn’t as pigmented. A little goes a long way with gel colouring; add a dot to your buttercream or fondant and work it in. Add little by little until you reach your desired colour.


Toothpicks are a simple wonder of the world! Use a toothpick to add your food colouring to avoid adding too much at one time. I like to use toothpicks to stick finicky fondant decorations onto the cake, but do warn people if they’re in the cake. Otherwise… OUCH!

Cornflour/icing sugar

Similar to kneading any dough, it is important to dust your work surface to stop your fondant from sticking. When kneading fondant, lightly dust a work surface with cornflour or icing sugar. I personally like to use cornflour so that I can save my icing sugar for my buttercream.

Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

You can opt a non-stick rolling pin, but I’m old school and use an ordinary wooden one. Small non-stick rolling pins are also available in cake supply shops and are very handy when working with small pieces of fondant for decorating.

Smooth…real smooth

A fondant smoother is a wonderful gadget to use on sharp edges and tight corners where icing is difficult to smooth. It is crucial when it comes to fondant as it will smooth out any unsightly lumps and bumps.

Let the cake be your canvas

Paint brushes are ideal tools for sticking fondant cut-outs onto the cake by using water or vodka. You can buy paint brushes in cake supply shops but it isn’t necessary as regular paint brushes will do the job. Finer paint brushes are great for painting small details onto decorations, which can really bring a cake to life.


Dowels are essential for tiered cakes. Think of them as columns — they are inserted into a bottom tier to support the tier above and prevent it from sinking.

Modelling tools

Once you get the basics down, then it’s time to venture into sculpting with fondant. You can never have too many fondant modelling tools as they are perfect for shaping and imprinting, helping you create small details with fondant. Veining tools, ball tools and cone tools are just some of the options available and often come in a set.

You will have an easier time decorating cakes once you have your essential starter kit. Get creative and don’t fear fondant… BE  THE FONDANT!