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Kitchen Smarts: 5 Simple Cake Decorating Ideas That You Don't Have To Be A Pro To Pull Off

Take your cake to the next level.

Published Apr. 18, 2019.

Cakes are the centerpiece of any major occasion. Whether you prefer chocolate, vanilla,  or red velvet, you want to make sure the exterior looks as good as it tastes. For a cake that looks like it came from a bakery, you don’t have to be a pastry chef. You just need these decorating tips.


The Perfect Cake

America’s Test Kitchen’s first all-cake book, The Perfect Cake, is the definitive guide to any cake you crave.  
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In this video, part of the “Kitchen Smarts” series on America’s Test Kitchen’s YouTube channel, Cook’s Illustrated test cook Lan Lam demonstrates five simple, creative ideas to make your next cake stand out. (And no, it doesn’t take any fancy tools to accomplish these beautiful cake decorations.) Here are some of our findings:

Softened apple slices make the best roses: You can make beautiful roses to sit atop your cake by rolling up thinly sliced apples. Before rolling them up, make sure you let them sit for about five minutes in a mixture of sugar and lemon juice. This prevents browning and makes them flexible enough to work with.

Create an abstract look: Dipping a paint brush in gel food coloring and then dragging it across the top of the cake adds a whimsical pop of color to your cake.

Two steps to the perfect drizzle: You can easily create that classic chocolate drizzle look that is irresistible. Take the chocolate mixture and pour some of it on top of the cake and spread. Then take a ¼-cup of the remaining chocolate and drizzle it along the top edge to create the desired effect.

The key to easy chocolate curls: You can easily make multi-colored chocolate curls to put on top of your cake. All you need is a vegetable peeler.

Tint your way to an awesome ombré: You can achieve a beautiful ombré look by tinting your frosting with increasing amounts of coloring. Spread the frosting on the cake in thirds, starting with the darkest frosting on the bottom. Running a spatula along the sides with a rotating cake stand allows you to blend the frostings together.

Watch the Video

Featured Equipment

The Best Cake Stand

Winco Revolving Cake Decorating Stand

This stand was tall, providing excellent visibility and comfort. It rotated quickly and smoothly yet stopped precisely where we asked it to.  
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The Best Offset Spatula

OXO Good Grips Bent Icing Knife

From handle to tip, this spatula was sized right. It’s sturdy but nimble, and helped testers make quick work of icing cakes with all types of frosting.  
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The Best Mini Prep Bowls

Anchor Hocking 6-Piece Nesting Prep Bowl Set

Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, these wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean.  
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The Best Silicone Spatula

Di Oro Living Seamless Silicone Spatula—Large

This model is firm enough for scraping and scooping but also fit neatly into tight corners. Its straight sides and wide, flat blade ensured that no food was left unmixed.  
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The Best Mandoline

Swissmar Börner Original V-Slicer Plus Mandoline

This simple device made cuts effortlessly with stunningly precise results. Its protective hat-shaped guard and easy cleanup and storage add up to a slicer that we’ll use every day.  
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The Best Pastry Brush

Winco Flat Pastry and Basting Brush, 1½ Inch

This brush had the thickest head of bristles in the testing, allowing it to pick up and deposit the greatest volume of egg wash, oil, butter, or glaze in a single pass.  
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The Best Glass Measuring Cup

Pyrex 2-Cup Measuring Cup

The unbeatable traditional version of the Pyrex Liquid Measuring Cup.  
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The Best Fruit/Vegetable Peeler

Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler

This Y-shaped peeler easily tackled every task, thanks to a razor-sharp blade and a ridged guide, which ensured a smooth ride with minimal surface drag.  
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What do you do to make your cake stand out? Let us know in the comments!

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