If you’re a new cake decorator wanting to pick up some valuable cake decorating advice, then you’re in luck! In this post you’ll pick up 10 tips and tricks for new decorators – from registering your cake business to watermarking your cake photos and using a backdrop. This post will give you a heads up on all the important things to consider when you’re a new cake decorator.
10 Tips and tricks for new cake decorators
1. Get Registered, Licensed & Insured
In many countries, before you can start selling your cakes you need to register with the appropriate authority. In Australia the first point of call is your local council, in the UK the Environmental Health Department or in the US check out the cottage food laws in your area. Look into obtaining a food license and protecting yourself with product and liability insurance. There are hefty fines for running a cake business unregistered so before selling your cakes, check with the relevant authorities first. Know your restrictions (are you permitted to use high risk ingredients like fresh cream or cream cheese?) so that you can start your cake business off on the right foot.
**The above information is not intended as legal advice, so please do your own research and investigations so you are properly protected **
2. Practice, Practice, Practice!
OK, I know that this tip might sound like I’m stating the absolute blinding obvious, but when you’re just starting out you tend to make cakes for your inner circle – your family and friends. If your inner circle is quite small, then you might find that you’re only baking cakes and decorating once a month or once every few months. So by the time the next cakes rolls around, you’ve kind of forgotten how to get that smooth finish on a cake, or how to work those elusive sharp edges.
My advice is to pop down to your local cake decorating store and pick up a few cake dummies. This is a great way for you to practice covering a cake in fondant or buttercream and trying out different techniques and designs without having to bake a cake each and every time you want to decorate. Dummy cakes are also perfect for creating the look of a 3 tier cake when you only need to feed 20 people.
I know some people use fine sandpaper to gently rub over the sharp edges so there is less chance of the fondant tearing or ripping but I never bothered with that. To cover a cake dummy in fondant, first brush on a layer of water or shortening (Crisco). Roll out your fondant slightly thicker than you normally would as this will hide the sometimes rough, uneven surface of the dummy cake and cover and smooth as you would a normal cake. If you’re using buttercream, you can just lather it on.
If you’d prefer baking actual cakes to practice your decorating, ask your local fire or police station if they’d be happy to accept your cakes. I’m sure they’d be very appreciative of a freshly baked batch of cupcakes. If you’d like to practice making a double barrel cake with a hot pink drizzle topped with chocolate sails, I’m sure they’d appreciate that too!
Creating cakes for family and friends also gets you used to working within a brief/theme and a timeline – without the added pressure of high expectations and having to ask for money at the end.
So when it comes to cake decorating, practice really does make perfect.
3. Cover your cake board
Much like backdrops (which we’ll get to in a second), a covered cake board will enhance your cake and really make it ‘pop’. It’s not expensive to cover a cake board with left over fondant or to purchase pre-coloured black or white boards (they’re about $3 AUD each in my local store).
You may find that a customer requests an uncovered board and chances are it’s not because their favourite colour is silver – they’re trying to save a buck or two. Remember that this cake will be added to your portfolio so you want it presented beautifully. If your customers are requesting an uncovered board, I would suggest buying pre-coloured boards in bulk and letting them know that the board will be either black or white (depending on which looks better with their design).
When covering a board in fondant, I usually do it about 3 days before the cake is due to go on top which gives it ample time to dry. You can add some tylose/CMC powder to the fondant which will speed up the drying time. Give it a good going over with your fondant smoothers, then pop a ribbon around the edge of the board to finish it off. And now its good to go – just pop a blob of royal icing on the board and position your cake on top! If you forget to leave enough time to cover the board, check out my tutorial for how to cover and bake a cake board (yep, you actually bake it in the oven).
4. Use a Backdrop For Your Cakes
A backdrop is going to transform your cake photo from ‘meh’ to magnificent – yes, really! We’ve all been there before when the cake is finished and just before it goes out the door you quickly snap a photo of the cake on the kitchen bench or dining table. The problem with that is there are too many distracting things in the background taking the focus away from the cake. I’ve seen some brilliant cakes, but because they were taken without a backdrop, my eye is drawn to other things – “Oh look, I’ve got the same pink spatula as her” or “Hmm, that’s a nice dining table I wonder if it’s IKEA”? Yes, I get distracted quite easily.
If you’re selling your cakes and advertising them on your website or Facebook page, then you’re photos would benefit from a backdrop. This will properly showcase your cakes and creations and help get you orders. A first impression lasts, so make it a good one!
A few backdrop options include:
- White foam boards from your local hardware store
- An ironed white sheet (note the word “ironed”!)
- Wallpaper samples
- Wrapping paper (go for a non-busy pattern in a neutral colour)
- Many cake decorating stores are starting to sell backdrops online as they become more popular. They generally retail for approximately $20 – $50.
- My personal favourite is to buy digital paper off Etsy. You download the file and send it to a digital printer who will print them off to backdrop size. With my backdrops I have 2 printed at 80cm x 80cm. One for the back of the cake and one which lays flat under the cake. You could of course use one backdrop 80cm x 160cm (or a bit shorter) and that would work too. This is my cake backdrop set-up and it’s plenty big enough for a 4 tier cake. It’s quite enormous and doesn’t fit next to my kitchen window so I also have a smaller backdrop stand approx. 50cm x 50cm. That one is great for photographing small cakes, cupcakes, cookies and treats.
If you’re going to invest in one backdrop early on, I’d suggest just a plain, neutral background. That way it won’t clash with your cake designs. Chances are you’ll be looking to purchase a few more; some with patterns, some with solid colours. My personal favourites are the bokeh designs – you know the ones with the blurry dots? I have about 15 different backdrops squirreled under the bed, but who’s counting?
Set up your backdrop next to a window (or where-ever your light source is), pop the cake on a cake stand and take lots of photos from different angles. Don’t forget to turn the flash off on the camera as it can create shadows and some of the finer details can get washed out. Now that you’ve got yourself an amazing cake photo, it leads nicely into tip number five.
5. Watermark Your Cake Photos
While you might want to relegate this to the ‘too hard’ basket, it honestly takes a few of minutes to do. There are a couple of reasons why watermarking your cake photos is a good idea:
- Because it lets people know who created the cake. Hands up if you’ve ever scrolled through Pinterest and found a brilliant cake and wondered who made it so you can check out their other creations? You might want to have a look at their Facebook page and give it a ‘like’. It’s a way for people to find YOU and follow YOUR work.
- A person might find your cake on Pinterest and take it to their local cake maker asking them to copy it. If the cake has a visible watermark, then the cake maker can approach you and ask if you mind them copying the cake and will most likely give you design credit when they post it on their social media channels. This actually happened to me a couple of years ago before I started Love Cake Create – another decorator contacted me through a cake gallery website and said a customer wanted my exact cake; would I mind if she copied it? Being a hobby decorator it was a real thrill when she gave me design credit on her Facebook page.
- This reason is not so nice but it’s happening quite often these days. Watermarking your cake photo helps prevent people claiming your work as their own. Believe it or not, there are people out there who will add your photo to their website or Facebook page claiming this is an example of their work. While there are ways to crop out or remove the watermark, if you have it so it’s touching the cake or close to the cake, people may be less likely to try and edit it out.
Thankfully there are many photo editing programs available online. The one I use is iPiccy. iPiccy allows you to add a watermark, crop a photo, tweak the lighting or create a collage – all for free! My cakes below are watermarked with iPiccy – the cake on the left is watermarked with plain text, the cake in the middle is my logo with a transparent background and the third cake is my logo with a white square background. My favourite is the middle picture. If you don’t want your logo as visible as mine, you can re-size it so it’s smaller and there is also an option to fade the logo. I love my logo so am quite happy to have it loud and proud!
For exactly how to watermark your cake photos with either text or your logo, I’ve written a quick and easy tutorial here.
6. Stay Organised & Plan Ahead
Before I started decorating cakes, I always thought that they were baked either the day before the party or the day of. So what if it was a 3 tier cake with fifty two sugar roses? Totally do-able, right? Thankfully I know much better now that any decorated cake takes careful planning.
For me personally, I bake mud cakes because they can be baked ahead and their taste and texture actually improves over a few days.
A few things to keep in mind when planning ahead:
- Does your cake design require a certain tool, mould, stencil or ingredient that you need to order in? Do that a few weeks early if possible.
- Make any cake toppers a week or two before the due date. You can add tylose/CMC powder to the fondant which will help it harden and dry properly. Sometimes these cake toppers can be more work than anticipated, so getting them out of the way early will keep your stress levels down. Store them in a cardboard cake box, away from dust and sunlight (which can alter the colour of fondant).
- Take your butter and eggs out of the fridge the night before so they’re at room temperature when you’re ready to bake.
- Check your recipe in advance to ensure you’ve got all the ingredients on hand. There’s nothing worse than getting half way through a recipe and then remembering that you used the last of the bicarb to clean out the washing machine. Yikes!
I’m a big lover of lists. My shopping list is always broken down into 3 sub lists (Coles, Woolworths, Aldi) and my handbag is full of more lists than I care to admit. When I discovered that my sweet friend Natalie from the beautiful blog Sweetness and Bite had created a brilliant Cake Decorating Timeline printable specifically for cake decorators, I did a little happy dance! And it’s totally FREE! It’s broken up into 4 days and has sections for design notes, things to make in advance, delivery/pick up time and a scribble place where you can add a little sketch of your cake design. You can find Natalie’s full post on how to write your own cake decorating timeline and the printable here. Thank you Nat for creating such an awesome resource!
7. Join Cake Decorating Groups on Facebook
Cake groups on Facebook are a great way of making new friends, showing off your latest creations and the perfect place to ask for help.
Cake decorators are by and large a wonderfully supportive bunch and happy to assist a fellow decorator. They’re particularly fantastic when at 11pm your batch of ganache splits and you can’t find a Youtube video on how to bring it back together. You can go to a cake forum and send out an SOS for saving your ganache and chances are there will be a few people willing to help.
Most of the cake groups are private and closed so you will need to request to join the group and be accepted by the admin team. Read the group rules which are usually pinned to the top of the page. If you’re not familiar with facebook groups, the only people that will see your posts are other members of the group. Your friends and family on Facebook will not see your posts unless they are a member of the group too.
If you’d like to join some cake groups on Facebook, check out my post 10 Best Facebook Groups for Cake Decorators.
8. Trial Different Fondant Brands
There are a few things to keep in mind when buying commercial fondant:
- How easy easy is it to work with?
- How does it taste?
- Is the price a major factor?
While many of you wonderful cakers make your own delicious fondant, it’s worth noting that not all commercial brands of fondant are created equal. Sure the ones in the supermarket are a great price, but some tend to dry out far too quickly, some have a strange funky taste or have no elasticity making it difficult to roll out and cover a cake.
I’ve been using Bakels Pettinice fondant for approximately 6 years and I love it. It’s super easy to work with, covering a cake is a breeze, it has a pleasant taste and gives cake toppers a flawless finish. These are a couple of my cake toppers using Bakels Pettince mixed with tylose/CMC powder.
I like buying it in bulk and my cake decorating store sells it in 7kg tubs but it’s also available in handy 750g foil packs.
So try a few different brands; cover some cakes and make some toppers and experience them for yourself. From there you can make an informed decision as to which you like best.
9. Test Your Recipes & Flavours
Taste testing is one of the best parts of cake decorating. No doubt you’ve got an army of willing taste testers!
Keep in mind that recipe development takes time. It’s great to have flavours that people are familiar with, but you may like to have a few unusual combinations that sets you apart from your competitors. With crazy out-of-the-box ideas, try to simplify them and stick to just three or four flavours per cake/cupcake and make each one of them shine. A cake with 6 strong flavours can quickly become a confused and strange concoction.
Once you’ve worked out your flavourings and tested them extensively, you can put together a set menu. This comes in handy when you have a customer ask for a specific cake that you’ve never made before. Do you want to spend money on testing out this new flavour? What if it’s a flavour that you’re not particularly fond of – how will you know if the customer will like the cake if you don’t like it yourself? It may be worth steering them back to your tried and tested set menu.
10. Take a Cake Decorating Class Early On
Learning the basics and fundamentals of cake decorating early on is important. Knowing how to ganache/buttercream a cake properly and cover a cake in fondant is something you want to get right from the beginning. A smooth ganache/buttercream foundation will not only make covering the cake in fondant so much easier but it will also give you a clean, professional finish.
The very first cake class I took was a birthday present from hubby and it was ganaching a square cake and covering it in fondant. I wanted to do the round cake class but that one had sold out. It actually worked out better because if you can ganache and cover a square cake, then doing a round cake is easy-peasy! It was fantastic having a teacher right there to answer my (many!) questions and provide guidance along the way. This was the result of my first cake class – not too shabby for a total beginner!
So start with a basic class first, then you can branch out and learn some fun techniques.
Some of these courses can run a little expensive but try to think of it as an investment in you and your cake business and that in itself it absolutely worth the money.
And that my dear caking friends, is my top 10 tips and tricks for new cake decorators. I hope you enjoyed the post, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below – is there anything from the list you found particularly helpful?
If you liked this 10 tips and tricks for new decorators post, don’t forget to pin it!