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Some people can pick up a new hobby fairly quickly while for others, it takes time to master the craft. Personally, I struggle tremendously with languages but can pick up a creative project in minutes. I learned to knit in five minutes and knit an entire cardigan in only a few months.

When I was around 13 years of age, I went to a little private “Cake Camp” at my uncle Ron’s house/bakery where he ran his cake business, Scrumptious Crumbs. He won The Knot’s Best of Weddings award for nine years in a row. This “Cake Camp” was mainly just a way to fill a day or two in my summer (most likely to get me off my parents back) but as it turns out, I am a natural born cake decorator!

On the first day of “Cake Camp”, I was already picking up techniques and surprising not only my aunt and uncle but also myself. During my grade school and high school years, I made a few cakes for family celebrations, friends’ birthdays and even a 50th wedding anniversary party! 

Below are the basic things you need to complete a simple iced cake and some techniques on how to make something simple look more extravagant! I’ve collected this knowledge over the years from my uncle and trial and error. For starters, here is a good starter kit for cake decorating you can find on Amazon.

Simple Syrup

For simplicity, I would bake a boxed cake. Once the cake is baked, I cut it into halves (so we can stack later) and put some “simple syrup” on the cakes. Simple syrup is a 1:1 ratio of granulated sugar and water. I personally use one cup of sugar and one cup of water. Once the sugar is dissolved in the water, I fill a squeeze bottle and squirt some of the syrup on the cake, and this helps them keep their moisture as you are assembling and decorating. 

Canola Oil
Alex Frank / Spoon

Crumb Coat and Chill

Once you have let the simple syrup soak in, you can start assembling the cakes. Once you put icing between each layer, you are ready for the crumb coat. This thin layer of icing is meant to keep your cake crumbs out of the final layer of icing. Apply a very thin layer, so you can still see the cake through the icing a tad bit, and make sure to not put the knife you are applying the icing with in the icing you will be using to decorate the outer layer of the cake. Once you cover the entire cake, you can let it chill and harden in the refrigerator. 

Icing

Once the crumb coat has hardened, you are ready to apply the thicker layer of icing that will be the cake decoration. Apply the icing with a knife or the tool found in the Amazon kit. Personally, I like to put a large amount of icing on top of the cake and take a little bit at a time from that lump for the sides. This part takes some patience and practice but after a little bit you will have the cake covered. It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth because we have a few techniques to achieve that.

First, you can use some tools given in your Amazon kit. If you use the scrapers, you can use the smooth one for a smooth look (obviously) or the rigid one to make that design on the cake. Personally, this is not my favorite technique because it has the tendency to take icing off and before you know it, you’re back to the crumb coat.

The other technique that I enjoy more is using a paper towel. I know that sounds weird but if you find some smooth paper towels (no design,although it could make a cool texture!) and get the paper towel just a tad bit damp (this is important!), you can place it on the cake sides and top and use a smooth surface to press against the paper towel slightly. This will create a smooth icing layer. 

Decorating

Now that you are ready for the decorating part, I have some tips and tricks on how to make a simple iced cake look amazing! If you are making it for a birthday and want to be creative, you can opt out of the basic “Happy Birthday” plastic decor and actually write on the cake yourself! I use a small icing tip and although I go straight to the cake, you should probably practice on some parchment paper to make sure you’ve mastered writing it. If you do, however, make a mistake on the cake, you can use a toothpick to lift the icing off and reapply some of the same icing you used to cover the cake to cover any dye that might have been transferred. 

If you don’t have any icing bags handy, a gallon sized Ziploc bag will do just fine. Just cut a small hole in the corner and place your tip through it and voila! To make your cake look more “elegant”, I would find a good border you enjoy/know how to do. If all else fails, my favorite border and one of the easiest ones is using a star tip and just surrounding the bottom and top with stars. You can find a good border online to replicate but honestly, it’s hard to explain but if you just do some swirls with your icing bag, you’ll have a solid border! A nice border can really make your cake more extravagant and fun. 

Experiment with colors and toppings. You could put sprinkles all over the sides to add some fun, or pipe on some polka dots or a heart to add a pattern. What I’ve learned is that no matter what you do, the cake is going to taste great, so just don’t soak it in gasoline and you’ll make the guests happy!

Although I’ve given up the “cake business” – I named it “Sassy Sweets”, I always enjoy making a cake for some special occasions and I hope these tips and tricks helped you in some way. Don’t overthink it and have fun. Perhaps next I can tell you my trick for fondant!

Sarah is from Dayton, Ohio and is currently studying MultiMedia Journalism at Loyola University Chicago. She enjoys thrifting, traveling, fashion, film photography and lifestyle. She is a creative person and finds comfort in writing, exploring the great city of Chicago, and listening to music. Her dream job is to travel and see the world as she writes about different cultures and activities to do in those different countries. Instagram: @sarahgsommers