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Updated June 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best cake decorating kits

If you have a flair for creativity, reasonably steady hands, and a love of all things dessert, why not try decorating a cake? Whether you’re looking for a new hobby, a masterpiece for one special occasion, or a source of part-time income, cake decorating is one of the few creative pursuits where your results taste as good as they look.

However, choosing the needed tools for turning that plain cake into a stunner can get confusing. There are so many different frosting tips, icing smoothers, piping bags, and other decorating must-haves and really-wants that selecting the right ones can get overwhelming.

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A frosted cake with a simple design is best for beginners, but with practice you’ll be able to tackle much more complicated cakes.

Basic cake-baking supplies

Before you can decorate your cake, you need to make it. Chocolate, lemon, vanilla, red velvet: go ahead and choose your favorite. You’ll find cake mixes in just about any flavor you might desire, although you might prefer to make your cake entirely from scratch. No judgment from us, whichever way you go.

While the shape of the cake is up to you – along with the classic square, circle, and rectangle, you’ll find cake pans shaped as hearts, animals, cartoon characters, stars, and anything else you can imagine – for the most professional-looking cakes, use a pan with straight, vertical sides rather than sloped.

Cut a piece of parchment paper  (not wax paper) to fit in the bottom of your cake pan before pouring in the batter, and the baked cake will slip out much more easily. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake before releasing it from the pan, and you’ll have a perfectly finished cake just waiting to be adorned.

Expert Tip
There are four different kinds of buttercream in use in the USA: American, Swiss, Italian, and French. Pay attention to what your recipe calls for, as making each follows a different process.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Icing, frosting, and fondant

Before getting into the tools you need to decorate a cake, it helps to know the differences between royal icing, frosting, and fondant. All have their uses when decorating baked goods. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they aren’t exactly the same (although “icing” is often used as a general term for decorating a cake).

  • Royal icing is a fairly thin mixture of a liquid – egg whites, milk, and water are all possible ingredients – and confectioners sugar. You can also add food coloring if you want a particular color. Royal icing’s controllable elasticity and strength make it very useful for creating free-form lines, stripes, and string work. Both buttercream and royal icing are great for writing on cakes. Icing is generally made from scratch.

  • Frosting is thick and fluffy, so it easily forms into peaks or swirls on a cake. It often has a butter base – that’s buttercream – but the base can also be heavy cream, egg whites, or cream cheese. The base is mixed with confectioners sugar, along with any desired food coloring and flavor. The most basic way to decorate a cake is to cover the surface with frosting. Frosting is the product you find pre-made in the baking aisle of the grocery store.

  • Fondant is a mixture of water, confectioners sugar, and corn syrup. A cake covered in fondant has a smooth, matte appearance. Because fondant is fairly stiff, it’s ideal for cutting or sculpting into flowers, leaves, stars, or other shapes to adorn the top or sides of the cake. Fondant has a candy-like flavor on its own, but can be flavored or colored as you wish.

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Expert TIp

Tips rust quickly if left in water, or left on a sideboard to dry over a damp towel. Dry them off as much as you can and leave them on a window sill to dry thoroughly overnight. I put my freshly washed tips in a frying pan and put them over stove heat for a few minutes to evaporate any water.

BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Tools for cake decorating

You’ve baked your cake and let it cool. Now it’s time to decorate! There are many different tools to accomplish the task. The ones you need depend on what you hope to create, as well as the type of frosting you’re using.

Cake board or drum

Most often made of heavy cardboard, and sometimes covered with foil, every cake sits on a cake board. It gives the dessert a firm support so you can pick up and transport the cake without it falling apart. A cake drum is a sturdier cake board used to support heavy or multi-tiered cakes.

Cake turntable

Unless you want to walk around and around your cake while decorating it, you’ll need a cake turntable to make the process smooth and easy. It’s basically a lazy Susan on a stand.

Off-set spatula

A long, thin spatula with an angled shape, this tool is a must for smoothing frosting over the top and sides of your cake.

Fondant smoother

A flat paddle with a small handle, the fondant smoother evenly spreads the fondant over a cake’s top and sides for a smooth and perfect finish.

Expert Tip
The chemical softeners and preservatives in boxed cake mixes produce cakes that can be harder to slice, stack, and ice. Bake from scratch if you want something less wobbly that stays firm at a cool or cold temperature.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Fondant rollers

Available in large and small sizes, bakers use these to roll the fondant out into a thin sheet prior to laying it over the cake or cutting out shapes.

Piping bags

Disposable bags are plastic; reusable bags are generally cloth. Either way, fill the bag halfway with icing and twist the empty large end until the icing comes out the tip.

Icing tips

Available in a huge range of shapes and sizes, these metal cones attach to the end of the icing bag. Smaller 1.25-inch tips require a coupler to attach to the tip of the bag. Larger 2-inch tips can be inserted right down into the bag, the plastic tip snipped off, and you’re ready to pipe. As you slowly squeeze the icing through the tip, it shapes the icing or frosting into the desired shape to decorate the cake. Some of the most popular icing tips include the following:

  • Round

  • Star

  • Basket weave

  • Leaf

  • Petal

  • Flower

  • Ruffle

Choosing a cake decorating kit

Most cake decorating kits include a variety of piping tips and icing bags. Kits geared toward beginners can include many other essentials, too, including a cake turntable and various icing smoothers and spatulas. If you only plan to decorate cakes occasionally for birthday parties or other special occasions, you’ll probably be happy with a simple kit that includes the most basic icing tips.

If you plan to create elaborate designs, or you really enjoy baking cakes, choose an advanced kit with a wider range of icing tips. Most cake decorating kits include a storage box to neatly organize your supplies.

Cake decorating kit prices

As cake decorating supplies are fairly simple, there’s no need to spend a lot of money on a kit, particularly if you’ll only use it a few times. You can expect to pay between about $10 and $30 for a kit.

A basic beginner’s kit with a few common icing tips shouldn’t cost more than $10 to $20, but if you’d like more variety in the tips or a comprehensive kit, expect to pay $20 to $30.

Tips

  • Let the cake cool before decorating. Don’t try to decorate a cake, or assemble a layer cake, that’s fresh from the oven or it will fall apart. Let your cake cool for 15 minutes before releasing it from the pan, and then let it continue to cool to room temperature. For a sturdier cake to work with, wrap it completely in plastic wrap twice and refrigerate it overnight.

  • Practice your design. If you’re new to cake decorating, first sketch your design on paper, and then practice using the piping bag and tips on the paper before starting on the cake.

  • Don’t overfill the piping bag. Half to two-thirds full is ideal for the best control.

  • Use a toothpick to trace out words. Once your cake is frosted, use a toothpick to write any desired words on the top. Then pipe icing over the lines with a round icing tip.

  • Try cookie cutters. You can also gently press cookie cutters into the frosting to lay out a design before piping on the icing.

  • Try stencils for more elaborate designs. Want to create an elaborate design but don’t trust your freehand skills? A plastic cake stencil makes decorating a breeze. Instead of paint, you fill in the design with icing.

  • Try a spoon. Create swirls and scallops in the frosting with the back of a spoon.

  • Add embellishments. Don’t forget about small candies, sprinkles, colored sugar, and other sweet treats to add sparkle and detail to your frosted cake.
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Even if you make a few mistakes while decorating your cake, your finished creation will still taste great.

FAQ

Q. Is it better to buy a cake decorating kit or buy my supplies separately?

A. For most beginners, a kit is the easiest and most economical way to gather up the basic cake decorating supplies. As you gain skill, you’ll probably want to buy specialty supplies to meet your specific design needs.

Q. How do I cover a cake with fondant?

A. Once you’ve mastered frosting and decorating a basic cake, you might want to try the more advanced skill of covering your cake with fondant.

  1. Lightly cover the entire cake with buttercream frosting and smooth the sides and top completely flat (no ridges). This gives the fondant a surface to grip.

  2. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to stiffen the buttercream.

  3. While the cake cools, spread a fine layer of powdered sugar, corn starch, or spray oil (like PAM) over your work area, and use a fondant roller or rolling pin to press out a fondant circle about ⅛ of an inch thick to fit over the top and sides of your cake

  4. Powder the fondant roller, and very gently fold the edges of the fondant over the roller to lift it up without breaking it.

  5. Center the fondant disk over your cake and lay it in place.

  6. Smooth the fondant around the cake with your fingers. Start at the top of the cake and work down the sides, smoothing away any creases, air bubbles, or folds as you work.

  7. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut away any excess fondant.

  8. Use a fondant smoother to finish the cake, gently buffing away any imperfections.

  9. Decorate the cake with fondant cutouts or icing designs, if desired.

Q. What’s the best way to choose and care for icing tips?

A. The best icing tips are made of stainless steel or nickel-plated brass. Keep them in good condition by washing them right away after every use in warm, soapy water. Use a small brush to remove any stuck bits of icing, and let the tips air-dry. Store your icing tips upright to protect them from dents or scratches.

Q. Is there more than one kind of buttercream?

A. There are four different kinds of buttercream in use in the USA: American, Swiss, Italian, and French. 

  • American buttercream requires no cooking, and is made of butter and/or vegetable shortening mixed with powdered sugar and sometimes flavoring, like cocoa, citrus zest, and more.

  • Swiss buttercream is a gently heated mixture of sugar and egg whites, whipped on a mixer to build a meringue, then butter is added in chunks to whip into the final buttercream product. This makes for a very “tight” icing.

  • Italian buttercream is also a cooked buttercream in which sugar and water are cooked to a certain temperature and simultaneously egg whites are whipped into a meringue on a mixer. The hot sugar is then trickled into the whipping egg whites, then chunks of butter are added to finish the sturdy buttercream.

  • French buttercream, unlike the other egg white-based buttercreams, is made solely with the high-fat yolks from the egg. Simple syrup is boiled while egg yolks are whipped, then the hot syrup is slowly poured into the whipping egg yolks. It gets whipped on a higher speed until cool, then butter is chunked in. This makes for an especially decadent and “loose” icing. 

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