The Kitchy Kitchen is the brainchild of food enthusiast and self-taught chef Claire Thomas. With new spins on classic meals, the site focuses on unfussy recipes. Thomas has amassed notoriety in the culinary world, as host of Food for Thought With Claire Thomas on ABC and author of The Kitchy Kitchen: New Classics for Living Deliciously. Here, Thomas will be providing original recipes every month for MyDomaine readers to experience their own Kitchy Kitchen at home.
I’m not great at cake decorating; however, I am pretty great at hiding this fact. I can’t roll out a decent fondant, I can’t make sugar roses, and forget piping “happy birthday” onto a cake. It’s not just my poor penmanship that gets in my way—I struggle with almost all things involving hand-eye coordination. This has made cakes especially intimidating to me, and I think plenty of novice cooks feel the same way. For years I’d stick to simple tricks, like covering cakes in chopped nuts, flaked coconut, or even just using the back of a spoon to create little wisps. All of these ideas work beautifully, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but I wanted to get at least a few simple cake-decorating ideas under my belt for a bit more oomph.
These four techniques are super simple, and if I can do them, you certainly can, too. A few tips before we get into the details:
- No matter what the recipe, make 1 1/2 times the amount. I feel like every frosting recipe comes up short (or maybe I just have a terrible frosting habit). I’d rather have too much than too little.
- Keep in mind that temperature matters. The ideal temperature for frosting is chilled but not cold. It should be a few degrees cooler than the room. If you’re piping frosting, the heat from your hands will cause it to warm and loosen, creating a messy effect. If the frosting warms in the room, it might separate and curdle a bit. The easiest fix for too-warm frosting is to pop it in the fridge for an hour and then beat in the mixer again to regain its texture.
- Also, always do a crumb coat. If you don’t want crumbs in your frosting, do a crumb coat. Just put a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake, wiping down your spatula as you go. This will keep the crumbs from traveling into the main layers of frosting as you decorate.
- Make sure to keep an offset spatula on hand. They’re cheap, and they make cake decorating much easier (although a spoon or butter knife will work in a pinch).
- Lastly, work on a cake plate or an elevated position. It’s just much easier than a flat plate on a counter, giving your hands space to travel.
All right, now that we've gotten the basics out of the way, keep reading to learn four simple cake-decorating ideas that make baking a snap.
This is one of the easiest techniques by far. Frost a cake as cleanly as possible, with at least a 1/2-inch-thick layer surrounding the cake. Take a fork and gently move it across the top of the frosting, making stripes. Wipe the fork between passes, and be careful not to go too deep.
This is the fussiest of these simple tricks but is super pretty once you get the hang of it. Frost a cake as cleanly as possible, with at least a 1/4-inch-thick layer surrounding the cake. You should have plenty of frosting left over.
Using your offset spatula (or butter knife), fill the tip of it with frosting, and gently swipe on the bottom of the cake. Fill up the spatula again, and swipe about one inch away from the start of your first swoop, so the swoops slightly overlap. Continue in this pattern for as long as you like, until you’re happy with the aesthetic.
My favorite type of frosting to use is Italian buttercream. It’s light and silky, with a delicate butter flavor, making it the perfect canvas for any flavor you like.
Pick a pastry tip of your choosing (I personally like star tips best), and place it into the bottom of the pastry bag. Place the bag in a large drinking glass, flipping the edge of the bag over the side of the glass. Scoop the frosting into the bag until 2/3 full, and then twist the bag shut, removing excess air.
Gently press stars onto the cake in any pattern you’d like. Refill the pastry bag as needed, and make sure to keep the frosting cool, as the warmth of your hands on the pastry bag will loosen the frosting consistency.
Frost a cake as cleanly as possible, with at least a 1/2-inch-thick layer surrounding the cake. Take your offset spatula (or butterknife) and, at a slight angle, gently press it into bottom of the side of the cake. Move the spatula smoothly up; as it reaches the top lip of the cake, have it smoothly swoop down. Rotate the cake as you go. Finish by doing the top of the cake, starting the same movement on the far edge of the top, working toward your body. The movement should be rhythmic and fun to do. There you have it! A lovely swoop.
The Perfect Cake Recipe
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Continue boiling until syrup reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer.
Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium-high speed until stiff, but not dry; do not over-beat.
With mixer running, add syrup to whites in a stream, beating on high speed until no longer steaming, about 3 minutes. Add butter bit by bit, beating until spreadable, 3 to 5 minutes; beat in vanilla and salt. If frosting curdles, keep beating until smooth.
Looking for a simple dessert to make for the holidays? Try Kitchy Kitchen’s simple pineapple upside-down cake.