Whether you are decorating a lavish wedding cake or making cupcakes for a bake sale, there are a variety of decorating techniques you can use. Some take years to master, while other, simpler methods just require enthusiasm and patience. Whatever the technique you choose for cake decorating, practice will definitely help you to achieve attractive results. Use a piece of strong cardboard, upon which to pipe designs, until you're satisfied with the quality of your work.
Most frequently used for elegant wedding cakes, royal icing is a pure white icing that dries to a hard, smooth finish with a matt appearance. It is made from confectioner's sugar, raw egg whites and lemon juice. If you are worried about the risk of salmonella from the egg whites, you could substitute them with meringue powder and water, but be aware that the icing will not be as flavourful. Royal icing dries quickly, so it is important to work as fast as possible when using it. You can achieve flat smooth surfaces upon which you can use a variety of piping nozzles to achieve delicate embellishments, such as flowers and the illusion of lacework. You can often find courses in royal icing techniques at culinary schools and community colleges.
Frosting is a quick and simple form of icing that can be used to fill and cover cakes. It can be purchased ready-made in cans or made using confectioner's sugar, butter, cream, water, flavourings and colourings, such as chocolate. You can apply it to cakes or cupcakes with a pallet knife or a piping bag. Frosting is a great way to get kids involved in cake decorating, since it is so simple and easy to use and tastes good.
Fondant icing is made to a dough-like consistency that is then rolled out and used to cover cakes and fashion decorations by hand or with shaped cutters. It is made from confectioner's sugar, egg whites, water, gelatin and liquid glucose. It can be coloured with gel paste food dyes and moulded into virtually any shape from flowers and animals to custom items that are meaningful to the cake recipient. Custom cake decorators frequently use fondant when decorating custom cakes, and there are even programs dedicated to the art, such as Food Network's "Ace of Cakes," featuring the extraordinary talents of Chef Duff Goldman and his team.
Created by Donna Horn, wafer mache is one of the latest cake decorating techniques. It was used to great effect on former President George H. W. Bush's inaugural cake, which was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute. The technique essentially consists of using edible dyes to paint or print an image onto rice paper. It is a particularly good way of transferring images, such as photographs, artwork and portraits, onto cakes.