Our cake decorating ideas collection includes simple, easy methods and techniques ideal for decorating a variety of different cakes including traditional Victoria sponge (opens in new tab), chocolate cake (opens in new tab) or a classic lemon drizzle (opens in new tab).
“Decorating a cake is the most fun part! It's when you can take it from something quite plain, to something really special,” says Kate Tynan from the Little Button Bakery (opens in new tab), whose cake creations have featured on TV shows like Coronation Street. “For everyday baking, you might want to keep things more simple: perhaps a dusting of icing sugar and a few seasonal fruits, or even some cut flowers from your garden can be a beautiful decoration for a cake.”
Kate, who specialises in wedding cakes, has plenty of thoughts for cake decorating on a special occasion, too. “If you want to push the boat out, decorate your cake with chocolate decorations (you can buy or make these yourself), some edible gold or silver leaf or even edible flowers, which are now readily available in the supermarket.”
Naomi Boles, a cake maker from Boles Bakery (opens in new tab), meanwhile, says her favourite way to decorate a cake is Lambeth style. “It involves lots of buttercream and lots of piping but is a showstopper cake. This method takes a lot of piping practice, so my tip is to practice different patterns on greaseproof paper first. That way you can scrape the icing back into the piping bag again rather than having to make lots and lots of icing,” she explains. For an easier idea though, Naomi suggests a semi-naked cake topped with lots of berries. “It’s an easy, but impressive, way to decorate a cake as it doesn’t rely on perfectly smooth sides. Just layer on your buttercream with a palette knife and use a metal scraper to remove the icing until the cake is only covered in a thin layer all the way around.”
So what equipment do you need? “Simple cake decorating tools (opens in new tab) or baking tool kit to invest in would be a good strong metal scraper to get nice neat edges on your buttercream cakes and a selection of piping tips,” says Kate Tynan. “Sometimes great decoration is all about the right accessory. For a birthday cake, consider using some tall thin candles rather than the more traditional short ones. Or look to purchase a personalised acrylic or wooden cake topper.”
How to decorate a cake: Easy cake decorating ideas
1. Melted chocolate and ganache
Skill level: Easy | Prep time: 10 mins | Perfect for decorating: Sponge cakes and brownies
“Ganache is great for filling, icing and doing a drip effect on cakes. It’s also very easy to spread and create a smooth cake with,” explains Naomi Boles. “To get ganache ready for filling and icing a cake quickly, rather than heating both the cream and the chocolate, only heat the chocolate and then add the cream into the melted chocolate. This saves time waiting for the ganache to cool. Ganache works great for cakes, but is also lovely topped on brownies and as a macaron filling. Melted chocolate is great for writing on cakes as it dries so quickly.”
Top tip: When it comes to how to melt chocolate (opens in new tab), keep it on a low heat and melt it gradually otherwise it'll burn. White chocolate will melt much quicker than milk or dark as it contains more sugar.
Get the recipe: Ganache (opens in new tab)
Recipes to try using melted chocolate:
Chocolate truffle cake (opens in new tab)
Chocolate dipped cupcakes (opens in new tab)
Annabel Langbein's ultimate chocolate cake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Buttercream or ganache covered sponge cakes
If you're looking for something light and refreshing, fruit is the best choice. From fresh raspberries to dried raisins, there are many and varied fruits that work wonderfully as cake toppings. "Adding fruit to a cake as decoration is a great way of keeping things seasonal. In the summer, use fresh berries like raspberries and strawberries, In autumn you could use figs and physalis. You can also add a few fresh herbs like mint or lemon thyme in with your fruits for a little bit of greenery. My favourite cakes to use fruit on are semi-naked style cakes or buttercream covered cakes,” says Kate Tynan.
Top tip: If you're using fresh fruit, make sure you add it right at the last minute. If your fruit is wet it could make the buttercream or cream topping move or melt slightly.
Recipes to try using fruit:
Lorraine Pascale's raspberry, vanilla and white chocolate cake (opens in new tab)
Hummingbird Bakery blueberry cake (opens in new tab)
Mary Berry's strawberry cake (opens in new tab)
3. Buttercream and frosting
Skill level: Easy | Prep time: 10 mins | Perfect for decorating: Cupcakes and sponge cakes
“Buttercream is a great cake covering and filling as there are so many different types – American, Swiss and French to name a few. It’s also easy to flavour with extracts, chocolate, spreads, sauces and even dried fruit powders,” says Naomi Boles. “If you’re a beginner at cake decorating, you can decorate it beautifully in a naked style or you can go all out with piping. The only essentials for working with buttercream are an offset palette knife to spread the buttercream and a cake scraper to get nice smooth sides.”
Buttercream is one of the most popular cake toppings as it can be made into different flavours, different colours and can be presented in a variety of ways too, from piped swirls to a smooth palette-knife finish. You can also turn your buttercream into a cream cheese frosting by substituting the butter.
Top tip: If your buttercream is too loose or runny, add some more icing sugar or pop it into the fridge to set a little before piping it onto your cake.
Get the recipe: Buttercream (opens in new tab)
Get the recipe: Cream cheese frosting (opens in new tab)
Recipes to try using buttercream:
Primrose Bakery cupcakes with lemon buttercream (opens in new tab)
Coconut and chocolate cake (opens in new tab)
Sticky toffee cupcakes with salted caramel (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Special occasion cakes, especially wedding cakes
From rose petals to sprigs of lavender, give your cake a spring feel by using flowers to decorate. They'll make it smell lovely and floral too.
“Edible flowers are a beautiful way to decorate a cake and are readily available online and in some supermarkets. You can buy flower heads or the whole flower including leaves and the stem,” says Naomi Boles. “Pressed edible flowers are an easy way to decorate a cake that has the ‘wow factor' as they simply need to be pressed gently into buttercream. This is a really popular way to decorate wedding cakes – especially for DIY weddings. Edible flowers, such as lavender, also work well in biscuits.
Top tip: Tie bunches of flowers together and lie around the edge of your cake or sprinkle rose petals over your buttercream. Also, Kate Tynan suggests pressing them for a week in a flower press or in between the pages of a heavy book for a slightly different look.
Recipes to try using flowers:
Fiona Cairns almond apricot rose petal cake (opens in new tab)
Beetroot chocolate cake (opens in new tab)
Lavender and lemon drizzle cake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Chocolate cakes
“Chocolates are a fun way to decorate a cake and are equally suited to a cake for a child or an adult. Just choose some favourite chocolates in various shapes and sizes and stick them to the cake with melted chocolate or a touch of buttercream or royal icing. You can finish it all off with a melted chocolate drip or drizzle,” says Kate Tynan.Whether you pile them up in the middle, cover the whole cake in them or make a pattern spelling out their names, your kids are going to love a cake decorated with masses of chocolate bars – think Maltesers, Milky bars, Smarties, Mars bars… While for grown ups, it’s an excellent excuse to buy a box of chocs and decorate with those. Just try not to eat too many along the way.
Top tip: If you're planning on decorating your cake with chocolates, we'd recommend covering it in a light buttercream or melted chocolate coating beforehand so the chocolates have something to stick to, otherwise they'll be falling all over the place.
Recipes to try using chocolates:
Maltesers chocolate cake (opens in new tab)
Chocolate explosion drip cake (opens in new tab)
6. Ready to roll fondant or Sugarpaste
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Fruit cakes and Victoria sponges
Ready to roll fondant can be bought in most supermarkets in the cake decorating aisle and is really easy to work with. You can buy all sorts of different colours or you can add a few drops of food colouring to white fondant for your own colour palette.“You can use fondant to cover an entire cake or you can use it to make shapes or even cute models like animals to go onto the cake. Fondant can also be stamped into or crimped for a different style of decoration,” says Kate Tynan.
Top tip: Before working with fondant make sure you have a clean, dry surface to roll the fondant or sugarpaste onto. Dust with icing sugar to stop it from sticking and use a clean rolling pin.
Recipes to try using ready to roll fondant:
Polka dot fancies (opens in new tab)
The Princess and the Pea kids' birthday cake (opens in new tab)
Large Madeira cupcake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Cupcakes, traybakes and birthday cakes
Melted or whole, marshmallows are a simple way to turn your cake into a masterpiece. “Marshmallows are a really underrated way to decorate cakes, but they are really fun. For Halloween cakes, they can be put on a cocktail stick and covered with white fondant to create little ghosts. They also look great toasted on top of chocolate cupcakes to create a ‘hot chocolate’ flavour,” says Naomi Boles.
Top tip: When it comes to melting marshmallows, you're best to use a non-stick pan. Warm the marshmallows slowly and gently, making sure you don't overcook them, otherwise you'll have a sticky mess on your hands.
Recipes to try using marshmallows:
Chocolate and marshmallow birthday cake (opens in new tab)
Hummingbird Bakery marshmallow cupcakes (opens in new tab)
Marshmallow flower cupcakes (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Victoria sponges and fairy cakes
If you're looking for a simple yet effective technique, icing sugar is a brilliant decorating choice. Dust it all over your cake, cut out a template using paper and dust over it to create shapes, or add some water and flavoured extract to make an icing sugar paste which is perfect for drizzling over large cakes or cupcakes.
Icing sugar is also an essential for making American buttercream. “My tip for working with icing sugar is to put it in a food processor rather than sifting it – much less messy and does the job. Additionally when making buttercream in a stand mixer, cover the mixer with a damp tea towel to catch all of the icing powder,” says Naomi Boles.
Top tip: When it comes to dusting your cake with icing sugar, make sure your cake is completely cool – otherwise the icing sugar will melt.
Recipes to try using icing sugar:
Mary Berry's Victoria sandwich cake (opens in new tab)
Mary Berry's iced fairy cakes (opens in new tab)
Lavender fairy cakes (opens in new tab)
9. Chocolate fingers and cigarellos
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Chocolate celebration cakes
This is a marvellous technique for covering up any flaws on your cake. If it's a little burnt around the edges and you've had to cut some bits off, or if it didn't rise as much as you'd like, get the chocolate fingers and cigarellos at the ready. Just cover your cake in buttercream, chocolate or royal icing and press them around the edges of the cake. They give you a great border for topping your cake with an abundance of sweets, fruits or flowers too.
Top tip: Alternate white and milk chocolate fingers, or do a mix of choc fingers and cigarellos. You could also use sticks of KitKats as an effective alternative.
Recipes to try chocolate fingers and cigarellos:
Digger cake (opens in new tab)
Chocolate fingers cake (opens in new tab)
Cigarellos cake with a chocolate mousse filling (opens in new tab)
10. Sprinkles and shop-bought decorations
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Cupcakes and buttercream or icing-covered celebration cakes
If you're short on time, the cake decorating aisle at your local supermarket can be a life saver. From Hundreds and Thousands to readymade fondant roses, you can find plenty of wonderful toppings to turn your cake into a work of art.
“Sprinkles make any bake look a bit more special. You can keep it simple with a small amount on the top or go all out and cover the whole thing in sprinkles. A new and popular way to use sprinkles is to mix them into the buttercream before spreading over the cake,” says Naomi Boles.
Top tip: Theme your sprinkles – red and green for Christmas, yellow and pink for Mother's Day or seek out different shaped sprinkles like flowers, animals and even mini Christmas trees.
Recipes to try using sprinkles:
Dairy-free cupcakes (opens in new tab)
Hummingbird Bakery vanilla cupcakes (opens in new tab)
Sprinkle fairy cakes (opens in new tab)
11. Desiccated coconut
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Coconut flavoured sponges or fruity cakes
Coconut can be baked in a cake or used to decorate it too. It's a healthier option than sugar sprinkles or sweets and looks just as effective. Cover your cake in a light buttercream or ganache and then press coconut into it. Coconut is so light it can be used to cover pretty much any cake, from lighter flavours like vanilla and lemon to richer cakes like chocolate and carrot cake.
Top tip: Once you’ve scattered them, gently press the coconut flakes on to a piece of baking parchment to get them to stick to the cake.
Recipes to try using coconut:
Coconut cake (opens in new tab)
Jammy coconut squares (opens in new tab)
Coconut and lime cake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Tray bakes and children’s birthday cakes
“A fun and easy way to decorate a cake. You can cover an entire cake in sweets or just decorate it lightly. If you want to go for a full covering, small round sweets like Smarties or Skittles are great and you can make rainbow stripes,” says Kate Tynan. “If you’re using sweets in wrappers, you can leave them in the wrapper on the cake for a different look. Lollipops are also fun to decorate a cake with, particularly large colourful ones like you might find at the seaside. Play around with a mixture of shapes and sizes for your sweetie decorations.”
Top tip: Pick a good selection of brightly coloured sweets that aren’t too big or too chewy – Dolly Mixtures are an excellent choice, for example, as are jelly beans.
Recipes to try using sweets:
Pick & Mix cake (opens in new tab)
Sweetie tray bake (opens in new tab)
Chocolate smash cake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy| Perfect for decorating: Carrot cake, coffee & walnut cake , chocolate cake, fruit cake
Mixed nuts are perfect for giving your cake a new look. You can cover the whole thing in finely chopped nuts, including the sides, or sprinkle chunkier nuts on top of your buttercream.
Match your nuts with the sponge of the cake you're making – if you're making a carrot cake, walnuts work a treat, if you're making a cake with peanut butter, peanuts make sense or if you're making a chocolate cake, sweet pecans are a fabulous match.
Top tip: Buy a packet of mixed nuts if you want a selection of nuts, rather than over-spend on lots of different ones. And read the ingredients – you really don’t want salty nuts here. .
Recipes to try using nuts:
Gluten-free carrot and walnut cake (opens in new tab)
Red velvet cake (opens in new tab)
Mary Berry's Victorian Christmas cake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Prep time: 40 mins | Perfect for decorating: Fruit cakes, almond sponges
Perfect for rich fruit cakes, marzipan is a great topper for Christmas cake (opens in new tab) and Simnel cakes. But marzipan is for life, not just for Christmas, folks. Covering a cake with marzipan (opens in new tab) is a great way to add a delicious, moist, almond flavour to your cake, it’s a triumph topping a homemade Battenburg cake. If you’re feeling bold, you can make your own at home – we even have a nut-free recipe so that allergy sufferers can enjoy it, too – though you can also buy it ready-made in the baking aisle.
You can also mould decorations, like characters and animals, out of coloured marzipan, for the top of your cake.
Top tip: Make sure your work surfaces and hands are clean before attempting this technique. You’ll want to work quickly with the marzipan too to make sure it doesn’t crack or dry out.
Get the recipe: Marzipan (opens in new tab)
Recipes to try using marzipan:
Mini Eggs Simnel cake (opens in new tab)
Simnel cake (opens in new tab)
Marzipan pigs (opens in new tab)
15. Personalised icing
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Fondant-covered celebration cakes
Make someone feel extra special by writing them a personalised message on a cake. The easiest way to do this is with writing icing but you can also buy edible art pens or special cake decorating stamps to emboss words into fondant.
Top tip: If you can't find writing icing in your supermarket, you can use buttercream or icing sugar mixed with some water instead. It has to be thick though in order for you to pipe it through a thin nozzle to write messages.
Recipes to try with writing icing:
Heart cake decorations (opens in new tab)
Colour in cupcakes (opens in new tab)
Father’s Day cake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Medium | Prep time: 20 mins | Perfect for decorating: Caramel biscuit cakes, brownies, chocolate cakes
Whether you're cutting corners and opting for the ready-made stuff or you're pushing your baking skills to the next level and making it from scratch, caramel is a very impressive way to finish your cake. You can drizzle it over the top, leave it to set for a crisp finish or add it to cream cheese to make a caramel frosting. You could also try using salted caramel (opens in new tab).
“A simple drizzle of caramel over a cake can really make an impact. It tastes delicious too. Just make sure your caramel is at the right consistency before you decorate – it should drizzle slowly off a spoon and not be too runny or too thick,” says Kate Tynan.
Top tip: If you decide to make caramel from scratch, cook it gradually on a low heat, otherwise it'll burn and you'll have to start all over again.
Get the recipe: Caramel (opens in new tab)
Recipes to try using caramel:
Spiced squash ring cake (opens in new tab)
Salted caramel topped brownies (opens in new tab)
Caramel biscuit cake (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Medium | Prep time: 30 mins | Perfect for decorating: Lemon cakes
Whip up some soft meringues with egg whites and sugar and gently spoon or pipe onto your cake. If you want that classic, crisp meringue finish you can brown the outside with a blow torch or give it a quick burst in the oven.
Top tip: If you've never made meringue before, you could cook it slowly in the oven on a low heat and add to your cake as a topping, instead of spreading it over.
Get the recipe: Meringue (opens in new tab)
Recipes to try using meringue:
Skinny carrot meringue cake (opens in new tab)
Lemon meringue cupcakes (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Perfect for decorating: Chocolate or Victoria sponge cakes
From Nutella (opens in new tab) to marmalade, spreads are a very wise choice if you're short on time and money when it comes to decorating a cake. Just spread evenly over your cake with a palette knife or spoon and top with sprinkles, fondant shapes or fresh fruit, should you fancy.
“Spreads are so useful in baking. It’s as simple as swirling a few teaspoons through cake batter or mixing into a buttercream and then you instantly have a recognisable flavour. Also, if you love the style of drip cakes, melted chocolate spread works fabulously. All you have to do is melt a small bit in the microwave and then you can use that for the drip effect rather than making chocolate ganache,” says Naomi Boles.
Top tip: If you're decorating with a thick spread like Nutella or peanut butter, make sure your cake is slightly warm, this will make the spread melt a little so it's easier to work with.
Recipes to try using spreads:
Nutella cake (opens in new tab)
Marmalade cake (opens in new tab)
Jammy coconut squares (opens in new tab)
19. Royal icing
Skill level: Medium | Perfect for decorating: Fruit cakes
Royal icing is perfect for getting that snow white effect at Christmas time and is the ideal topping for a rich fruit cake (it is rarely used on sponge cakes). Topping with marzipan before icing seals the moisture into the cake and stops the icing from staining with the colours of the cake.
You can also cut out designs, from stars to love hearts, in the icing, or fashion it into all kinds of shapes (even the person or people the cake is for!) for the top of your cake.
Top tip: To colour your royal icing, use gel pastes instead of liquid food colouring. This will make sure the consistency of the mixture doesn't change. Add a little at a time as the colours tend to be strong.
Get the recipe: Royal icing (opens in new tab)
Recipes to try using royal icing:
Red velvet peppermint cake (opens in new tab)
Mary Berry's Christmas cake (opens in new tab)
20. Fondant shapes
Skill level: Medium | Prep time: From around 30 minutes | Perfect for decorating: Celebration cakes
With a little bit of practice, you can make some rather impressive fondant shapes to pop on top of your cake. Try having a go at edible fondant figures (opens in new tab) from dinosaurs to cats to penguins, depending on the occasion – you’ll just need a little time and patience on your hands. Just buy a variety of packs of coloured fondant from the baking aisle.
“You will also need a rolling pin. A long acrylic one is best and get a more heavyweight one as it will make rolling icing a lot easier,” says Kate Tynan.
Top tip: Fondant shapes are perfect for making in advance as long as you keep them in an airtight container and handle them with care when it comes to popping them on your cake.
Recipes to make fondant shapes:
Fondant bow (opens in new tab)
Fondant dog (opens in new tab)
Fondant name blocks (opens in new tab)
Skill level: Easy | Prep time: 5 mins | Perfect for decorating: Gateaux and fruit sponges
Make your cake even more indulgent by topping it with freshly whipped cream, which is always the perfect base for popping on chocolates or fruits. Cream is super easy to work with and can be spread or piped onto your cake depending on its thickness.
Top tip: Remember that cream needs to be kept cold in the fridge so if you're planning on making your cake in advance, store it in the fridge or add the cream topping right at the last minute.
Recipes to try using cream:
Classic Black Forest gateau (opens in new tab)
Strawberries and cream cake (opens in new tab)
Lemon cream cake (opens in new tab)
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Lara Kilner is a writer and editor with two decades of experience in national newspapers, magazines, and websites. She writes about food, lifestyle, travel, health and wellness, and entertainment, and regularly interviews celebrities and people with interesting life stories and experiences. Her foodie content has included interviews with Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein, Queer Eye’s food expert Antoni Porowski, the Hairy Bikers, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Raymond Blanc, Andi Oliver, Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, and Nadiya Hussain.
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