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August 23, 2018

How to Decorate a Cake | Homemade Celebrations

Yesterday on Instagram I announced that I was planning to start a new series on "Homemade Celebrations."  Anytime we have an occasion to celebrate, my mind starts running with ideas for cakes, flowers, colors, table settings and menus.  I love planning a party.  I also love doing it all myself.  There seems to be a growing trend in outsourcing all of the fun party things - cakes and cookies ordered from bakeries, flowers from a florist and food from a caterer.  While those parties can be lovely, I itch for the opportunity to do it myself - it can be so fun.  I completely understand if it is not your thing and I'm not suggesting you cater your own dinner for 50 or try to attempt something crazy : )  I just want to show you some of the ways we make homemade celebrations at our house - simple cakes, easy florals, and great party menus.

When I made the announcement yesterday, the biggest request was wanting help with cake decorating.  Making your family members' birthday cakes is such a great tradition.  I love that when we make birthday cakes for our family Emma is learning the value of making versus buying.  No matter where she finds herself in the future, she will be able to bake a yummy birthday cake for her loves.  It might be a small gesture, but a homemade* cake is hard to come by these days and that makes them even more special.  

*I use the term "homemade" loosely.  We usually use boxed cake mixes at our house + homemade buttercream.  On occasion, I do make cakes from scratch, but my family actually prefers boxed cakes.  Am I messing up my entire philosophy here? : )

Decorating "homemade" cakes at home is not that difficult.  There are a couple of tricks that make it easy to get good results, but most importantly, remember it doesn't have to be perfect or professional looking.  I like to see the swoops in the frosting and the blemishes - it is a cake.  It is made of butter, sugar and chocolate (in this case) and it shouldn't look perfect, it should only look delicious.  


Here is our favorite Chocolate Buttercream Recipe.

If you don't want chocolate, you should try Swiss Buttercream.  It is so unbelievably delicious and a dream to decorate with.   So, so buttery and smooth.

If you want to make a homemade chocolate cake from scratch, try this recipe - it is a favorite when I have more time and there is not pressure to make sure it is perfect : )
Cake Essentials

2 x 8" Cake Pans
Parchment Paper
Large Baking Sheet
18" Disposable Piping Bags
Jumbo Star Tip
Offset Spatula

Shop all of the Cake & Cooking Essentials, here.  I've created their own collection so you can see everything on one page that you'll need - and use over and over in your kitchen.

One of the most important part of making a pretty cake is that it comes out of the pan easily.  Parchment Paper is your best friend in this case.  I trace a circle around the bottom of the pan, and I cut strips to line the sides.  Once cooled after baking, it comes out of the pan perfectly.

Start with 2 sheets of Parchment Paper, cut :
circle x 2
long strips x 2
short strips x 2

I use the long and the short strips to go around the sides - you'll need both to get all the way around.

I put the two 8" Round Cake Pans onto a Large Baking Sheet to go into the oven.  Putting them on the baking sheet makes them easier to handle without sloshing them around and protects your oven from spill overs.

Try to get the batter evenly between the two pans to help them bake for the same amount of time and so that they'll be the same thickness.

After they cool, I turn the cake out, upside down onto my hand.  Peel the paper off of the bottom and sides.  Ta-da.  No flouring or using spray necessary.  It also makes the pans very easy to clean.

Parchment Paper is one of those things that I use on a daily basis in our home.  I use it to line my baking sheets when roasting veggies, chicken or baking cookies, and I also use it for wrapping treats.  

You can put it flat side up or down.  If you cakes are very puffed and have a large dome, you may need to level off the top with a serrated knife.  Making the cake level is one of those things that really does add to its beauty.  If it is leaning or sloped too much, it will detract from the finished result, so try to make it as even and level as possible.  

This cake was fairly flat, so I just turned it over without trimming off the top.

Piping Bag : I use Large Disposable Piping Bags to pipe the buttercream onto the cake.  It keeps the crumbs from coming off of the cake while I'm spreading and it also helps me to distribute the frosting without making a mess.

After piping the swirl on the first layer, spread it evenly with an Offset Spatula

Add the other layer on top. You can put the top with the rounded top up (for a more homemade look), or you can flip it and put it bottom side up for a flat top like I did here.  Again, you may need to trim the top off if it is too puffed and uneven.

Pipe on another layer of icing, then spread it smooth with the offset spatula. 

You could leave it just like this - I love this look.  It is especially delicious looking if topped berries or candied pecans.

To do the sides, pipe the buttercream zigzagged all the way around.  This is the messy part.  My buttercream was actually pretty soft, so I needed to put it back in the fridge to firm up a bit so it would hold in place better.

Offset Spatula (new!), $6

This is a small investment item that make smoothing and decorating so much easier.  The offset handle really does make it easier to get those smooth sides and doesn't have the serrated edge of a butter knife.

Smooth the sides with the offset spatula, going all the way around, covering the spots and smoothing.  Blend it in with the top slightly and making a clean edge.  This part can take a while and requires some patience.  This is the time to remember that it is supposed to look delicious and not perfect.

See, not completely 100% "perfect" but definitely delicious and chocolatey looking.

Now, time to make it pretty.   On this cake I used the Jumbo Star Tip for both the top and the bottom.  I use it in a Large Disposable Bag - Cut off the tip of the bag about 3/4", then put the tip in and fill with frosting.  I tie a tiny rubber band around the top to keep it from squishing out the top of the bag.

This is a "shell" piping border.  You sort of swoosh each one, then taper it off to the side and overlap the next one.  

I do a little star/kiss on the top all the way around because I think this is sort of old fashioned feeling.

I added some 6" Aqua Celebration Candles.  They also come in an impressive 18" version and colors like light pink, gold and ivory.

 I adjusted the coloring of these photos to show the true color of the aqua candles - they are a perfectly pale aqua.  Blue is such a hard color to photograph!

The Wrapping Paper Collection is my newest product collection.  There are so many uses for the papers - wrapping gifts is just the start.  Here I've used the Large 2" Grosgrain Ribbon in Navy paired with my Hydrangea Wrapping Paper.  I love the tone-on-tone color scheme.

I've just added two new designs to my collection - one is a Navy Gingham and the other is a Light Pink Small Fleur Berry.  I needed a pink to have on hand for any Emma occasion and I think the Navy gingham will be perfect for little (and big...) boys and husbands.  

Are you a "homemade" celebrations person or do you tend to outsource?  If you outsource, is because you are not confident in your skills or because of time shortage?  I get so much satisfaction out of making and being able to make that I want to continue share these tips and encourage others to try it.

Cake Essentials

2 x 8" Cake Pans
Parchment Paper
Large Baking Sheet
18" Disposable Piping Bags
Jumbo Star Tip
Offset Spatula

Shop all of the Cake & Cooking Essentials, here.

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