The Prettiest Way To Decorate Your Cake With Just A Spoon And A Bag

You don't need a culinary degree or years of expert bakery experience under your belt to produce impressive, star-of-the-show cakes for birthdays and festivities. While the inner parts of the cake are their own thing entirely with all sorts of pro tips — finding your favorite recipe, getting perfectly level layers, and more — the frosting and decor are undoubtedly the crowning glory. It's what everyone sees first, and what pulls the whole presentation together (we really do eat not just with our mouths, but our eyes too!). So it's worth learning a few decorating tricks to create the most stunning cakes. One easy tip that punches above its weight in terms of wow factor is to use the back of a spoon to create layers of a concentric scallop design, for a delicate floral or mermaid-like look. 

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This adds texture and interest to a plain Jane cake, and looks like it took far longer than it did. You can use a rainbow of colors for your icing, stick with just one, or even create bands of color or an ombré effect — the options are endless. Any basic buttercream frosting works for this tip, or you can use store-bought frosting if you prefer. Just ensure the frosting is in the sweet spot of being spreadable, yet stiff enough to hold its shape without running down the side of the cake.

How to apply the rows of scallops

This method yields intricate-looking results but is surprisingly straightforward to pull off. Simply pipe frosting onto the sides of the cake using either a specialized decorated bag, or a regular plastic baggie stuffed with frosting and the tip cut off. You may want to start with a crumb coat layer of frosting — or a super thin application that covers the plain cake and creates a working surface for additional decoration. Squeeze out a plump dot of frosting onto the side of the cake and using the back of a spoon, smoosh gently, and slightly dragging out the dot in a horizontally swooshing motion. The final shape will be like a comma. 

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Work your way around the cake in a horizontal row, continuing to apply a new dot overlapping the last one and lightly dragging with the back of the spoon until you have a complete ring of petal shapes, then begin a new row until the entire side is coated. You can work top to bottom vertically as well. Play with the motions and technique until you find what works best for you. Perfect the amount of pressure needed to create the shape without flattening so heavily that it smears the frosting too thin, revealing the underneath coat of frosting, or scooping into the cake. Don't stress if your scalloped shapes aren't perfect — practice will improve your technique, and you can always apply some sprinkles to hide any flaws.

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Tips for pro-level application of the scallops

To successfully decorate your cake with low-tech equipment and no frustrating faux pas, frosting should always be applied to fully cooled cakes. Better still is to pop the naked layers of the cake into the fridge or freezer for a couple hours. This firms up your working surface, making the application of layers of frosting smoother — literally and figuratively. Then, when crafting your scallop shapes, always use a warmed-up spoon. Just like a hot knife produces the cleanest slice, a hot spoon (you can dip it in a glass of water or run under the sink) glides effortlessly through the frosting without pulling. Wipe excess off the spoon between each shape as well for a tidy pattern.

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You can also use this tip on a store-bought cake, a time and effort-saving hack that still allows for a degree of customization — and the satisfaction of feeling like you made the cake yourself. Simply purchase your favorite cake at the grocery store and scrape off excess icing and decor until you have a mostly clean slate surface to re-decorate as you desire. Bonus points for the culinary sustainability of this tip — you can pick up a discount cake with out-of-date messaging or undesired colors, scrape off that "Happy Valentine's Day" or other irrelevant wording, and no one will be any the wiser once it's redecorated to your liking.

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