When you're just starting cake decorating, it can seem really overwhelming to choose what you really need. There are so many different kits, caddies and carriers out there. And they range in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. So, here's what I think every decorator really needs.
The nice thing about the “must-haves” is that you can find all of this in the cake decorating aisle of your local craft store.
Cake decorators can’t work without a good 7”-9” offset or angled spatula (it kind of looks like the letter Z). The angle helps keep your knuckles out of the cake, and it’s just easier to work with than a straight spatula or, heaven forbid, a butter knife.
You need at least two good-quality reusable piping bags. These are the bags you see most often when you walk past the bakery or watch your favorite cake show. They’re white, polyester, and very durable. You’ll want to buy either 10” or 12” bags.
You may find that you’ll also want to buy some disposable bags. They’re cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about cleaning them.
If you want to keep cleanup a snap for any decorating bag, check out how to make icing bag bullets. These truly revolutionized by decorating some 10-years into it.
A small assortment of 5-10 decorating tips is plenty to get you started. If you want them to last, buy metal tips, not the plastic ones you see in the grocery store.
Each tip will have a number imprinted on its side. These are my "must-have" tips:
Round Tips #3 & #12
Round tips make dots, outlines and writing.
Star Tip #18
Star tips make stars, shells and rosettes.
Petal Tip #104
Petal tips make roses and other flowers.
Leaf Tip #352
Leaf tips make leaves (obviously), but also some flowers.
A coupler is a two-piece, plastic tip that you use in your bag to change your tip without emptying the bag. I recommend 2-4 couplers to get you started.
These are all things that will make decorating easier for you, and give you more professional results, but you could definitely get started decorating without them.
High-Quality Cake Pans
The most common pans are the 8” or 9” round pan or the 9”x13” pan. You want a pan whose sides are at a right angle to the bottom of the pan. The sides of most cheap pans will angle out a little bit, which makes it easier to get the cake out, but make it harder to frost if you layer it.
This wire contraption helps you level the top of your cakes for decorating. It also allows you to slice through a cake to create layers or tortes. (It is really the best $4 I spent when I started decorating because I can't cut a straight line to save my life!)
These little strips wrap around the outside of your pan when you bake cakes to keep them from getting a dome. Your cakes will come out much more even, and you won’t lose nearly as much height from the cake when you level it. (Click the link to learn more about Bake Even Strips.)
Covering your cake with icing or fondant, creating a border, decorating the sides of the cake—all of these are easier if you have a turntable. I think a raised turntable is the best bet because you can get a better grip and bring the cake closer to eye-level.
A Great Decorator's Icing Recipe
There’s nothing wrong with using canned icing in a pinch, but for really professional-looking (and tasting) results, you want to use homemade icing.
Gel-Based Icing Colors
When coloring your icing, you will get better colors with higher-quality, gel-based icing colors. These are usually more concentrated than the liquid drops, and allow you to add more color without turning your icing soft or mushy.
If you want to make roses or other impressive flowers, you need a flower nail. I prefer the metal ones, but the plastic ones also work fine.
Getting icing out of the tiny openings at the ends of your smaller tips can be a real challenge. A tip-cleaning brush is well worth its less than $2 price tag and will save you lots of time standing over the sink.
*Note: Most of the products I use tend to be Wilton brand. That's because where I live, it's about the only thing easily available. Also, they are available at most craft stores nationwide. AND because I teach Wilton Cake Decorating Classes myself, I am very familiar with their products.
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