I have just gotten started on my cake decorating journey and now totally addicted. While I've loved baking for some time now, it was only over 4 months ago, at the end of May, when I bought Russian piping tips and fell in love with piping buttercream. You might've seen their viral spread over the internet, those popular Russian piping tips are every beginner's dream – they make roses or tulips in a single squeeze of the piping bag. But their small size and few flower varieties are limiting, so I braved it and graduated myself to various petal and leaf tips (with weekly trips to my local Michaels, coupon in hand). For the past 4 months, I've taken every opportunity to pipe buttercream on cupcakes, mini cakes, and birthday cakes for family, friends, neighbors, even my husband's co-workers, all for free (for them anyway) and for fun (for me and them, too, I hope), as an excuse to practice this craft I've grown to love so quickly.
In the process of learning to pipe buttercream and exploring the world of caking, I have equally fallen in love with vintage cakes. Lavish borders, exquisite flowers, the works. Like everything from the 1980's and 1990's, elaborate cakes are making a swift comeback, and I'm all for returning to my youth!
While I'm not a pro and feel a little shy to teach something I've just recently come to know, I invite you to join in this practice with me, and to surprise yourself, as I have myself, at just how achievable cake decorating is. For this Instructables cake decorating contest entry, I have handpiped buttercream borders, roses, and a tapestry pattern -- all from which I have learned tremendously, and out of which I hope to have inspired at least another to bravely pick up that piping bag like I did just a few short months ago! Happy piping!
Step 1: Ingredients and Supplies
If you have your favorite cake and buttercream recipes on hand, feel free to head straight to the cake building (Step 4) or cake decorating (Steps 5-11). I made my own lemon chiffon cake and white chocolate buttercream recipes, and welcome you to try them. The chiffon is light and spongy, but stable enough to hold itself in tiers. It remains moist for days and days (I didn't even cut this cake open until Day 5 to share with friends and neighbors and it still tasted freshly baked!). The lemon juice and zest are quite tart and refreshing, to contrast the flavor of the sweet buttercream. The buttercream is a spin on American buttercream, which I've cut with white chocolate for richness and flavor.
Lemon Chiffon Cake Ingredients:
(makes 2 – 6" round cakes, each approximately 1-1/2" high)
4 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable/canola oil
½ cup cake flour
1-½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
White Chocolate Buttercream Ingredients:
For every 1 pound of room temperature unsalted butter:
200 grams white chocolate
1 cup icing/confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon meringue powder
Stand mixer or hand mixer
Spatulas (offset metal and silicone/rubber)
Baking pans (6" rounds, 4" rounds)
Mini muffin pan with mini muffin liners
Cake boards (6", 5", 4")
Piping tips and coupler (I used Wilton Star 14, Petal 102, Petal 104, Cake Icer 789)
Gel icing colors (I used Wilton's Aster Mauve, Juniper Green, Dephinium Blue, Blue, and Black)
Pattern to trace (I used a scrap of floral fabric)
Step 2: Baking the Cakes
I made three cake batches. First two batches yielded four 6" round cakes (approx 1-½" tall). The final batch yielded two 4" round cakes (approx 1-½" tall), one 6" round cake (approx 3/4" tall), and three mini muffin sized cupcakes.
To make one batch:
1. With a hand or stand mixer, using a whisk attachment, cream together egg yolks and ¼ cup of sugar until pale yellow. Add lemon juice and oil and whisk for another minute.
2. Sift in cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine with a spatula. This will be your "egg yolk batter".
3. With a clean, grease-free whisk attachment and separate bowl, whip egg whites, cream of tartar, and ¼ cup of sugar to firm-stiff peaks.
4. Fold and combine whipped egg whites and lemon zest into the egg yolk batter, one third of egg whites at a time, until smooth and without lumps. Be careful not to overfold, as overfolding will deflate the egg whites and chiffon cakes heavily depend on the egg whites for rising.
5. Pour batter into parchment lined pans. Tap the pans against the counter twice or three times to release bubbles (this will prevent your cake from cracking). Bake at 370F (185C) for approximately 20-25 minutes. Insert a toothpick to check for doneness.
6. Cool the pans UPSIDE DOWN on a cooling rack. Chiffon cakes end up sinking if not cooled upside down. When cool, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge (preferably overnight).
Step 3: Making the Buttercream
1. Melt white chocolate in the microwave, stirring at 30 second intervals. Make sure the melted chocolate is smooth and without lumps. Allow chocolate to cool to the touch.
2. With a hand or stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream butter until pale.
3. Add cooled melted white chocolate and continue to mix until fully incorporated.
4. Sift icing sugar. Mix for several minutes until light and fluffy.
5. Add meringue powder and continue to mix for one to two more minutes.
I made three buttercream batches: first two batches combined for frosting/torting the tiers and a later batch for decorating.
Step 4: Torting and Frosting
1. Using a thin serrated knife, cut off any slight dome on the top of the cake. Cut across the middle of the cake to divide into two equal layers (approximately ¾"). Cut THREE of the four 6" cakes in half to make 6 layers. You also have one 6" cake that's already ¾", so this will be your 7th layer in the bottom tier. Cut both 4" cakes in half to make 4 layers for the top tier.
2. Take the fourth 6" cake and trim it down to 5" diameter. You can use a knife, however I found it easier to use a 5" cookie cutter circle. This 5" cake will be the middle tier. I wanted this tier to be short, so I didn't halve it into layers.
3. Insert the large icing tip into a large piping bag, and fill with buttercream. Pipe a large dot of buttercream on the turntable before placing the cake board, so the cake board doesn't shift. Pipe a large dot of buttercream on the cake board before placing the first cake layer, so the cake adheres to the board.
4. While spinning the turntable, pipe the frosting on the cake layer, then spread evenly using an offset spatula. Repeat layering and frosting, until the final cake layer of that tier. Frost the side of the cake with the piping bag. Use a bench scraper to smooth out the sides, as you spin the turntable. Take the offset spatula to bring in the extra buttercream on the top edge inwards to the center of the top of the cake.
5. Repeat frosting the middle and top tiers with the same above technique to make the first buttercream coat of the cake, also called "crumb coat".
When moving the bottom tier to the cake stand. Remember to put buttercream on the cake stand to adhere the cake board and ensure the cake is secure on the stand.
6. Chill all tiers in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, until set.
7. For the final coat of the middle and top tiers, tint about 2 cups of buttercream using gel icing color. I used a toothpick to add a little bit at a time, and mixing in between with a spatula, until the desired color is reached. I used Aster Mauve by Wilton.
8. Repeat Step 4 above to frost the middle and top tiers using the tinted buttercream, bench scraper to smooth the sides, and offset spatula to smooth the tops. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, until set. Set aside any leftover tinted buttercream, as this will be used later to pipe the borders.
NOTE: You do not need a second coat on the bottom tier because it will be covered in the next step with the pattern.
Step 5: Buttercream Pattern
This process was inspired by vintage floral tapestry fabrics, as well as a combination of what bakers call a "buttercream transfer" and "chocolate cage" or "chocolate wrap". Unlike buttercream transfers, I do not freeze the handpiped image before adhering to the cake (it would work for a square cake, but impossible on a round). Like chocolate wraps, the handpiped image is applied to the cake before it is chilled to set.
1. Measure the bottom tier's height and circumference. Cut parchment paper where: length = the tier circumference + extra ¼" (better longer than shorter) ; height = tier height. However make sure to leave "tabs" on each end of the parchment. These tabs will allow you to pick-up and hold the pattern as you adhere it to the cake later.
2. Separate buttercream in small bowls, about ½-¾ cup in each. Tint the buttercream in desired colors. Scoop buttercream into piping bags, and cut a small hole on each tip.
3. Tape the parchment paper over the pattern. As you can see, to make my life a lot easier, instead of designing my own pattern, I looked for fabric I was satisfied with, and picked and chose which features of the pattern I wanted to have on my cake.
4. Now for my favorite part of this whole cake: carefully pipe buttercream, tracing over the pattern. I went color by color, from lightest to darkest. NOTE (tagged on 5th photo): Don't be afraid to be generous with your use of buttercream, especially in the areas with finer lines (like the leaves). If fine lines have little buttercream to back them, they are likely to peel off along with the parchment in the later step, as you will see I discovered with a few of my leaves.
5. When you have finished all of the details, pipe and fill in the background color, being generous with your use of buttercream.
6. Carefully lift the parchment by the tabs and very carefully wrap around the cake (the easiest is to align the bottom first). If the parchment has the ¼" extra length, now is the time to trim that off with scissors, before it sets in the fridge.
7. Frost the top of the tier and smooth with an offset spatula. Cover with parchment.
8. Place the tier in the fridge and chill at least an hour to set.
9. Carefully peel off the parchment paper. This is where you'll see the areas of my design where I went too thin on the buttercream – the leaves peeled off, as well as some small areas of the blue background and some bits of the bottom perimeter of the cake.
10. If you have any little parts that have peeled off, it's all okay! Simply pipe over gaps with the corresponding buttercream colors and use small piece of parchment "patches" to smooth the surface. Chill until set. Peel parchment patches.
11. Peel off the parchment on the top of the cake. Using a sharp knife, trim off any uneven areas on the edges.
Set any extra buttercream aside for later use.
Step 6: Stacking Bottom and Middle Tiers
You are now ready to reinforce the structure of your bottom tier and stack the middle tier on top.
1. Cut four straws very slightly (no more than 1/4") shorter than the height of the bottom tier. Insert straws so that they are spread apart enough, but will still be hidden by the tier going on top.
2. Frost the top with butterceam and spread evenly before placing the middle tier on top using a cake lifter. The layer of buttercream acts like glue between the two tiers.
3. Chill in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes.
Step 7: Piping Rope Borders
As a beginner, I find that piping icing is all about getting accustomed to knowing just when to put pressure on the bag and when to release pressure and pull away. It's the pressure/release that needs practice above all, apart from keeping steady. You can hold the piping bag with your dominant hand, and guide the tip with your opposite hand.
To pipe the rope borders, I used Wilton tip 114. I practiced on parchment before piping the cake (and still wish I had practiced more). It was at this point during practice when I discovered I wanted to thicken up my buttercream, and did so by mixing in additional icing sugar to reach a consistency that piped crisp lines.
TO MAKE A ROPE BORDER: start with a short wave (much like a sine wave or inverted-sideways-letter-S). Apply pressure to the piping bag as you make the first curve up, then decrease pressure and release as you make the curve down. Place your piping tip tightly underneath the first wave and create another wave. Continue to build on your rope using repeated waves, making sure to tuck your tip into the previous wave as closely as possible.
When you're all practiced out, you're ready for the cake! I put rows of rope border to cover the entire middle tier.
1. Start piping on the back of the cake, starting from the bottom and moving up row by row. (If you haven't already, make sure you have chosen the best "side" of your cake as the front).
2. When you've gotten through the first row, carry the last wave up to the second row and continue the wave pattern from there.
3. As you finish each row, carry the last wave up to the next row above, until you've finished off the entire tier. This may or may not be how the pros do rows of rope, but it was the only way I thought of how not to stop abruptly after each row.
Step 8: Piping Swag Borders
Onto the final and top tier of the cake!
To pipe my version of swag borders (composed of a curved ruffle and draped curves), I used Wilton tip 102. Do a practice run, like in the previous piping of the ropes.
TO PIPE A SWAG: I found this time that the key to piping swags is about the angle at which you put the piping tip to the surface of the cake. Practice piping with the tip at different angles – holding the tip parallel, 45-degrees, or perpendicular to your practice surface all make very different looks. I started with a curved ruffle, which is created when you squiggle the piping bag up and down in very tiny squiggly strokes as you move along a curve. Then I layered one curved line on top of each other, to look a bit like drapery, simply by putting pressure as I went down the curve and releasing pressure as I went up the curve.
1. Measure the top tier's height and circumference and cut a rectangle of parchment paper where length = circumference; and height = height. Fold the paper in half, then half again, and half again, until you reach the desired spacing between your swags (I.e. the space in between the folds = swag width). Draw your desired curve (which is half a swag) on the folded parchment and cut. Unfold and you now have a swag template.
2. Wrap parchment template on the cake. Trace the curves with a toothpick. Remove parchment paper.
3. Proceed with piping your cake, following the curves you've outlined, as described in the practice run. Start with the ruffles first entirely around the cake, then the draped lines.
I wish, for the final cake, that I'd piped the swags at a 45-degree angle, but instead piped closer to the perpendicular of the cake and therefore the lines are nearly jutting out, instead of elegantly draping on top of each other. Take that lesson from me!
4. To finish off the very top of the swags, I piped a rope border. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Step 9: Stacking Top Tier
I'm not certain if most people prefer to stack all cake tiers at once, and then decorate. However, with limited space in my fridge and plenty of beginner's fears of botching my piping, you can see I chose to decorate my top tier before stacking it on top of the rest.
1. As with stacking the previous two tiers, cut straws slightly less than the height of your supporting tier, in this case the middle tier. Insert straws far enough to support the upper tier, but still can be hidden by the tier above.
2. Spread a thin layer of buttercream before placing the top tier using a cake lifter.
3. With a Wilton 102 tip, pipe a ruffle along the bottom edge of the top tier, applying steady pressure and moving your hand back and forth in small strokes as you go around the cake.
4. Chill in fridge for approximately 30 minutes.
Step 10: Piping the Roses
To pipe roses, I used Wilton tips 102 for small and 104 for large, always with the narrow opening pointing up while piping.
I decided to pipe the large roses on mini cupcakes to provide both bulk and foundation. I found the mini cupcakes have lesser risk of collapsing than the conventional built-up buttercream mounds on which petals are piped, and also attach more securely to the cake since toothpicks can be employed to keep them in place. For the smaller roses, follow the same steps, without the mini cupcake.
1. Use the buttercream colors leftover from the buttercream pattern, and thicken each one by mixing in additional icing sugar. The thicker the buttercream, the more likely the petal edges are to tear. Torn edges give the flowers a more natural/organic look. However, smooth edges make the flowers look more polished. It's up to you what consistency you prefer. Because I randomly added icing sugar, I got various consistencies and some of the roses piped smoothly and some had torn edges.
2. To pipe toned roses, fill the piping bag with a line of lighter colored buttercream on the same side as the narrower opening of the piping tip, and fill the rest of the piping bag with one darker colored buttercream.
3. Pipe a dot of buttercream on the flower nail before pressing a parchment square on top. Pipe a generous dot of buttercream on the parchment square before pressing a mini cupcake on top.
4. With the piping tip's narrow opening pointing up, pipe a small circular motion to make the innermost bud of the rose.
5. To pipe each additional petal, you need to use a sweeping curved motion as you put pressure on the piping bag – think a rainbow-shaped stroke, releasing pressure as you go down the curve.
After piping the innermost bud, pipe the first petal, then a second, then a third, using the above described rainbow-shaped stroke, surrounding the bud.
The rose is piped petal by petal in repeated rainbow-shaped strokes, going around as you turn the flower nail. You are turning only the flower nail and keeping the piping tip in the same position. The flower nail is essentially your turntable.
Continue to pipe petal by petal, all down the side of the mini cupcake until the side is covered in petals.
6. Place the roses in a freezer-safe container, and freeze for approximately 15-20 minutes. You want to ensure the buttercream is hard enough to handle, at the same time that the cupcake foundation is not frozen solid.
Step 11: Attaching the Roses
1. Determine where you want your roses. For each large rose, insert 2 toothpicks half an inch apart into the cake tier.
2. Generously pipe icing on the toothpicks.
3. Working very quickly, remove the roses from the freezer and gently press large roses into the toothpicks.
4. Continuing to work quickly, pipe a generous dot of buttercream for each additional rose. Gently press rose on buttercream until secure.
5. Chill for at least 30 minutes until the flowers are set on the cake.
Share, eat, and enjoy!
I hope this Instructable has inspired you to explore the wonderfully beautiful and delicious world of buttercream!