Katie Tries: Cake Decorating

by Joshua

Let’s talk about cake décor. More specifically, let’s talk about how trying to surprise my roommate TJ with a cake for his birthday taught me several lessons about the cake creation process. As it turns out, writing about cake décor is almost as difficult as the actual decorating process itself, so after three drafts I’ve compiled my “Do’s & Don’ts” into an easy to read list. Because, you know, you’ve got to break a lot of eggs to write about baking a cake.

Fig. 1. The Vision for the Cake.
Fig. 1. The Vision for the Cake.


  1. DON’T assume that your grandmother’s skill in the kitchen is genetically embedded. Or that your early days mixing bowlfuls of ingredients together for her will, nearly two decades later, translate into some natural skill in baking.
  2. If you’re using a box mix, DO replace the water required with the same amount of milk. It makes it moist! And it is hard to mess up.
  3. DON’T bang eggs very loudly against the counter if you’re trying to be sneaky about said cake baking. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re up to something.
  4. DO make sure your oven is completely heated before putting the cakes in there to bake to ensure an even baking process. Thankfully, I actually did this the first time.
  5. DON’T keep opening the oven to check on the cake. Be patient. Walk away. A watched cake never bakes (or something along those lines…).
  6. DO remember to set a timer. If you happen to forget, you can probably find a text message you sent right around the time you put your cake into the oven to create a rough time reference. Otherwise, inserting a toothpick will do.
  7. DON’T try to level your cake layers immediately after they come out of the oven. At least one of your three layers will not survive this, and the others will be unbearably uneven. Hot leveling will ruin your plans of a three tiered cake.
  8. DO cool your cake down before attempting to ice it. Otherwise, your red velvet cake with white icing will turn into a pink cake from the crumbs of the improperly leveled cake mixing with the copious amounts of cream cheese icing you’ve put on it. You can say you did this on purpose for “the style,” but no one will believe you. In fact, you should probably do a “crumb coat” before you try to properly ice it in the first place.
  9. DON’T try to continually fix the uneven layers of the cake by attempting to level it over and over again. This will result in one weirdly shaped layer that you have to turn into a heart to make it seem like it’s on purpose.
  10. DO use sprinkles to cover your mistakes. I mean, who doesn’t love sprinkles?! Keep in mind that sprinkles are like concealers. They can cover a multitude of sins, but when used liberally, everyone can tell.
  11. DON’T use the little decorative icing bottles from Target’s baking aisle to write words on your cake. At least, don’t use it in the little tube it comes in or while the cake is still warm. The words will run together, and the little bottle does not give nearly the amount of control you need to prevent the “TJ” from becoming the sign for pi.
  12. DO purchase the fancy number candles. They’re pretty. But maybe make sure the cake is completely cooled before you set them in place.
  13. DON’T gain a false sense of confidence from Pinterest. Just because there’s a tutorial for everything under the sun in that app doesn’t mean you can execute said tutorials perfectly on the first try.

The last and most important DO: Enjoy the cake with your friends and loved ones. Even if it’s ugly as all get out, it’ll likely still taste pretty good. 

Also, keep practicing the cake décor! It’ll take at least 5 tries before things start to look more “Keep Austin Weird”-esque instead of “Oh God, she has no idea what she’s doing and I really wish she’d stop.”

Fortunately, no one will complain about having extra cake to eat.

Fig. 2. An artist’s rendition of the final cake ala “Google Earth” street view. The edges weren’t this clean. 
Fig. 2. An artist’s rendition of the final cake ala “Google Earth” street view. The edges weren’t this clean. 

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