10+ Mistakes That Beginning Cake Decorators Make.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and when you’re learning how to decorate a cake, it’s pretty common that people make the same mistakes over and over.

These are some things that beginning cake decorators don’t pay attention to, but if you do learn to pay attention to them, it’s going to get you a better result.

10 beginner cake decorating mistakes to avoid

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Not leveling off your cakes before you decorate them.

You need to make sure that your cake layers are level and flat before you decorate them, or you’re just going to end up with a crooked and lumpy-looking cake.

It’s not difficult to level off a cake and get flat layers to work with, and you don’t need to buy fancy equipment to do it.

I wrote another article all about that so you can click here to read about how to get flat cake layers to decorate.

colored buttercream icing

Using icing that’s too thick or too thin.

Icing that’s used for different tasks in cake decorating have to have different consistencies.

If you’re trying to ice a cake with an icing that’s too thick, you’re just going to rip the cake apart.

But if the icing is too thin, it’s not going to cover the cake and you’re going to be able to see bald patches with the cake coming through.

A crumb coat type of icing can be a little bit thinner than the final coat of icing, but not by much.

Just be aware that you might need to thin out the consistency of your icing a little bit with some liquid, depending on what you’re doing. Or, on the other hand, you might need to add more confectioner’s sugar to stiffen it up if it’s too soft.

Using a little liquid to thin out your icing until you get it to a spreadable consistency will go a long way to giving you a decent icing to work with, but a lot of it is just trial and error.

You might just need to practice to find the right consistencies for yourself as far as what you like to work with when you’re icing a cake.

Not doing a crumb coat.

I mentioned a crumb coat when I was talking about the icing consistency above, and a lot of people get a bad result because they skip this.

My neighbor once asked me why her cakes looked terrible when she iced them and I asked her if she had done a crumb coat. She didn’t know what I was talking about.

That’s normal, because why would you know if you’ve never decorated a cake before?

A crumb coat is just a thin coat of icing that you put on the cake to begin with just to grab all the crumbs that might be on the surface of the cake.

It also helps to brush the crumbs off of the sides of the cake before you ice it, but you don’t want to do that too vigorously or you can really rip the cake up.

Either way, it’s really important to kind of encapsulate the cake crumbs that might still be on the surface before you actually ice the final coat on the cake.

Not knowing how to pipe evenly.

If you’re going to use a piping bag, you can practice ahead of time by putting a piece of waxed paper on a cookie sheet and just piping onto that.

You can reuse that icing over and over and just keep it as your practice icing.

Piping evenly does take some practice, and one of the giveaways of someone who really doesn’t know how to decorate a cake is uneven piping.

There are so many ways that you can decorate a cake that you don’t even need to use a piping bag, though.

There are a lot of rustic cake decorating techniques that only require a spatula and no piping skills at all. Click here to see some rustic wedding cakes.

But definitely practice before you do piping if you want to use that as a design on your cake.

working with petal dust
Plan color carefully!

Using random colors that don’t work together.

If you’re going to use colored icing on your cake, make sure that they look good together or else it can just look like a total mistake.

If you’re not sure, limit your colors to one or two and just have most of the cake be a natural white icing color.

It’s hard to get really bright colors right on a cake, and unless you’re going for that really bright look and a colorful style, it’s better to keep it a little bit understated so that people don’t think you went crazy and used every color that you possibly could.

If you’re using colored icing that came pre-made, one way to tone some of that down is to mix it into some white icing to get a paler version of that color.

You can also mix some of the opposing color into it to tone it down a little bit. Click here to see how I toned down mauve icing when it was too pink.

sugared pansies on a basketweave cake
A buttercream cake.

Using fondant for no good reason.

If you are a beginning cake decorator, there’s no real reason that you would need to use fondant in your cake designs.

Unless you’re using it to make flowers or molded items to decorate the cake, you can stick with basic buttercream and a rustic cake design that doesn’t need to be smoothed out for the icing.

Most people prefer to eat buttercream and not fondant, so you won’t disappoint anyone.

There was a time about 10 years ago when fondant became very popular because of all the baking shows on TV, but in the US it’s not the preferred type of icing to eat.

It also definitely has a learning curve when it’s time to put it on the cake, so just avoid it until you build up your icing skills a little bit.

Underestimating how long it’s going to take.

No matter how long you think a cake will take you, double that time if you’re a pure beginner.

If you’ve made a similar cake before, just add on about 50% of the time you think that it will take. It’s always going to take longer than you think, so don’t underestimate the time that you give to the project.

It’s always better to do things ahead of time, too, because then if you mess something up you’ll be able to go back and fix it with the extra time that you’ve given yourself.

cake tent
Wedding cake tent for an outdoor reception.

Not planning for the weather.

In the summer months, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to decorate and ice a cake even if you’re inside in the air conditioning.

If it’s humid outside, the icing seems to know that and it will act accordingly. I have a friend who had an entire box of gumpaste flowers turn to mush when a big rainstorm came through and raised the moisture level in the air, they were totally destroyed.

It won’t get better when you take the cake outside, either. I’ve seen full-sized wedding cakes melt in the summer heat, even if they’re protected from direct sunlight.

Nobody is immune from the laws of nature, so make sure that you take the weather into account when you’re planning your decorating and what you need to do to protect your cake from it.

cake emergency brakes slammed on
This is what happens when you slam on the brakes.

Transportation problems.

Decorating the cake is one thing, but there’s also moving the cake. A lot of beginners will have a nicely-decorated cake that meets its doom when it’s taken to the party and gets dumped on the floor because someone is handling it carelessly.

The cake in the photo above was being transported by someone who had never transported a cake before, and this is what happened when they slammed on the brakes.

The only people who should touch the cake are the person who baked it and the person who paid for it. If you’re the one who baked it, make sure that you know how to move it safely before you try to move it from place to place.

Poor cake structure.

This is a biggie. If you’re building a tiered cake, you’re building it, and it needs to be supported.

My mother once called me because she was making a cake that was supposed to be two tiers stacked on top of each other, but she basically plopped one on top of the other with no supports or anything.

Her cake ended up being a pile of cake and icing with no shape because it just kind of melded into itself, so she kept putting more icing on it to try to build it back up. I had to tell her that she had basically ruined it because she hadn’t put any supports in it, but she had no idea she was supposed to actually do that.

I don’t know how that turned out, but if you’re going to build a cake, then build it the right way and do your research about cake boards, dowels, and how to structure a cake to keep it from collapsing.

The opposite side of that is that some people put so many dowels in a cake, there’s no way to cut a piece without getting a piece of dowel in it.

Too many dowels can sometimes be just as bad as not enough!

Using terrible decorations.

I hate to say it, but not all decorations on a cake will look good.

If it’s the first time you’re making a cake, rest assured that your cake will look awful in some way. It’s totally normal, so don’t worry about it too much.

The more cakes that you decorate, the better you’ll get, and the first attempts at anything in life aren’t going to be the best!

To start with, keep your decorations on the simple side, because it’s better to build your skill over time with practice than it is to try to make something elaborate that ends up being terrible.

You’ll feel better and get better feedback for a less-complicated design that looks better, and it won’t be as discouraging.

On the other hand, remember that you can just eat the evidence if your cake looks awful, and it will still taste good, so it’s not the worst thing in the world!

These mistakes are common for beginners, but with practice and attention to detail, decorators can improve their skills and create more professional-looking cakes.

The important thing to remember is that it’s cake, not anything life-threatening, so have fun, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll improve over time!

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