Showstopping cakes are in your future.
By Ellen Gray | Published Jan 20, 2022 3:41 PM
Perhaps your earliest birthday recollection conjures giant swoops of frosting on a homemade cake. Or maybe it was intricate buttercream roses peeking out from a cello-windowed bakery box. Either way, a beautifully decorated cake can be a whimsical way to show your love, which is why learning the basics of cake decorating is a skill worth your time. But where to begin? Does an exhaustive collection of pastry tips, turntables, and icing combs ensure success, or are you better off assembling a small group of task-specific tools before deciding to expand your repertoire?
We spoke with a number of professional pastry chefs and asked them to weigh in on the best cake decorating tools. Jessica Stern, professional pastry chef and kitchen production manager for Weckerly’s Ice Cream in Philadelphia, takes a streamlined, essentials-only approach. “My two favorite tools are a small offset spatula and a flat edge metal bench scraper. The offset helps to evenly distribute frosting and fillings, the bench scraper helps achieve clean, crisp straight edges.” Before you overstock your kitchen with decorating tools, consider starting small and building from there. Here are our top picks for the best cake decorating tools to guide you towards cake decorating success.
Size: 10- and 12-inch bags | Ergonomic Design: easy to maneuver but requires practice | Material: stainless steel, nylon, and plastic | Accessories: Includes icing recipes and instructions
Why we chose it: Just enough but not too much, you could create an array of cake decorations with this singular kit. It provides good variety, excellent quality, and won’t break the bank.
Ateco has been in the cake decorating business since 1905 and is the choice of many professional bakers. For new decorators, this streamlined kit is more helpful than one with dizzying options, and for experienced decorators. It provides sufficient variety and Ateco quality. (Both bakers will love the comfortable price point.) The kit includes six icing tips, two reusable pastry bags plus a plastic coupler set (a plastic fitting that connects the bag to the icing tip) and lets you create basic or highly decorative cakes. The range of icing tips offer plenty of inspiration; you can inscribe, bead, dot, add floral embellishments, create borders, and pipe leaves. Two sizes of reusable nylon bags make this suitable for large-scale cakes or smaller tasks such as decorating cupcakes or cookies, and the coupler allows you to change tips with ease (a true pro move). Additionally, Ateco offers a wide variety of tips that you can buy separately. Piping rose buds is do-able, but for full-scale roses you will need to purchase a rose nail separately. Though many other manufacturers offer inexpensive kits with more bells and whistles, in the end, the quality doesn’t compare to the Ateco.
Size: 3.30 inches W x 3.70 inches L x 1.70 inches H (small); 5.50 inches W x 6.30 inches L x 2.75 inches H (large) | Ergonomic Design: yes | Material: silicone | Accessories: Small includes four decorating tips, large includes six decorating tips.
Why we chose it: A pop off lid, ergonomic design that is easy to squeeze, assorted nozzles, and all-in-one storage makes this a surprise addition to your decorating kit.
A set of two small (or one larger) palm-sized decorating pens take the place of traditional piping bags, replacing them with a silicone disc that’s incredibly easy to squeeze and disperses reliably even amounts of frosting. The smaller pens come with four piping tips, the larger pen with six. Professionals say these are best suited for small decorative tasks, but do applaud them for piping simple chocolate embellishments, drizzling sweet and savory sauces, and filling hors d’oeuvres (think deviled eggs). For anyone who struggles with piping bags, or even kids interested in decorating cookies or cupcakes, these are handy, reusable, and dishwasher safe.
Size: 12 inch diameter, 5 inches high | Material: Aluminum | Accessories: Non-slip silicone base
Why we chose it: Let the turntable do the work: A non-slip silicone base coupled with a spinning 12-inch rotating surface makes cake frosting and decorating a smooth and simple process.
Simply put, a cake decorating turntable allows you to frost and decorate without running in circles. Ateco offers a model that is solid without being weighty, providing a level surface that is easy to navigate. The nonslip base cap secures the turntable to your work surface and is removable for clean-up. Bakers praise its comfortable price point and easy clean-up with a damp cloth. (Always take care not to submerge the rotating mechanism in water.) Though lighter than the Ateco model with a cast iron base, for home use, this is perfectly suitable. Bakers say this is a game changer that will simplify the cake decorating experience and last through years and years of celebrations.
Size: 7.75 inches by 1.25-inches (large); 4.25 inches x 0.75 inches (small) | Material: Stainless Steel Blade, Plastic Handle | Accessories: n/a
Why we chose it: Pastry chefs agree: an offset spatula is an essential cake decorating tool.
Offset spatulas are favored among professional cake decorators for a reason. The humble tool boasts a narrow, flexible, durable blade with a rounded tip, making it ideal for evenly spreading frosting over a cake. Once the cake is iced, you can also use an offset to apply decorative flourishes; swirls and curls are easily created with a mere flick of the wrist. Available in several sizes, our testers suggest arming yourself with both a 7 3/4 inch offset as well as one that measures 4 1/4 inches; the longer one covers a wider swath of frosting while the smaller one is ideal for smoothing out nooks, edges, or repairing mistakes. Large offsets (such as 10- or 12-inches) are useful when frosting a sheet cake or a large tiered cake, but our testers far prefer these smaller-sized tools. Available with either plastic or wooden handles, plastic tends to be more resilient to water and buttery stains. Ateco quality makes this a most worthwhile purchase.
Size: 6 inches x 3 inches | Ergonomic Design: yes | Material: polypropylene handle, stainless steel blade | Accessories: none
Why we chose it: A mainstay in many professional kitchens, this is a go-to for comfortably smoothing frosting on a cake, but also works well for portioning dough and rotating pie dough.
Designed with honed edges and a seamless blade-to-handle seal, this classic bench scraper is both easy to use and comfortable to grasp. Referred to as a great “extra set of hands” by many bakers, the Dexter-Russell is perfect for everything from scraping up dough to smoothing frosting. The signature white-handled tool has an enthusiastic following thanks to its longevity, versatility, price point, and lifetime warranty. “So many bench scrapers have wooden or curled metal handles that crack, trap debris or are hard to clean,” says Deanna Fox, food journalist and former cooking school owner.” The plastic handle means you can soak the Dexter-Russell model to make clean-up easy.” Plus it’s inexpensive, so while it should last you a lifetime, any damage done comes at little cost.
Size: 4 inches x 6 inches | Material: Aluminum | Accessories: n/a
Why we chose it: This tool does double-duty: First it smooths a frosting or glaze, then it neatly embellishes it. Three serrated, patterned edges offer a variety of decorative finishes.
This is a go-to in many professional kitchens, not only for classic, frosted cakes, but also to gussy up a simple cake in a hurry. For bakers new to decorating, this tool provides a variety of finishes depending which side of the comb you choose—intricate fine lines, deep grooves or jagged waves. The hanging hole makes storage convenient. Our testers prefer this comb to similar ones made out of plastic, claiming this decorating tool provides the crispest, clean lines. As with most tools, new decorators may need to practice a bit to find the right pressure and achieve the best results.
By no means mandatory, but a terrific addition to your cake decorating tool kit. Use this to scrape bowls filled with buttercream or meringue, handily fill a pastry bag, or simply to push bagged frosting towards the tip as you pipe.
If you choose the best cake decorating tools, you don’t need to break the bank (or stuff the tool drawer) in order to decorate a show-stopping cake. These items were tested by pastry chefs in professional kitchens and in many cases are used at home by the same bakers. Interestingly enough, several of our home cook testers vouched for the products, claiming they use Ateco tools and the Dexter-Russell bench scraper “religiously” due to their quality and durability. Piping bags, tips, decorating comb, and spatulas were used with American-style frosting (powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla extract) on traditional made-from-scratch cake layers. The turntable was also tested in a professional kitchen to ice a classic two-layer birthday cake. The takeaway from all testers was that it is better to have fewer, high-quality tools rather than an overabundance of lesser-quality tools.
A good offset spatula, a piping bag with a coupler set and basic icing tips are really all that’s required for beginners, home bakers, and pros to pipe borders, inscribe and embellish a cake. Typically, both a 12- and 18-inch pastry bag are good to have on hand and a turntable will let you frost a cake in half the time and give you a more polished, finished look. (A lazy Susan can pinch-hit if needed.) A good rule of thumb for decorators of all skill levels is to opt for well-crafted tools. Plastics and flimsy materials do not have the lifespan or ease of care of higher-quality options.
You’ll want to find cake decorating tools that are the right size for the job (smaller ones for detailed work and larger ones for frosting tasks) and feel comfortable to maneuver. (For a cake turntable, there’s only one best size: 12 inches in diameter and 5 inches high.) Stainless steel and good quality aluminum are our favorite materials; heat and water-resistant plastics are next.
A multi-tasking tool is an excellent choice for streamlining your decorating collection. Reusable piping bags are a good choice; in many cases, “single use” piping bags can be washed and used again as long as they are not punctured or torn.
A good way to decide what type of accessories you wish to add to your tool kit is to look at photographs and tutorials of decorative cakes. Add to your kit in accordance with your cake decorating aspirations. Love intricate florals and borders? Load up on icing tips, which are often available to purchase individually. Like a more modern look? A turntable and an icing comb may be all that you need.
An offset spatula, about 8-inches or 4-inches long (or both) are must-haves. A revolving icing turntable will give you a more professionally finished cake and make the task infinitely easier. A honed edge bench scraper will give the cake a smooth finish, while an icing comb is a handy tool for adding simple, yet effective embellishments. Both 12- and 18-inch pastry bags are recommended.
An offset spatula is generally used to smooth the frosting between cake layers, although some bakers prefer to pipe the filling directly onto the cake layers using a piping bag before smoothing.
Cold frosting will be difficult to pipe, but warm frosting will not hold its shape. A happy medium is the ideal; frosting (or whipped cream or buttercream) that is soft yet stable. Freshly made frosting is generally easiest to pipe. If you need a firmer frosting (say, between the layers or after applying a crumb coat), refrigerate the entire cake.
Pastry chefs agree that a handful of carefully selected decorating tools are preferable to amassing an over-abundance of tools you don’t need. Quality tools are worth the investment. Cake decorating tools require some practice; the right selections will make the task a creative pleasure.
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