The internet is filled with ridiculously gorgeous, over-the-top decorated cakes, but most mere mortals aren’t able to sculpt a cake into a designer purse or make it look like a cartoon character. While I personally adore the way those cakes look, I would never attempt to make one at home, since I prefer decorating techniques that don't require hours of fondant work.
Instead, when I’m ready to decorate a frosted layer cake, I reach for the humble spoon.
Yes – a cheap spoon is all you need to decorate a cake! The back of the spoon can make swoops and swirls, zigzags and stripes, spirals and concentric circles, ruffles and waves and floral petals. No piping bag or fancy tips required!
Before You Begin
Frost the cake completely with a crumb layer, then add another layer of frosting about 3/4-inch thick on all the sides and the top of the cake.
Smooth out the frosting as much as you can but don’t worry too much about how smooth you get it. You’ll be making patterns and decorations in the frosting, so it won’t matter much. You just want to make sure you have a relatively even layer of frosting to work with.
IMPORTANT: If you’re working with American-style buttercream (made with butter, powdered sugar, and flavoring) you’ll need to work a little quicker than you would with a European-style buttercream, like Swiss meringue buttercream or Italian buttercream.
American-style buttercream is thick and will quickly dry and crust over, which makes manipulating the frosting a little more time-sensitive. However, you will get more intricate details with an American-style buttercream than a European-style frosting, so it's a worthy trade-off.
Make sure to clean your spoon often in hot water (warm the water up in the microwave if it cools) and then dry it. A hot spoon will help melt the frosting a bit as you manipulate the American buttercream. (This isn’t necessary for European-style buttercream, which doesn’t form a crust.)
What You'll Need
- Spoons in various sizes: Different size metal spoons will provide different shapes. I like to use cheap spoons – the cheaper the better, as they tend to have a “sharper” edge to them. Experiment with the spoons you have in your drawer to find the one that works best for you. Larger spoons are great for large swoops and swirls, while smaller spoons are best for the more intricate ruffles and waves.
- A glass of warm water: As you work, your spoon will pick up some of the frosting. A warm glass of water will rinse off excess frosting and heat up the spoon, which helps create cleaner impressions in the frosting. Make sure to wipe off the spoon after rinsing with a paper towel or kitchen towel. You want to use a dry, warm spoon to make the designs, not a wet one.
Spoon Decoration #1: Swoops and Swirls
This is the easiest and most forgiving of all the decorations as the pattern is organically made.
How to do it: Use the back of the spoon to create swoops and swirls in the frosting, alternating and changing the direction of the spoon and rocking it back and forth with different angles as you continue to add more indentions throughout the top and sides of the cake.
It may take a few attempts but you’ll soon get the feel and will be swooping like a pro.
Spoon Decoration #2: Zigzags and Stripes
I love the more tailored look of zigzags and stripes, and it’s just as easy to do.
How to do it: Push the back of the spoon across the entire top of the cake, and then pull the spoon back towards you again, overlapping the previous line slightly. The amount of overlap will determine how thin the line is you’ve created.
Repeat this movement back and forth over the cake until the top of the cake has parallel lines or zigzags across the top. You can then make vertical lines along the side of the cake, horizontal lines that go all the way around the sides, or just leave the sides smooth and add swoops and swirls as contrast to the top of the cake.
Spoon Decoration #3: Spiral or Concentric Circles
To make circles and spirals on the top of the cake, it’s very helpful to have a turntable so you can keep the line steady and smooth.
How to do it: Press the back of the spoon into the center of the cake and spin the turntable, making a small circle. Move the spoon next to this circle and repeat this movement, making a concentric circle. Repeat until you have made larger and larger concentric circles on top of the cake.
Alternatively, start in the middle of the cake and slowly spin the cake, moving the spoon outward, to make one giant spiral. This pattern is especially fun if you plan to add sprinkles, as they will naturally fall into the middle of each circle dip.
Like the zigzag and stripes patterns, you can choose to make vertical lines or parallel lines around the sides of the cake, leave it smooth, or add swoops and swirls to contrast with the circles on top.
Spoon Decoration #4: Ruffles and Waves
This movement is similar to the zigzag or stripe decoration, but instead of going all the way across the cake, you’re doing smaller movements back and forth.
How to do it: Press the back of the spoon near the edge of the cake to make an indention then push the spoon back slightly in a rocking motion to create a wave or ruffle. Once you’ve created one row of ruffles, repeat this movement to create multiple rows of ruffles across the cake.
Repeat this down the side of the cake, or opt for one of the other patterns as a contrast.
Spoon Decoration #5: Floral Petal Pattern
This pattern uses the same motion as the ruffles technique, but you’re just applying it in concentric circles instead of in a row.
How to do it: Start by pressing the back of the spoon near the edge and draw the spoon about an inch inward, toward the center of the cake. Shift and draw it back out to the edge creating a ruffle. Repeat the movement around the edge of the cake creating a circle of ruffles.
Now move inward and make another concentric circle of ruffles right inside that ring and repeat until you’ve made concentric circles all the way into the center of the cake. The impression will look like a floral petal pattern on top of the cake.
This pattern is great for American-style buttercream, as the ruffles will dry and crust over and create a sharper detailed pattern.
Make ruffles on the side of the cake in a similar way or go make swoops and swirls or leave the cake smooth if you’d like for contrast.
One Final Tip
Decorating with the back of the spoon may take you a couple of attempts to get the hang of it. Rock the spoon back and forth as you move it to get the feel of what works best for you. Different angles of the spoon will create different impressions.
Keep in mind frosting is super forgiving! If you don’t like what you’ve done, take an offset spatula or butter knife and just smooth out the frosting and start over! If you are using American-style buttercream, again, make sure to dip your spoon, spatula, or butter knife into hot water then wipe it clean! The heat from the warm spoon or spatula will help you manipulate the frosting.
Once you’ve decorated the cake a couple of times, you’ll get the hang of it and you’ll soon be making cakes that will impress everyone!