Elaborate, decorated cakes–and even a fancy cupcake or two–can send a person into sticker shock. But the cost is justified because it takes time and talent to create these little works of art.
And as anyone who has decorated a cake (or even cookies) knows, getting it right requires skill and patience–and the right tools. Sure, you can get started with just a Lazy Susan as a cake stand and a butter knife for spreading the icing, but half the fun is in the making–so why make it harder than it has to be?
You have the proper baking pans, right? Similarly, a few basic tools can make cake decorating easier and more fun, even if all you ever intend to do is bake a chocolate-iced layer cake. (We have a nice “how-to” on the basics of frosting, by the way.) Yet even with such simplicity, the right tools can make all the difference.
I’ve sorted through the vast array of cake decorating tools and accessories out there to help you get started. These are my picks.
Best Kit for Beginners: RFAQK Professional Cake Decorating Kit
What We Love: Kit covers all the bases and gives you a lot to play around with
What We Don't Love: Not all the items are of the highest quality
This 50-piece decorating set by RFAQK also happens to be a great budget option. It’s a good place to start, and once you increase your confidence, you will probably want to replace some of the items with higher-quality equivalents. But as you start experimenting, this kit provides the specialized tools you’ll need.
A rotating cake stand is a must, and the one in this kit will suffice, though it has some drawbacks. The cake leveler included will help you refine the necessary art of leveling cake layers (always stack the flattest side up!). And there’s a starting set of piping tips and bags, which are primary to detailed decorating.
Price at time of publish: $36
Material: Variously plastic, aluminum, stainless steel | Number of Pieces: 50 | Pieces Included: Cake turntable, 11-inch straight and angled cake spatula, seven icing tips, 35 disposable bags, cake leveler and cutter, three cake scrapers, reusable cake board
Best Piping Set: Ateco 14-Piece Cake Decorating Set
What We Love: From a quality manufacturer, pastry bags are easy to clean
What We Don't Love: Only one spatula, small storage box
I took some suggestions in my search for this category from Kandy Huff, who started her professional life as a building contractor, then wound up following her creativity and love of baking to create Mad Batters, an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed cafe and bakery in Eugene, Oregon.
“You might want to start small,” Kandy says, “maybe with cupcakes, but you’ll need to master piping the bag.”
Piping can help you create finishes, textures, and intricate design elements, so Kandy’s right: You want to learn how to finesse that piping bag.
It’s not complicated, really. Handle the bag like a tube of toothpaste, squeezing from the back. Pipe to apply that adhesive layer of icing to the plate before setting down the first cake layer (this helps keep the whole cake stable). Then, pipe the icing between the layers, smooth it, and pipe again on the sides and top before smoothing there, laying down your base “crumb coating” underlayer.
Creating detailed decorations with the piping bag comes next, and the more you use the piping bag, the better you’ll be with it when it comes to details. Buttercream icing is the perfect consistency to play with–and you can play while you perfect your skills. Sacrifice some icing and practice icing a plate, demoing designs, then return the icing to the bag. Repeat until you’re confident enough to handle the on-cake design with fresh icing.
Price at time of publish: $50
Material: Variously plastic, metal | Number of Pieces: 14 | Pieces Included: 9-inch by 2-inch cake pan, 12-inch flex decorating bag, 14-inch flex decorating bag, six decorating tubes, standard coupler, two pastry tubes, one bowl scraper, one offset spatula packed in a storage tray
Best Cake Stand: Wilton 12-Inch Round Decorating Cake Turntable
What We Love: Low profile, non-slip base, scalloped edge
What We Don't Love: Cannot be submerged in water, some say turning it isn’t always smooth
Being able to spin a cake (or even a cupcake), rather than having to spin yourself around the cake will make everything so much easier. So if you’re going to get a single item, get a cake stand. Plus, being able to move the cake around will be a revelation and will jumpstart your creativity, particularly when it comes to design elements.
The Wilton cake stand is a must-have, and you’ll keep it handy even if later you want to add a pedestal stand (Ateco makes a great one) to your baking arsenal. The rotating plate can accommodate cakes of up to 12 inches in diameter, and its silicone base is non-slip to help you with making smooth edges. And, because of its scalloped edge, you can feel good serving your work of art right on the cake stand.
Price at time of publish: $11
Material: Plastic, silicone | Dimensions (WxH): 12 x 3 inches | Weight: 0.9 pounds
Related: The Best Baking Pans
Best Multipurpose Tool: Unique Bargains Decorating Cake Transfer Lifter
What We Love: Great price, lots of uses in the kitchen, dishwasher-safe
What We Don't Love: Might be a bit small for larger cake layers
Because there will be layer cakes, you’ll need this cake lifter from Unique Bargains to keep you from getting frustrated.
If you have cakes in multiple pans or have sliced a cake into thinner layers, you’ll still need a tool that helps lift and place the layers without risking calamity. This blade-like lifter does the trick, and you can become an expert with it in no time. You can also slice and scrape with it, and it comes with a comfortable, non-slip handle, to boot.
This versatile cake lifter comes in various colors: blue, pink, purple, and red.
Price at time of publish: $24
Material: Stainless steel and plastic | Dimensions (LxW): 8 x 8 inches | Weight: 0.75 pounds | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Best Spatulas and Knives: Ateco Ultra Offset Spatula
What We Love: Comes with three different offset spatulas, sturdy, dishwasher-safe
What We Don't Love: Lacks the classic Ateco wooden handles
"You're going to need an offset spatula,” Huff recommends, “and a good, serrated knife.” Easy enough, and your kitchen will thank you because they’re multipurpose tools.
When looking for that bread knife, look no further than our list of recommendations (see the related link below). The flexibility of the blade is key when it comes to cakes, and the most flexible of our recommended knives is the Tojiro Bread Slicer.
These offset spatulas from Ateco, though, will turn you into an icing expert. Use the size that best suits your hands and the task, and you can smooth, even out, swirl, sculpt, and create designs with just the spatula. Several users say they like how sturdy the handles are and how easy they are to grip; others say they’re easy to clean, too.
Price at time of publish: $8
Material: Stainless steel, plastic handles | Dimensions (Length): Three spatulas at 4.25, 7.75, and 9.75 inches | Weight (Total): 0.1 pounds | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Related: The Best Bread Knives
Best Splurge: Uncommon Goods Spin & Serve Cake Decorating Stand
What We Love: Elegant, rotates
What We Don't Love: Very expensive
Who can say no to something that’s admittedly pricey, but very practical? This cake stand exclusively from Uncommon Goods is made in Vermont and would make any cake look more professional, thanks to its elegant-looking slate surface and polished maple wood stand. This means you can make decorating your cake easier and present it beautifully, too–all using the same rotating platform.
A bonus? You can write on the slate platform using erasable markers or chalk. One user adds that this cake stand seems well-made in her experience using it, so she expects it to last for a while. She finds it ideal for smaller, round cakes.
If you still want to splurge on a fancy stand, but don’t want to splurge that much, try to snag one of these artisanal stands by Joshua Stoneware: lovely, glazed ceramic, but it doesn’t spin, so you’ll have to do the rotating (view at Pottery Barn).
Material: Slate and Vermont maple wood | Dimensions (WxH): 4.25 x 12 inches | Dishwasher-Safe? No
Related: The Best Mixing Bowls
While you can get along in cake decorating without specific tools for the purpose, your success will be greater and your frustrations fewer if you make the investment in the basics—so why not get started with RFAQK’s Professional Cake Decorating Kit (view at Amazon)? But if you’d rather get a single item instead of an entire set, then get a cake stand, like Wilton 12-Inch Round Decorating Cake Turntable (view at Amazon). Get the right tools, get comfortable with them, and learn to use them to the best advantage.
What to Look for in Cake Decorating Tools
Specificity of Use
Nothing else can do what an offset spatula can do, and nothing offers the control of piped icing that you can get with the right tips. Invest in the tools that do specifically what you need them to do, and you won’t regret it.
Yes, tools for specific uses are great, but if something can serve double duty, so much the better. Ateco spatulas are great butter spreaders and jar scrapers, and a good cake lifter can work as an extra-large bench scraper when making breads and rolled pastries.
Quality and Durability
Some of this will depend on how you use and maintain your tools, but better-quality tools are worth buying. Once you own them, too, take good care of them. Skip the dishwasher when you can, and never ever put wooden-handled tools or aluminum in there.
What's the best tool for frosting a cake?
The best and first thing you need is a properly sized offset spatula. If a larger one feels too big for you to handle at first, start with a smaller one. You’ll be amazed at the difference that little angle makes.
Should I put my cake in the fridge before decorating it?
You don’t have to refrigerate cakes, but it almost never hurts. If you’re using the technique of laying down a “crumb coating” layer of icing first, you can start with a fully cooled cake, then refrigerate in between doing that undercoat and applying the final frosting. That cool/cold cake guarantees you won’t struggle with melting icing. Oh, and store icing in the fridge, but keep it at room temperature while using it.
What if I mess up?
So what? OK, if you promised a special cake to someone and you’re having problems, slow down and start over. Remember that icing can, up to a point, be erased and re-layered. Practice first on another surface if you can. If you really mess up, sprinkles can mask a host of decorating errors, and they come in all sorts of colors and themes: mermaids, unicorns, a holiday, you name it, along with traditional types and crazy assortments. Go to town—and you can always eat your mistakes, right?
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Catherine Russell is a writer and editor specializing in food, culture, and home and garden. Grandma’s kitchen was a favorite place for her growing up, and that’s where she first learned to bake, roast, broil, and cook most anything from scratch—and also where she discovered that the right baking pan or utensil can make all the difference. Catherine’s work has appeared in national publications such as Bon Appetit, as well as in film and video. She’s also proud to be featured in the pages of smaller regional publications that maintain a commitment to local print journalism alongside their digital presences.
Read Next: The Best Loaf Pans