“You can have excellent baking skills and still suck at frosting a cake, like me,” says Bon Appétit food editor and Cake Queen Shilpa Uskokovic. That’s because, while we might pull out the loaf pan for a humble tea cake on a random Tuesday, icing a cake is something most of us only do a few times a year. If, like Uskokovic, your decorating capabilities lag behind your baking ones, fear not: The right tools will help you maximize your potential. Here are all the cake decorating tools in our food stylists’ arsenal—and if you’re ready to get your practice in, may we recommend Uskokovic’s new crop of cakes for any occasion?
Using a rotating cake stand or turntable allows you to spin the cake as you frost it, so you can easily smooth out any imperfections. This all-metal option from Ateco is Uskokovic’s favorite because it’s super sturdy and doubles as a display stand when the decorating is finished. “It has a charming industrial aesthetic that works in lots of different scenarios,” she says.
You can never have too many mini offset spatulas, says Uskokovic, who keeps three on deck at all times. They’re the tool of choice for creating both clean lines and dramatic whirls of frosting on everything from simple birthday cakes to tiered showstoppers. Pro tip: Use a mini offset spatula for decorating, and a large one for transferring the cake from turntable to plate.
If you want to avoid the upsetting situation in which chunks of cake get stuck to the bottom of the pan, parchment paper is key. But it’s also useful when frosting a cake. Tuck strips of paper underneath the perimeter of the cake before you slather buttercream on the sides. When you’re done, remove the paper, and you’ll be left with sharp edges and a clean cake stand.
Plastic zip top bags will work in a pinch, but for pro-quality cakes, Uskokovic likes Ateco’s reusable silicone bags: “They help me cut down on throwaway plastic, and they hold up well over time.” That said, disposable piping bags work too, and she uses them when working with lots of different colors or super intricate details.
Piping tips—which attach to the end of your piping bag and allow you to create decorative borders and designs—are an essential cake decorating tool if you want to take your skills to the next level. “A few basic tips really expand your decorating possibilities,” says Uskokovic. “While I generally prefer metal tips, this starter kit has such a good variety that I’m willing to overlook the plastic—to be fair, I trust Ateco’s plastic tips more than any other.”
Photograph by Joe Lingeman, food styling by Shilpa Uskokovic, prop styling by Marina Bevilacqua