How to decorate a cake like a pro

Take your bakes from simple to showstopper with these tips from Cutter & Squidge

There’s a meditative method to baking. The hushed thud of flour landing on the work surface. The ooze of the batter. The tongue-tantalising aromas that slink out of the oven and tiptoe around your house.

And then there’s the decorating. Even if the finished product turns out like something Jo Brand would bully on An Extra Slice, cracking out a piping bag and attempting to ice some rosettes is the culinary equivalent of a colouring book – even better, we’d argue, as the results are edible.

But we want to know how to take the simplest of sponges and turn it into a head-turner of a cake. A cake that would grace the cover of Vogue, be voted president, and have a number once album all at once – heaven knows, our Instagram feeds could certainly use it. So, we turned to one of our favourite bakeries, Cutter & Squidge, to help us out.

Now, Cutter & Squidge know a thing or two about making a standout bake. The London-based bakery creates some of the most beautiful cakes we’ve ever seen: crisp macarons balanced atop a lake of chocolate ganache; rose petals and gold leaves arranged artfully in a crown; layer upon layer of heavenly, rainbow-coloured buttercream…

So, we’ve asked them to share their wisdom with these three ways to jazz up a plain sponge – all you need is a freshly-baked cake, a piping bag and bucket-loads of enthusiasm… 

Yuzu and Mango Cake

“The rhubarb-and-custard colour palette and scattering of petals make this the perfect spring bake. In our version, we’ve flavoured our sponge with yuzu, but a simple vanilla sponge works just as nicely.”
 
INGREDIENTS
2 x vanilla sponge cakes

For the vanilla buttercream:
6 egg whites
260g caster sugar
430g unsalted butter, softened
10g vanilla bean paste

For the mango puree:
75g mango puree
5g cornflour
2g beetroot powder

Toppings:
Dried mango
Coconut flakes
Dried rose petals
White chocolate pearls
 
METHOD

To make the mango buttercream:

  1. Start by adding the mango puree to a saucepan with the cornflour and warm on a medium heat until it thickens.
  2. Once thickened, leave to cool for a couple of minutes and then add the beetroot powder. Mix until fully combined – it should turn a beautiful shade of pink.
  3. Now, start to make the buttercream by adding the egg whites and sugar to a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Heat gently and stir occasionally for 20 minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Once dissolved, remove the bowl from the pan and whisk until it forms stiff peaks.
  5. Add the softened butter and whisk for a further 5 -7 minutes. Then, stir in the vanilla bean paste until it is light cream in colour and easily spreadable.
  6. Split the buttercream in half and add the mango puree to one half and mix until fully combined.

To decorate the cake:

  1. Slice each sponge in half so you have four separate pieces.
  2. Fill one piping bag with mango buttercream and the other with vanilla. Pipe alternating stripes of mango and vanilla buttercream across the bottom layer, making sure to go right to the edges. Layer a slice of cake on top and repeat until you reach the final layer.
  3. Finish with a layer of pink mango buttercream on top, smoothing it off with a palette knife.
  4. Sprinkle your decorations in a crown shape on the top while the icing is still wet.
Passionfruit and Pistachio Cake

“A simple, yet stunning cake, decorated with an easy-to-make drizzle icing cake and studded with pistachios, chocolate pearls, raspberries and 14-carat edible gold (if you’re feeling particularly fancy).”

INGREDIENTS
1 x sponge cake, soaked with passionfruit juice
100g vanilla buttercream (recipe above)
30g pistachios, shelled and crushed

For the icing:
50g passionfruit juice
200g icing sugar

Toppings:
Pistachios (shells removed)
Freeze-dried raspberries
Chocolate pearls (or chocolate chips)
 
METHOD

  1. Make your vanilla buttercream using the above method. Measure out 100g of this and mix in 30g of crushed pistachios (you can do this in a food processor to get it really fine).
  2. Cut the cake in half and sandwich the two halves together with the pistachio buttercream.
  3. Next, mix together the passionfruit juice and icing sugar until it’s smooth and drips off the back of the spoon. Drizzle over your cake and scatter it with the toppings.
Macaron Drip Cake

“A true showstopper piece. This cake is perfect for any special occasion, with its indulgent chocolate drips, large shards of rich chocolate and delicately placed macarons.”

INGREDIENTS
2 x vanilla sponges (we use one vanilla and a chocolate sponge, but a normal buttermilk will suffice)
Vanilla buttercream (recipe above)

For the macarons:
100g egg whites, at room temperature
3 large eggs
140g almond flour
90g granulated sugar
130g icing sugar
¼ tsp cream of tartar
100g white chocolate
50g double cream
Any food colouring you like; we use beetroot powder to make it pink
 
For the ganache:
250ml double cream
200g dark chocolate
 
Toppings:
Broken up shards of good quality chocolate, refrigerated

METHOD
To make the macarons:

  1. Sieve the almond flour and icing sugar together, removing any large grains of almond to ensure a smooth cookie shell.
  2. Whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar and gradually add the sugar until you achieve stiff glossy peaks when you pull the whisk out of the mixture.
  3. Add in your colour of choice to the egg whites as you wish (we use beetroot powder to make it pink).
  4. Mix half of the eggs to the almond sugar mixture until fully combined, then add the rest and continue to mix the batter until it resembles molten lava.
  5. Pipe the batter into rounds on a lined baking sheet and tap the tray to remove any air bubbles.
  6. Leave the cookies to dry for 30 minutes until they begin to form a skin.
  7. Bake at 160˚C for 15 – 20 minutes until the foot (tiny ruffles and air bubbles around the edge) appears and the cookie is firm to touch.
  8. Fill the cookies with a simple ganache of 100g melted white chocolate and 50g heated double cream.

To decorate:

  1. First, coat the outside of the cake in a layer of vanilla buttercream. Try and get it as smooth as you can using a palette knife or a cake smoother, if you have one.
  2. Then, make the dark chocolate ganache. Place the cream in a saucepan over a medium heat until simmering. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate and stir until smooth. Let it cool to room temperature.
  3. Next, spoon half of the ganache over the cake and use a spoon to carefully push it to the edge. This will create your drip effect.
  4. Next, add your chocolate shards and macarons to the top. It’s important to keep the chocolate chilled in the fridge to prevent it from melting. To ensure your macarons stay in place, smear a little buttercream on the bottom of each when placing it on the cake.