Cake baking and decorating is such a fun process! I love watching a cake come together. 🙂
Here is a decorating tutorial with step-by-step photos of the Elsa cake I made recently. You can read about my cake decorating journey and thoughts on the Elsa cake HERE. (As you probably know, Elsa is one of the main characters in the Disney film Frozen. She has ice and snow powers in her hands and is wildly popular with young girls around here.) This tutorial begins with what to do AFTER you’ve baked and cooled your cake and made your frosting and any fillings.
- 2 round cake layers (8″ or 9″)
- buttercream frosting for icing and piping decorations (about 2 cups)
- filling (1 1/2 to 2 cups) I used and highly recommend this mocha mousse
- cake plate
- off-set spatula for smoothing
- 3 piping bags (or 2 piping bags and a sturdy Ziploc)
- piping tips: a small round tip and a medium star tip (I used Wilton tips #1 and #21)
- food coloring (I used Wilton gel colors royal blue, teal, violet, and pink)
- three small bowls and utensils for mixing and stirring icing
- silver food color mist
- small Elsa figurine
- birthday candles, pearl sprinkles, sugar sprinkles (all optional)
Step 1: Put a dab of frosting on your cake plate. This prevents the cake from sliding around while you’re working on it (or, more importantly, from sliding OFF).
Step 2: Put down your first cake layer. I usually don’t bother to level my cakes since they are just for the family. If you want a level cake without cutting, I suggest this simple tutorial at Cakes the Biscuit. I’ve not tried it yet (though I want to someday!), but I know people who have and say it works really well. Since I don’t level mine (and didn’t bake it level), I put the layers on upside down. This makes a fairly even surface to work on for the top and any gaps are easy to hide with a border at the bottom.
Step 3: Fill your cake and add the top layer. If I’d had my wits about me, I would have piped a border of buttercream FIRST on the top of the bottom layer so the filling didn’t leak out. This trick is perfect for holding in fillings that are light in texture or a little liquid-y (like a fruit filling). I improvised this later since I forgot to do it here. This mocha mousse was heavenly. See the recipe here.
Step 4: Pipe the buttercream border around your filling. Any medium to large round piping tip will do; I actually went without a tip. A Ziploc-type bag with the corner cut off also works for this. (If you read step three thoroughly, you may have done this step already!) 🙂
Step 5: Add a crumb coat. There are several tutorials online, but basically, you are putting on a thin layer of frosting to seal in any crumbs that might otherwise mix into your frosting when you ice the cake.
Step 6: Put your cake in the refrigerator to set your crumb coat. While it hardens a little, color your frosting. For cakes (as opposed to cookies, crafts, and bath paint), I use Wilton gel food coloring. I used royal blue and teal to make the blue and the green. Then I used a mix of violet, pink, and royal blue for the fuschia-like color in the purple bowl. It took very little color. I dipped the end of a toothpick in the color just so it was semi-coated about a half inch. Then I swirled it into the frosting.
Then I stirred them up. I did not intend to color-coordinate the bowls, but I kind of love that it turned out that way. 🙂
Step 7: Pull your now crumb-coated cake out of the fridge and dollop the colors all over the top of your cake.
Step 8: Using an off-set spatula, spread the colors together, being careful not to over-mix them. (We are looking for a watercolor effect, not a uniform color.)
Step 9: Repeat the same dollop process on the sides of the cake.
Step 10: Smooth out the top and edges of your cake using the off-set spatula. If the colors start to unify into one, add another dollop to help them stand out. I’ve heard the smoothing process is easier with a turn table, but not having one myself, I don’t know for sure. 🙂 As you are smoothing, scrap the excess icing off your spatula into one of your colored icing bowls every few seconds (you’ll need it later). Plus, starting with that clean spatula helps keep the work you’ve already done looking nice. If you’re going for bakery-smooth buttercream, Viva paper towels do wonders. I didn’t have any on hand, so I worked with the bumps. 🙂
Step 11: Prepare your (two) piping bags. Use a small round tip on one (I used a Wilton tip #1) and fill it with a little white frosting. This is for snowflakes and writing, so you don’t need much. Use a star tip for the other bag (I used a Wilton tip #21). Use the leftover colored frosting from smoothing the cake to stripe this bag. If you’re unfamiliar with striping, there are some great videos of the process on YouTube. It’s a fabulous technique for flower petals and any other time you want semi-blended colors in a piped design. Then fill the rest of the bag with all remaining white icing. This bag is used for the shell borders around the top and bottom of the cake.
I totally missed photographing the bags and striping… I was so excited about the next part!
Step 12: Pipe some snowflakes on your cake. These were my “planning” snowflakes:
I couldn’t quite get in all the details, but I thought they turned out pretty well!
Step 13: Pipe a shell border around the base of the cake and on the top layer. I ran out of frosting about half way around the top and had to squeeze more white into the bag from my other piping bag to finish it off. It’s not perfect, but it was fun!
Step 14: Using your white, round tipped bag, pipe on whatever message you want. I went simple with “Happy Birthday”.
Step 15: Spray the cake with the silver color mist. Elsa with all her snowflakes and ice practically exhales glittery shine. When I saw this silver food coloring spray, I thought it would be perfect for this cake. It really added a beautiful shimmer. I sprayed it in diagonals along the sides and in swirls on the top, but you can spray it however you like. I wanted the shimmer more evident in some places, but still present all over the cake.
Step 16: Add Elsa and some birthday candles. I also added some sugar crystal sprinkles around the edge of the top. Then I made a star with some pearl-shaped sprinkles between the birthday candles. 🙂
Ta-da! You’re done! Time to sing “Happy Birthday” and eat cake! 🙂
My daughter loved that she got to play with Elsa after we ate cake. I’m glad I went with the figurine instead of a buttercream transfer. 🙂
Questions about this tutorial (or cake decorating)? Feel free to comment below!