Have you ever drifted into a bakery, drawn in by the enticing smells emanating from within only to be completely flummoxed by the astounding creations on display?
Or maybe you read, hungry eyes devouring every printed word describing Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, picturing it in your mind... but your imagination couldn’t quite meet the reality of the tiered cake that generated so much print.
Where do people get all of the ideas that they execute, making the sugar arts such a competitive arena?
It’s not like a painter who sees a person and renders their likeness in oil or watercolour; who sees a poignant landscape and commits it to canvas, one brushstroke at a time.
Cake decorators seem to pull ideas out of thin air. They do things with baked dough, buttercream, sprinkles and just a few decorating tools that cause you to question how they can see the possibilities those few elements present.
No idea arises out of a vacuum.
Arguably the world’s greatest visionary, Leonardo da Vinci, modelled his designs on existing concepts: winging birds were the inspiration for his flying machine and one might argue that his design for a ‘war machine’ was borrowed from the turtle.
So, in presenting these resources for ideas and inspiration for cake design, we’re not goading you into cake plagiarism; rather, our goal is to arm you with cake decorating ideas that you can embellish, improve on or otherwise make your own.
It’s perfectly legal; there is no such thing as a patent on a cake design (but names can be trademarked, so be careful what you call you creations!). In fact, more than one cake decorator actively invites you to copy their design, as we will soon see.
Settle in! Superprof now highlights some of the best sources of inspiration for birthday cakes, wedding cakes and cakes for any special occasion you can think of.
The Best Books for Cake Decoration
Now, in the Age of Alexa (HomeMax, HomePod...), when one can simply shout an instruction and hear a compliant robotic response in return, one might wonder about the quaintness of books in the kitchen.
Even great chefs keep cookbooks in their kitchen, although possibly for the look of them rather than any practical purpose.
Still, if you’re looking for inspiration for cake decorations, there is nothing wrong with looking at pictures of decorated cakes in books, complete with instructions on how to decorate your next layer cake.
The proof is in the pudding – William Camden
We’ll not be eating any pudding; our topic is cakes and cake decorating. The proof in question is the number of books published each year that detail cake decorating techniques, usually accompanied by full-colour pictures.
Even more telling is the fact that those books are targeted to specific audiences; we found books for beginner cake decorators all the way up to those authored by bakers who have made cake artistry their profession.
We now look at a selection of titles voted the best by bakers, pastry chefs, and cake aficionados who teach cake decorating classes.
- Artisan Cake Company’s Visual Guide to Cake Decorating by Elizabeth Marek
- How to Cake It by Yolanda Gampp
- The Complete Photo Guide to Cake Decorating, by Autumn Carpenter
- The Contemporary Buttercream Bible, by Valerie Valeriano and Christine Ong
That last title is slightly longer than listed above; it includes ‘the complete practical guide to cake decorating with buttercream icing’.
Buttercream is notoriously hard to work with, especially for the uninitiated. The authors, both self-taught bakers, have managed to tame the traditionally messy buttercream into delectable creations they invite you to replicate.
Other books, not classified by level of skill or ability include:
- Decorating Cakes, a Reference and Idea Book, by Anne Jarvie
- The Essential Cake Decorating Guide, by Wendy Stephen
- Cakes in Bloom: Exquisite Sugarcraft Flowers for All Occasions, by Peggy Porschen
- 50 Easy Party Cakes, by Debbie Brown
Additionally, you can confidently invest in any cake decorating book by Alan Dunn, Lindy Smith and Colette Peters.
Colette is one of the hottest cake designers today; her cakes have featured in prominent publications such as the New York Magazine – you should see the one she made to look like The Queen’s hat!
Another big name in cake decorating, Wilton, offers Cake Decorating You Can Do – a dated tome because they are moving more into the digital realm.
So are we! Let us now find the best cake decorating ideas in cyberspace.
Did you know you can look online to find the best cake-making and decorating supplies?
Websites for Cake Decorating Inspiration
The aforementioned Wilton website is chock-full of ideas for cake decorating: by season and by occasion; by theme and by type of treat.
Type of treat?
Indeed! You may not want to place elaborate sugar flowers on your nightly hobnob – there would be more icing than biscuit and it would be very unsavoury to dunk into tea.
You can, however, design novel cupcake toppers, create funny looks for cake pops and, yes, even the humble biscuit can be spiffed up.
Besides Wilton cake decorating ideas, you can fire your imagination for cake decoration at Cake Central. They invite you to browse their gallery of cakes, share your cake ideas and talk with other decorators via their forum.
Global Sugar Art’s homepage has an ‘Inspirations’ tab where you can ogle their finished products, find video tutorials on how to make them and learn how to work with gum paste and fondant.
Earlene Moore, a Texan with more than 50 years of experience in the sugar arts, is still so popular that her website has been voted one of the best for inspiration in decorating circles.
Although no new designs have been uploaded recently – she retired several years ago, she maintains her site just so that you can gaze in wonder at the depth of her imagination and the breadth of her skill. And so that you can draw inspiration from her work, of course.
Would you like to become a cake decorator like Earlene or any of the others mentioned so far? Discover what steps to take in our companion article.
Find the best cooking courses London on Superprof.
The Must-Follow Instagrams for Cake Decorating
Let’s face it: it is a new day. Books have their place – we’ve proven that by the expansive list above but, these days, innovative sugar artists are going online.
Why not? It is much more efficient to simply snap a few pictures with your phone or tablet and upload them.
Granted, you don’t get the descriptions, instructions or commentary that you would if you were looking at a website or a book. Still, if all you’re looking is for an idea that your creative vein can run away with...
Not surprisingly, some of the best Instas for cake decorating originate right here in the UK. They are:
- Primrose Bakery (@primrosebakery): if ever you were looking for cupcake decorating ideas...
- Crumbs and Doilies (@crumbsanddoilies): cupcakes, wedding cakes and more.
- Lily Vanilli (@lily_vanilli_cake): cakes that are (almost) too beautiful/cute to eat!
Other follow-worthy cake decorating Instas:
- Amanda Rettke (@iambaker): American author and baker turns out some of the most tempting treats
- Nadia Colella (@nadiaandco): This Toronto-based sugar artist wows with her inspired cakes
- Hilary Stone (@theartfulcaker): a San Francisco sugar artist whose creations please the eye and the palate
- Mike McCarey (@mikemccarey): This Washington State guy’s cakes are out of this world!
- Emily Aumiller (@laelcakes): a New York cake decorator that makes vegan look especially delicious
- Zoë Lukas (@whippedbakeshop): Famous in Philadelphia for baby birthday cakes, among other delights
- Duff Goldman (@charmcitycakes): Based in Baltimore, he designs cakes with moving parts!
- Erin Gardner (@erin.bakes): Colourful – the best way to describe this New Hampshire-based innovator
Erin and many others on this list also maintain websites where they load their recipes and tutorials.
Some also sell baking products through their sites while others invite you to pose your baking and decorating questions, which they will answer... as soon as they pull their latest creation out of the oven.
Pinterest is another great site to find cake decorating inspiration on; after all, sharing and inspiration are what they built their business on.
It is less of a social media site than a modern-day version of the classic scrapbook; those who comb the World Wide Web to find cake decorating ideas post them on Pinterest for all to see, making it, in effect, a one-stop-shop for everything cake.
Typing in ‘cake ideas’ in their search bar, we were treated to oodles of mouthwatering cakes, some of which defy gravity and reason – can that really be a cake? Helpfully, the top of the page was lined with links: to cute cakes, to sugar flowers, to ruffle cakes and cake wrecks.
One such wreck had us laughing to tears...
The inspiration is out there. The desire comes from within you. How far will you go to decorate the perfect cake? And, more importantly: will you Insta so other cake makers can follow you?
Now learn more about the art of cake making...