Cake decorating is all about fancy piping tips, clever cutters and specialty tools you can use to create amazing effects. But that doesn't mean you have to buy out the store to get started. In fact, it's way better to start with the basics: pick up just what you need to nail that perfectly smooth, flawless fondant or buttercream surface. Once you've mastered that key skill, the rest is just... icing.
1. Cake pans
You're going to need professional cake pans if you want to make beautiful cakes. Pro pans have straight sides instead of slanted — this helps keep the sides of your cake straight after it's stacked. That means you won't need to carve down the edges so much to even things out.
2. Parchment paper
Meet your new best friend! Parchment paper can be used for lots of things, including cutting circles and placing them in the bottom of your cake pans for a perfect release every time. They're also great for laying down a surface when you're trimming and filling cakes. The parchment paper catches the mess, and you win with a much easier cleanup!
You can also place your cakes on large pieces of parchment paper when covering them in fondant so the fondant doesn't stick to your surface and risk tearing.
Note: Parchment paper isn't the same as wax paper and — no no no — they're not interchangeable in baking. Don't put wax paper in the oven unless you want to smoke up your house.
3. Sharp knife or X-Acto blade
Use a knife to help release your cakes from their pans by running the blade around the edge. Assuming you put parchment paper in the bottom of the pan (like we told you to!), the cake should slip right out when you flip it over.
Clean, sharp knives are also really useful when working with fondant. Use them to cut shapes, stripes and to add detail. X-Acto knives are perfect when you need precise or smooth lines.
Note: Knives, especially X-Acto knives, will cut right through silicone mats, so be careful where you use them.
4. Cake boards or drums
Every cake needs its own cake board if you expect to move it around at all (this includes just getting it into the fridge!). Setting your cake on a stiff board gives stability so the cake stays together and perfectly aligned. For large cakes, use a cake drum. (That's just three cake boards that have been glued and pressed together, then covered in foil).
5. Off-set spatula and/or bench scraper
If you're struggling for a beautiful, clean crumb coat and final coat, these two tools will save you. Spread your buttercream icing using the offset spatula. Once you have a thick coat of icing, smooth it out using a bench scraper.
6. Turntable or lazy Susan
Cakes and turntables are inseparable. That's because decorating a cake without a turntable is almost impossible. You'll want a turntable to torte, fill, crumb coat and decorate your cake.
Air is the enemy of fondant, so keep it covered at all times. Leaving fondant out for even a few minutes can cause it to dry out and crust, which gives it a gross skin and makes it tear easily. Shortening, on the other hand, is fondant's best friend. When fondant starts to get dry, add a small amount of shortening to the fondant to condition it and make it workable again.
Note: Don't try to use water here instead — it'll melt your fondant, making it sticky and uncooperative. You've been warned.
8. Powdered sugar or cornstarch
Fondant is super sticky, especially when you're rolling it out to cover a cake. It's best to use powdered sugar or cornstarch on the surface to keep the fondant from sticking. It doesn't matter which, but keep one in a shaker and disperse it evenly while rolling out your fondant.
9. Large and small fondant rollers
If you've got a really good rolling pin at home, you can use that to roll out fondant. Just keep in mind that if it has handles, it may not be strong enough to roll the fondant as thin as you'll need. You also want a fairly long rolling pin if you plan to cover cakes in fondant.
At some point, you'll probably want to upgrade to a plastic or silicone fondant roller (they usually come in two sizes). Small rollers are used for rolling out just enough fondant for decorations, and large rollers are for rolling out enough fondant to cover an entire cake.
10. Fondant smoothers
Like the name promises, fondant smoothers help smooth the fondant onto the cake and help to release air bubbles from under the fondant. If you can only buy a few new tools, make sure to get one. Having two is all the better.