If you've ever written HAPPY BRTHDAY on a cake that was absolutely perfect until the moment you grabbed the piping bag, then you know why writing on cakes freaks people out. The fear is real.
After you've spent all that time baking, filling, stacking, frosting and decorating your cake, the last thing you want to do is ruin it with a bad piping job. But you don't need to worry: These easy tips will help you avoid embarrassing cake-writing mistakes.
1. Write First
It's always tempting to save the writing until after you've decorated the top of your cake, but do future you a favor and write your message first. That way, if you make a mistake while piping, you can easily fix it without wrecking the rest of the decorations.
2. Practice the Font
Don't wait until you're piping on the cake to start practicing how you want the words to look. Print out your message in the font and size you'd like to copy, then put the paper under a sheet of parchment paper and start piping. Writing in cursive is often the easiest way to pipe words, but piping block letters can be done too.
3. Check Your Spacing
Figuring out in advance where you want each word or letter to go will save you a major "Oops!" crisis. Cut out a parchment circle in the same size as your cake, and lay it over a printout of the message you want to convey. That will help you better envision the spacing of the lettering and the decorations. Planning ahead will give you more confidence as you place each of those elements on your cake.
4. Make Sure Your Piping Tips are the Right Size
The size of your piping tip can make or break the final look and feel of the cake. In the image above, the exact same phrase is piped using a Wilton #3 tip (left) and a Wilton #2 tip (right). Doesn't the wording on the right look so much more elegant than the bulky-looking wording on the left? Neither one is wrong, but make sure your piping isn't detracting from the design of your cake.
5. Start Writing in Freehand
Once you've practiced your font, it's time to write on the cake. Start by imagining the cake cut into four pieces with straight vertical and horizontal lines. If you need to center your letters, count the number of letters and spaces in your phrase, like so:
- Happy: 5 letters
- Birthday: 8 letters
This means that the first “p” in Happy is the center letter for that word, and that the “t” and “h” split the center in Birthday. When writing in print, it's best to center the letters first.
Then you can finish the ends of the words, starting at the top. (So for "Happy," you'll first write, in order, "p,p,y".)
Now it's time to write the letters going left of the center letter. (To finish up the word "Happy," you'll write "a" then "H".)
Follow this technique, and your letters will end up looking evenly spaced and centered.
6. Transferring the Image
You'll come across a ton of ideas about how to transfer your lettering onto your cake so that you can trace the letters rather than free-handing them. One technique is to poke holes around the letters or run a toothpick along them, to leave small indentations you can use as a template.
You'll also no doubt hear that you should pipe your words backwards on parchment paper, then flip it over and lightly press it onto the cake to leave a slight template to pipe over. These methods are tricky and certainly don't work for everyone, but you may find that they work for you.
Or, try a different solution. For instance: Wilton carries a set of letters you can combine and press into fondant or buttercream as a template for piping. You can also leave the letters as indentations in the fondant. This creates less uncertainty overall, and pretty much guarantees a cleaner-looking job.
7. Perfecting Your Piping
You may have beautiful handwriting on paper, but piping is another story. Practicing first is incredibly important. Even professionals spend time practicing before each cake. It's tough to get your spacing and letter size looking consistent, and going all in a straight line, the first time you try. So make sure to give yourself time to do some trial runs before that all-important moment when you grab the piping bag and begin writing.
If you've followed these tips, you can relax about the writing part and look forward to the moment when a knife cuts right through your message, and you get to enjoy a delicious, perfectly hand-lettered slice of cake.