If piping buttercream or royal icing gives you the jitters, you're not alone. There's something about the challenge of holding a bag of icing and squeezing it in just the right way that gives even savvy cake decorators pause.
But piping doesn't have to make you nervous. The tips here can upgrade your piping techniques and give you the confidence to tackle any type of decorating project. So bring on the squiggles, the straight lines, the shapes — you'll be ready!
Pick an Easy-To-Pipe Frosting
You can pipe almost any type of frosting, but you can't go wrong with royal icing for piping on fondant and Swiss meringue buttercream for piping on buttercream. Royal icing goes hard and tends not to bleed into fondant, making for a clean look that can't be wiped away easily.
Swiss meringue buttercream is a different story. You may want to chill the buttercream-frosted cake before you pipe on the Swiss meringue buttercream, so everything's easier to work with and more smudge-resistant.
Etch a Sketch
Sure, you could pipe freestyle, but it's really better to map out the design ahead of time. So figure out what you want your decorations to look like and draw some pictures. Then measure the cake so you know your designs will fit.
Get the Right Consistency
The most important part of becoming a pro piper is to make sure your icing is up for the job. If you look closely at the icing in the bag below you'll notice the air bubbles. Air bubbles are a definite piping fail.
There is a fix, though. Take a few extra minutes and gently squeeze the bag to remove the air bubbles before tying off the end.
Now you're ready to pipe!
You will know your frosting consistency's perfect when you can pipe a string between your fingers and it doesn't break immediately if you give it a little shake. If it does break, the icing's too wet, so add a little powdered sugar. On the flip side, if it's tough to squeeze the icing out of the bag, it's too dry: Add a little water.
Practice (and Patience)
Creating gorgeous swoops, filigree, pearls, shells, leaves and stringwork takes a steady hand to keep the lines straight and consistent. And that takes practice. These tips can help as you work on your piping techniques.
Get Comfy Holding the Bag
You want to find what's comfortable for you and which technique gives you the best results. It helps to have a somewhat full bag, and then hold about a quarter of it in your palm so you can control the pressure and movement. Let the back end of the bag rest on your wrist.
If you're a southpaw, you might try holding the piping bag in your right hand and guiding the bag with your left hand. If this doesn’t work for you, try piping from right to left so you can see where you're going.
Keep Your Elbows on the Table
Another way to keep your hand steady is to anchor yourself with your elbows. So keep 'em on the table!
Let Gravity Do Its job
If you drag the tip across a cake, you're more likely to get wobbly, lumpy, tragically imperfect lines. So lift the tip and gently guide the frosting where you want it to go. Look at how neat the lines above are!
Do a Few Dry Runs
If you really want to up your piping skills you need to practice your moves on something that's as upright and rounded as a cake. Like a wine glass or bottle!
Remember to keep the tip of the piping bag away from the surface. Once you have the string of icing where you want it, touch it to the glass to attach.
If you make a mistake or end up with peaks instead of dots, use a damp paintbrush and touch it gently to the piping to form a small ball.
Try Your Hand at Filigree
Swirls and lace made from royal icing look so pretty and have become super popular, especially on wedding cakes. Practice the royal icing filigree technique on a bottle by doing S and C shapes, either free-hand or by drawing the design first.
Clean up any mistakes or tidy up those curlicues with a damp paintbrush.
Piping on glassware gives you room to make mistakes — and figure out fixes. It also lets you try out new piping techniques and shapes in a fun, low-pressure way.
Soon you'll be a piping #boss!
Learn More Now
Get more tips for flavoring buttercream and decking out cakes and cupcakes in our free guide, Not-So-Basic Buttercream Decorating Ideas.