Cake Decorating 101: Decorating with Stencils

Categories: How To, Sweets

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Photos by Molly Dunn
Use luster dust to paint words and designs on your cake.
If you are not the most artistic person, free-handing designs or words with a piping bag is probably not your cup of tea. I can definitely attest to my amateur skills at writing or drawing with a piping bag. Somehow, someway, without fail, I will mess up a letter or notice that my designs and words are crooked, leaving me sad.

After all that hard work baking and frosting your cake, the last thing you want to do is mess it all up with crappy decorations. But have no fear, you can still decorate it with a celebratory message or beautiful design. The key to a no-fail, clean design on any cake is to use stencils.

Just as you would use stencils to add painted designs to a wall in your home, you can use them to write words or draw designs on your cake. No one will care that you used a stencil to make your creation stand out among the rest; sometimes you have to use a shortcut to make something look incredible.

There are several types of stencils you can use on cakes; you can also use them on cookies, cheesecakes, cupcakes or even brownies. Head to any craft/baking store, like Michaels or Hobby Lobby, and choose from the variety of shapes, designs and sizes of stencils. You pretty much have every choice under the sun when it comes to shopping for them.

If you don't want to buy stencils, you can easily make your own at home. Draw on a piece of plastic, such as mylar, or heavy cardstock, then cut out your shapes or letters. For those of you who want to make your own but don't have very good drawing skills, just look for free stencil designs online or use your favorite font or print out the image, shape, letter or number of your choice, then trace it onto the plastic or cardstock.

Note: Use plastic if you want to create stencils that you can use over and over.

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Test the thickness of the luster dust before painting with the stencils.

Once you have chosen your stencil designs, you now have to decide what you want to use to create that design or message. One of the simplest writing tools is a brush just like the one I used to paint the Dogwood fondant flowers. Use either vodka or clear vanilla extract to ensure that the luster dust adheres to the liquid, allowing you to easily paint on the cake.

Test the thickness of the luster dust by painting on a scrap piece of fondant. If it's too thin, your message or design will look messy. Make sure it isn't too thick, though, because you'll have a difficult time creating smooth brush strokes.

Use your non-dominant hand to hold the stencil in place on the fondant while you paint with your dominant hand. If you need to get more luster dust on the brush, make sure the stencil stays in place. Slowly peel the stencil off the cake, and be mindful of the wet "paint" ‑- the last thing you want to do is smudge the design you just made. There really isn't anything you can do to fix a mishap, so be careful. Remember, patience is a virtue.

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Make sure the stencil doesn't move while you paint over it.

Painting with luster dust makes a flat, clean design with stencils, so if you want something classy and put-together, then use luster dust. You can also use frosting if you'd like to fill in a shape or design with a colorful buttercream frosting. Simply outline the design with the buttercream, then fill in the shape or design with the rest of the frosting.

For something a little less put together, try placing a stencil on the cake and dusting with cocoa powder or powdered sugar. This decoration works best with a flourless cake or a cheesecake; the powdered sugar or cocoa powder will adhere better to the soft, almost gooey top of the cake than it would to a cake decorated in fondant. Plus, a dusting of powdered sugar on top of a flourless chocolate cake is the perfect topping.

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The easiest way to make beautiful shapes and designs is to use a stencil.

If you want to decorate the sides of the cake with a stencil design, then tape the stencils to the sides to hold everything in place. It is much easier to paint or dust the sides of the cake if the stencil is securely fastened.

Next week, we will put all of our cake baking and decorating skills together to create a beautiful, delectable at-home wedding cake.

Check out the previous installments of the Cake Decorating 101 series:

Fondant Dogwood Flowers
Covering the Cake with Fondant
Fondant Designs
Piping & Frosting
Baking the Perfect Cake


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