Basic Cake Decorating – Preparing Your Cake For Decoration


This the first of my two series write up about basic cake decorating. By basic cake decorating I mean the steps that I take before I start decorating a cake. This includes getting the cake board ready and getting the cake itself ready by leveling, layering, patching it up and crumb coating it. These steps are really important for me because they help my cakes get into the right shape, i.e. straight sides, level top and sharp edges so that when I cover them with fondant or butter icing or even buttercream, it is easier to achieve perfectly level and sharp edged cakes. Most people apply a layer of ganache on cakes before putting the fondant on, but ganache base coat never worked for me. I live in a hot and humid country and ganache never sets hard enough to hold its shape underneath my fondant. Hence, I only use buttercream patchwork for my cakes. 

I am starting the first series of my basic cake decorating steps on this page by sharing my tips on how I prepare my cake boards. The next series, will be all about how I prepare the cake itself, ie, cooling, leveling, layering, crumb coating and patching work.


Basic Cake Decorating - Preparing the Cake Board

There have been many times in my cake decorating experience that I realize half way through decorating a cake that I don't have a right sized cake board for my cake. This has happened many times, the worst when the realization happens right in the middle of the night when all stores are closed and I have to wait until about 10am the next day to go get them from the nearest store (which means all my plans of working on the cake for the night have to be stalled which then means me running late in completing my cakes!!)

If that happens for a family event, I don't mind using a large plate from my kitchen in place of a cake board, but when this happens while decorating cakes for customers, using my own plate is not an option. Chances are, once the plate leaves my kitchen, I will not get it back!

As the saying goes, once bitten twice shy. After a couple of times of such last minute realization, I now have a checklist that I use as the starting point for all my  cake projects. And cake boards are one of the standard cake supplies that I need check on and to tick off the list as part of the preparation work. Click here to read all about my cake decorating checklist.


And these are a few pointers on how I choose the right cake boards for my projects:

1. Size

My general rule of thumb is to choose cake boards that are at least one inch larger than the cake on all sides. That means, if I am baking a 6 inch round cake, I will purchase an 8 inch round cake board so that once cake is placed on it, there will be an allowance of 1 inch space around it. This allowance is only if the cake is decorated with a simple piped border or tiny fondant beads border. If my design involves adding larger decorations at the base of the cake, then I would go for a large cake board.   


2. Make and thickness

The most common type of cakes boards that are available where I live are thin plywood or compressed wood cake boards that are wrapped in either gold or silver foil paper. Though made of plywood or compressed wood, the thickness of these cake boards is only about 1/8 of an inch. Now this thickness is perfect for single tier cakes that do not exceed a diameter of 10 to 12 inches. But when it comes to tiered cakes or large cakes (more than 12 inches is diameter or length) or heavy ones (such as double barrel cakes), 1/8th of an inch thickness is definitely not enough. Drum base cake boards are available in cake decorating supplies stores but these are not always available in all stores and even if they do, finding the right size can be a little tricky. So this is what I do for all my cakes. Instead of going around looking for cake drum of the size I require, I make them on my own by stacking 2 or 3 cake boards and gluing them to one another to make a thick board. This not only saves me time, but also the hassle of going around from one shop to another looking for them!


3. Purpose

This point is really about whether the cake boards are used as the base cake board or as a separator for tiered cakes. Now we all know that each cake on a tiered cake has a cake board underneath and for added stability we let a long dowel rod run though the center of the stacked cake. To do this, we would first poke a hole in the center of the cake boards so that inserting the dowel rod through becomes easy. This is easy to do if the cake boards are make of card boards. Since the cake boards I normally find in my place are made of wood, I would need to use an electric or battery operated drill to make the hole. And therefore, when it comes to stacked cakes, I prefer to make my own cake boards with cardboard so that poking a hole through them does not become a difficult task.


4. Shape

Most common cake boards come in round or square shapes. While I almost always purchase them from my local cake decorating supply shops, there are times when I want to make an odd shaped cake and need an odd shaped cake board. In times like this, I make them on my own. Making own custom shaped cake boards is pretty easy. All you need is a template of the cake board, foil paper and glue. Click here to find out how I make my own cake boards and decorate them.


Basic Cake Decorating - Preparing your Cake for Decoration

Having my cake board ready is part of my basic cake decorating work before I even bake my cakes. Once my cakes are baked however, there are a list of other basic cake decorating steps I complete before I cover my cakes with fondant or butter icing or even buttercream. These are the steps: 

  • Cooling a cake 
  • Layering a cake
  • Leveling and patching a cake 
  • Crumb coating a cake


These basic cake decorating steps are all covered in my second and last article in this series. You can read all about them here.

And while you are here, please leave your thoughts and comments in the section below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Thank you for reading :) :)


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