Even as a professional pastry chef and wedding cake decorator, there are many times when decorating a cake seems like a lot of work. You have to make the frosting and get it to the right consistency, occasionally dye the frosting, ice the cake perfectly and then constantly switch pastry tips and piping bags as you painstakingly decorate the cake.
Sometimes, you just don’t have time for all that (and sometimes, as much as I love decorating cakes, I just don’t want to do all that). When decorating a cake with frosting doesn’t seem like fun or maybe isn’t an option for whatever reason, don’t you worry- there are plenty of ways to decorate a cake without frosting.
1 – Make it Fruity
Using fresh fruit is such an easy and beautiful way to decorate a cake. Fruit is simple to cut up and apply however you’d like on a cake. You can even skip cutting it and leave the fruit whole!
Whole berries always look especially attractive in a nice pile on top of a cake. Even some nice lemon slices or orange segments can add a pop of color and make for a creative cake display.
Use fresh fruit that reflects what type of cake you made. For example, if you made a strawberry cake, use fresh strawberries as decoration on the outside. When decorating a cake with fresh fruit, it is best to apply the fruit right before you serve the cake to keep it looking fresh.
If you do need to decorate the cake ahead of time, consider using a clear gel glaze over the top of the fruit to preserve it. Glaze will also give the fruit a nice shine- even better for your cake decorating!
2 – Chocolate and More Chocolate
While this decorating option will work best with a chocolate cake, you can pretty much decorate any cake with chocolate.
The first chocolate decoration that I recommend is simply chocolate chips. Toss a few chocolate chips on the top of a cake and around it on a plate and within 30 seconds, you have decorated your baking masterpiece in a mouth watering way (who can resist chocolate chips?).
Grated or shaved chocolate works in the same manner- toss a few chocolate curls around the cake and be on your way! Granted you can carefully place chocolate sticks and chips around the cake to decorate it in a most precise way but I like the easy, random method best!
Another great way to use chocolate when decorating cake without frosting is to melt it and pour it over your cake. This works even better if you make a chocolate ganache (equal parts chocolate and heavy cream) and pour it over the top for a glossy, drippy, delicious looking chocolate decoration.
You really can’t go wrong when using chocolate to decorate a cake.
3 – Pretty, Pretty Flowers
Do you have a garden full of pretty flowers? Or maybe a field with a few dandelions in your yard? Go pick some and place them on top of your cake. There- decorating done. Flowers do not have to just go inside vases but can lend their beauty to your dessert as well.
Have you ever noticed most wedding cakes are covered in flowers? Why not use this classic decorating technique in your everyday cake baking? Just be sure to choose flowers that are edible or at least non toxic (that part is very important!).
4 – Glaze…OooooOOOO
Using a glaze to decorate your cake is so easy and will make your cake look so tasty. Most glazes can be thrown together in a matter of minutes and poured over the top of a cake in, maybe 15 seconds? You really can’t beat that for decorating a cake! When you are in a rush, glaze is the way to go!
A simple glaze that will go with almost any fruity cake is to mix powdered sugar with lemon juice and whisk the two ingredients together until you have the consistency you’d like- runny but not incredibly watery.
Two simple ingredients for one easy solution to decorating a cake without frosting!
5 – Add Some Sugar
Cakes are sweet and usually made with lots of sugar (this is dessert after all!) so using powdered sugar as decoration is a natural fit. A sifter and powdered confectioner’s sugar is all you will need for this decorating option.
Place a little powdered sugar in the sifter and lightly tap it over the cake creating a gentle snow shower of sugar. Make it even more fancy by cutting a piece of paper into a heart (or any other shape you’d like), laying the paper on top of the cake and then sifting the powdered sugar.
Lift the piece of paper to reveal a perfect heart in the center of your cake where the powdered sugar didn’t land. Gorgeous! Simple! Love it.
Here’s a nice video that quickly demonstrates the technique:
6 – I Like Candy…
If you’d like to decorate a cake without frosting in the most decadent way, grab some candy and decorate away!
Use Kit Kats to stand up around the outside of the cake, Skittles to create rainbows on the cake, make sunflowers out of candy corn or Hershey kisses to look like mountains with blue M&Ms as the water below. You can get very creative when armed with candy!
I do always like to try to make the outside decorating of a cake match the inside of the cake so if you plan on decorating with candy, try to skip cake flavors that will clash (Whoppers and lemon cake may be a no go…).
7 – Sprinkles!!
Sprinkles are eye catching, come in practically any color and have no overbearing flavor that will conflict with your cake. Decorating with sprinkles can be as straight forward as shaking the jar over the top of the cake or dipping the entire sides and top in a bowl of sprinkles to completely coat the cake.
I love decorating with sprinkles because they just embody the celebratory nature of a cake. When you see sprinkles, you know it’s a party!
8 – Just Skip It
Not every cake needs to be decorated and some cakes are probably best left plain. Did you put in a great deal of effort marbling a cheesecake or chopping fruit to bake in a cake?
Why cover up your work with decorations? An undecorated cake can be exquisite in its simplicity. A pretty tray or clear glass cover can make an undecorated cake look like a piece of art. Sometimes, you can just enjoy the minimalist approach.
Now that you are armed with numerous decorating techniques that do not involve frosting, I am sure you have many ideas about how to decorate your next cake.
Use one of these techniques and you will have a beautiful, homemade cake without all the hassle and skill required to decorated with frosting. Time to get creative!
Have you tried any of these techniques? Which one’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.