Pretty Bakes Blog

Cake decorating basics for pretty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats

Merry Christmas from Pretty Bakes Blog


Have a merry Minion Christmas!
Photo by John F. Kissoon.

Dear readers,

Thank you for your visits, comments and shares this year. Have a very merry Christmas and I wish you every bit of happiness in the new year.



Photography by John F. Kissoon.

How to make Christmas sugar cookies with royal icing

Sugar cookies in chocolate and vanilla. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Sugar cookies in chocolate and vanilla.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Merry Christmas to you and yours! Why am I posting about Christmas cookies today, when it’s far too late to make these cookies in time for Christmas?

Because maybe you’ll be looking for some ideas on how to keep your favourite little kitchen helpers busy over the next week while school is out. And because, like you, I’ve fallen victim to the holiday rush and I’m sneaking in a Christmas post before this season passes.

Baking is the perfect activity for when you want to unplug from electronic devices and create something yummy. So pull out your favourite winter cookie cutters: May I suggest snowflakes, and snowmen? The Santa and ornament cookie cutters can take a break until next Christmas. ;)

What’s so great about sugar cookies?

Sugar cookies are awesome because they’re simply delicious, they’re so versatile for decorating and they keep well. Depending on your recipe, you can wrap and pack ‘em up for two weeks or more and they’ll still have a nice, crunchy texture.

Preservative-free cookies with a long shelf life: It’s a beautiful thing!

White and gold Christmas cookies

Nothing beats homemade sugar cookies!  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Nothing beats homemade sugar cookies!
Photo by Jennifer Melo

I decided on a white and gold colour scheme and white icing on chocolate cookies. I had a lot of help from my friend John. His mini schnauzer Zoe, on the the other hand, wasn’t helpful at all but was an adorable onlooker.

Gimme some cookies! ~ Zoe, the mini schnauzer

Gimme some cookies! ~ Zoe, the mini schnauzer

I jokingly told friends that John made all the ugly cookies and I made all the pretty ones. Truth be told, he piped most of the prettiest ones.

In all, it took about two days to complete this baking project that yielded 75 cookies. Without help, I would’ve needed four days to finish it up. Thank you, John!

Sugar cookie and royal icing recipes

Here are the recipes I used for this year’s Christmas baking…

Something old:

Something new:

I’m happy to report that all three recipes turned out perfectly. Woop! Woop!

How to make and decorate sugar cookies

Step 1: Follow the aforementioned recipes to the letter. Yes, you must refrigerate the cookie doughs for their specified chill times. Yes, you must cover your royal icing with plastic wrap or it’ll dry out. Yes, you must achieve the right royal icing consistency or you’ll run into problems.

Step 2: Allow sufficient time for royal icing to dry. For the first layer of flood icing, drying overnight is best.

Step 3: With your royal icing at piping consistency, pipe designs onto your cookie. Allow that layer to dry for about an hour.

I highly recommend finding clip art or cookie patterns online for inspiration. You can stop here and be done or you can move on to the next step.

Unpainted sugar cookies are pretty too!  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Unpainted sugar cookies are pretty too!
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Step 4: Paint piped details/designs with a mixture of Wilton’s gold Pearl Dust™ and a few drops of vodka. Allow painted cookies to dry for an hour or more.

Painting a sugar cookie with gold pearl dust Photo by Jennifer Melo

John paints a sugar cookie with gold pearl dust
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Step. 5: Enjoy! Or if you’re sharing, wrap, pack and present.

Packing up sugar cookies Photo by Jennifer Melo

Packing up sugar cookies
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Merry Christmas Eve! Happy baking and may all your sugar cookies be pretty and tasty.


How to make a brush embroidery birthday cake

Ever since I came across SweetAmbsCookies‘ magnificent cookie-decorating videos on YouTube, I wanted to try a brush embroidery design on a cake. So when my niece Lauren gave me free licence to surprise her with the design of her birthday cake, I took the opportunity to make a buttercream cake with floral brush embroidery.

I’ve gained more experience decorating cakes with fondant instead of buttercream so this cake took me out of my comfort zone. While I was happy with the finished look, I encountered a few challenges and gained valuable lessons along the way.

A brush embroidery cake for Lauren.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

A brush embroidery cake for Lauren.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

The trouble with thick buttercream

Most of my problems with this cake started and ended with the consistency of my white buttercream. It was too thick. I should’ve watered it down to medium-to spreading consistency but I’m not sure what went wrong. When I loaded my piping bag and squeezed a bead of icing through a #3 piping tip, I realized my icing was too thick. But I couldn’t turn back now.

Let me tell you, my friends: The strain of piping icing that’s too thick is real. Rather than a nice, smooth flow, you end up with icing that breaks without warning — rude! The effort of squeezing icing out of the bag leaves you with shaky, fatigued hands. Boo! Hiss! Piping flower outlines, “happy birthday”and a pearl border was literally a pain — oh, my aching hands!

How to do brush embroidery on a buttercream cake in 6 steps

Here’s how to keep your brush embroidery cake-decorating easy.

1. Use a flower cookie cutter to gently imprint a flower outline on your cake.

2. Using the imprint as your guide, use a #3 piping tip to pipe the outline of the flower with white buttercream.

3. Use a damp brush to pull icing from the outer edge of your flower’s outline to the center in sweeping strokes. Try to keep the outer edge of the piped outline intact. Can’t quite picture it? Watch this:

4. Pipe a tight comma and overlay it with a tight C to form a knot shape in the middle of the flower.

5. Add leaves and repeat the steps of dragging icing from the outer edges inwards.

6. Randomly add dots of icing to mimic embroidered knots.

And that’s it. Done!

In hindsight, I should’ve used royal icing instead of buttercream for piping the floral brush embroidery. Royal icing would’ve held its shape better than buttercream which seemed to droop over time.

Cake-decorating tip: Use royal icing for a brush embroidery effect.

The cake was a hit with Lauren and her guests. No one guessed I encountered buttercream consistency issues and I gained some new cake-decorating skills and experience.

Want to know how i got a smooth-ish surface on this cake? Read my last post: How to smooth a buttercream cake in 5 easy steps.


How to smooth a buttercream cake in 5 easy steps

Ever wonder how some people get a nice, smooth edge on their buttercream cakes? I’ve tried several techniques but I learned that starting with even cake surfaces is best. Follow these five steps for a smooth buttercream cake.

How to get a smooth buttercream finish on a cake

1. Trim away domes, lumps and bumps. Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to trim. Wipe away all crumbs.

2. Apply a thin layer of buttercream to your cake to seal in any crumbs. This is also known as crumb coating. Allow about 10 minutes to dry at room temperature.

Crumb coat. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Crumb coat.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

3. Apply a thick layer of buttercream. How thick? About a 1/4 – 1/2″. Or this thick:


How thick should your buttercream layer be? I recommend 1/2″.
Photo by Jennifer Melo


Swipe the edge of your spatula on a bowl’s lip to remove excess icing and smooth the cake’s surface as best as you can.


Spatula-smooth buttercream cake.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

4. Now, it’s all about allowing your buttercream to crust over. Allow about 15 minutes to dry at room temperature. You might need more time to allow the icing to crust if your buttercream is thin or you’re working in humid conditions. Gently touch an inconspicuous area of the cake. If your finger comes away with no icing on it, you’re ready for the next step.

5. Lay a large strip of parchment paper on the cake to work as a barrier between the icing and your fondant smoothers. Use fondant smoothers to rub and smooth your icing into shape.

Like this:

My cake could’ve used another layer of buttercream to better hide some crumbs I pulled up while crumb coating and more buttercream would’ve given me more room to smooth out lumps and bumps. You need enough icing on your cake so that you can push icing around to fill gaps without revealing the cake’s surface. Match your crumb coat icing colour to the finished icing colour to avoid patches of colour showing through. My cake had a few white patches of crumb coat peeking out in some places.

Allowing buttercream to crust is key to achieving a smooth finish.

You’ll have to use your best judgment to determine how much pressure to apply. Press firmly enough to smooth the icing but not so firm as to leave dents or expose the cake’s surface.

And there you have it! Smooth buttercream.


Smooth buttercream cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Want to see how I decorated this cake? Read How to make a brush embroidery cake.

Cake decorating classes, updates and more cakes to come

Hello, folks.

It’s been a long while since I’ve been back with a cake-decorating update. This summer, I was out and about, enjoying every last bit of warm weather and taking a bit of a digital detox. As a community manager, I’m constantly tuned into online conversations so I tried to balance that work need with my personal need to quit looking at a computer screen for excessive amounts of time. It was a much-needed break from technology and I’m happier for it.

Nesting, baking and blogging

Now that fall is officially here and there’s a chill in the air, I’m starting to feel the need to nest, bake and blog. So I’m happy to get back to filling you in on my latest cake-decorating projects. But first, I have some news to share.

In my quest to improve my piping skills, I signed up for some Wilton cake-decorating classes at my local Michaels arts and crafts store. I enjoyed them so much, I signed up for four courses and I’ve been piping with buttercream and royal icing and working with fondant and sugar paste.

Skill-building at cake-decorating classes

I learned a lot within a few months and these classes served as a good reminder that although YouTube is a terrific source of cake-decorating instruction, there’s no substitute from learning from an experienced instructor who’s just a few feet away. Watching my cake-decorating instructor Rebecca in action was the best way to learn and her corrective guidance was most helpful.

Here’s a look at my first class project, a rosette-piped cupcake from my Building Buttercream Skills class.


Photo by Jennifer Melo

Here’s another flower-topped cupcake I practised with my new piping skills.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Here’s a cupcake cake that taught me a valuable lesson about piping consistency and ensuring your buttercream has enough time to crust over before attempting to transfer a pattern via a parchment template.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

And this is what it looks like when I practice piping a shell border.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I’m still learning but I’ve found that the combination of live instruction and practice makes for quick skill-building and added confidence.

I’ll have birthday cakes, a communion cake and more “just because” baking projects to share in the next few weeks as I catch up with writing and image-editing. I hope you have yourself a wonderful weekend.