Pretty Bakes Blog

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

Archive of ‘Baking tips and tricks’ category

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.

How to make a bunting cake topper in 5 easy steps


Aliya’s finished bunting cake topper.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

If Pinterest is any indication, bunting/pennant banners are all the rage in cake decorating circles these days. Think of ’em as great ways to customize cakes while adding a nice decorative touch.

In less than 10 minutes, I made a personalized pennant banner for my niece Aliya’s fondant owl cake and I bet you can too — make your own bunting cake topper in 10, I mean; not make Aliya’s fondant owl cake…Unless you’re Wonderwoman. I bet she could do so too.

Ready to get crafty with me? Here’s what you’ll need to get this DIY job done:

  • Decorative tape
  • Small labels
  • Coloured marker
  • Twine
  • Skewers (2)
  • Scissors


  1. Gather your supplies. Tie twine to skewer #1 and lay it on a table.
  2. For each letter of the name or word you’ll spell lay one strip of decorative tape on your table, parallel to skewer #1 and sticky side up. Stretch out a length of twine to string the letters of your bunting, ensuring there’s enough slack for letters to hang. Snip the twine and tie it to skewer #2. Still with me?
  3. Press twine to secure it to the middle of each tape strip and then fold each piece of tape onto itself, covering the twine.
  4. Handwrite letters on labels. Stick one lettered label onto each hanging flag.
  5. Snip tape ends to your liking.

Skewer the cake with your bunting topper and you’re done!

Hint: Use a tape-scrap template to evenly cut all hanging flags to the same shape and size.

This is all well and good but wouldn’t my instructions be waaay easier to understand with photos showing the way? Great idea. I’m so glad you thought of it. Cue the photo gallery! (Click pics for full-size viewing.)


Happy national cupcake day!

A national day that encourages me to eat a cupcake? Don’t mind if I do!

Easy peasy cupcake-decorating trick: Use cake crumbs as a topping.

national cupcake day

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Macaron success at last

macarons - pink and white

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I did it! I did it! I did it! Yah!

I finally mastered macarons. I suspect the magic was in the macaronnage (that’s the fancy term for batter-folding.) I stuck to Martha’s French macaron recipe and paid close attention to how I mixed the batter.

It’s all in the macaronnage

The technique that worked well for me was to actually count to about 45 passes. That’s how many times I scraped the bowl around the sides and pushed the spatula down the middle to flatten out excess air in the batter.

You go all the way around the bowl and then scrape down the center to press the batter against the side of the bowl. Got it?

When to stop folding

Now stop folding when the batter gets shiny and oozes out to the sides when you pick up a blob of it with your spatula and plop it back into the bowl. You like those technical terms, don’t ya?  😉

Here’s a wee video clip to show you my macaron success tips.

Macaron-making lessons in every failed batch

Even though I was mad as a wet hen frustrated, each of my failed attempts at making macarons taught me valuable lessons about the sweet little almond cookies. They’re tasty and temperamental. They’re so tasty, in fact, that I’m bound to make them again and again.

It just so happened that my youngest niece had a baptism party so I brought my pretty pink and white macarons to the party. They didn’t last very long, though.

Here’s what they looked like inside.

cooked macaron

Photo by Jennifer Melo

This song pretty much sums up how I feel about this accomplishment.


I’m so mad at macarons!

empty hollow macaron shell

Hollow and empty, just like my fragile heart after my 4th failed attempt at making macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Eff you, macarons!  I mean, really. What the hell’s your problem?

I tried undermixing the batter and you went all lumpy on me. So then I might’ve slightly overmixed the batter and you got all flat and footless.

I tried two recipes, various cooking times and four attempts now. I was patient and understanding, and you cracked or got all hollow and empty inside. Don’t even get me started on your inconsistency issues. I’ve tried my best, but you’re a high-maintenance pain in my ass! And now you got me feeling all hollow and empty inside, too. It’s contagious. You see?

There. I said it.

Because I’m stubborn as a mule,  a glutton for punishment?, persistent and totally NOT a quitter, I might give you another try.  Annabelle and Rose told me not to give up on you. Yah, that’s right. The girls and I have been talking. Rose called you “tough buggers” but if you keep up this trouble with me, I’ll have other, less-than-ladylike adjectives to describe you, macarons.

Yes, we seriously need to spend some time apart.

I’m hanging up my apron now and will calm down with a glass of wine and an episode of Big Brother.

You can sit on the cooling rack and think about what you’ve done. Don’t even look at me.