Pretty Bakes Blog

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

Ladybug birthday cake

ladybug cake

Maya’s ladybug cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

A two-tier, fondant-covered cake with fondant-modelled ladybug cake topper.

Here’s a close-up of the topper, modelled by my sister Suzy and her husband, Jav. Isn’t it adorable?

fondant ladybug cake topper

Fondant ladybug cake topper. Photo by Suzy Melo

I arrived at the party early, in time to help finish decorating the cake they made. I used cookie cutters to cut the letters and although they’re large, I think it works for a child’s cake. What do you think?

I helped Suzy roll small fondant balls to use as the border and we were done.

Monkeys and banana birthday cake

Monkeys and banana cake

Monkeys and banana cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

My niece Aliya loves to climb — on people, on furniture, up walls. So, naturally, her nickname is “monkey.” So you can guess whose birthday cake this is.

My sister Suzy and her husband Jav made and decorated this cake and I just helped with finishing touches, like painting the banana peel and twisting rope borders. Children’s cakes are great practise for cake-decorating novices because they often look good with imperfections — the imperfect bits are a bit more wacky and fun than a perfect, polished cake.

One monkey is made with marzipan and the other is made of fondant but I can’t recall which one’s which.

Tiffany boxes bridal shower cake

Tiffany boxes cake and diamonds

My Tiffany boxes cake with diamonds sprinkled all around. Photo by Jennifer Melo

The theme of my BFF Natalie’s bridal shower was Breakfast at Tiffany’s so it was the perfect opportunity to make a Tiffany boxes cake.

Natalie loves chocolate so I decided to make triple-layered chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream filling. I covered the cake in store-bought “tiffany blue” fondant and the colour was perfect. Then I added white fondant for ribbons and a bow.

I’m just CRAZY about Tiffany’s! — Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Covering a square cake with fondant = my challenge

The curse of the square cake got me again. You can see that the fondant pleated in the corner so I just tried to piece it together and wipe away most of the chocolate buttercream that oozed from the cracks.

Cake-decorating note: White buttercream is more forgiving than brown chocolate buttercream, particularly when you need to wipe it off any shade of fondant that’s lighter than brown.

Such a pretty fondant bow

I was very happy with how the bow turned out. The trick is to roll the fondant thick enough so it doesn’t collapse but thin enough so it actually looks like a thick ribbon. I used an empty paper towel roll to support the bow loops while they hardened and then I attached them to the cake. I stuffed the loops with crushed paper towels for additional support as I refrigerated the cake overnight.

It was so hot and humid on the day of the bridal shower, even the fondant sweated. But it didn’t take long for the cake to acclimatize and the condensation evaporated in the air-conditioned party room.

Tiffany boxes cake

Tiffany boxes cake for Natalie’s bridal shower. Photo by Jennifer Melo

The cake got rave reviews at the party and if anyone noticed the flaws, they were kind enough to not mention it.

…nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name! — Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

How to level a cake? 3 ways

A pretty cake is usually a symmetrical one. And to achieve symmetry, you need a solid foundation of level cake layers.

We’ve all been there before. You take your baked cake out of the oven and are miffed to find that it’s puffed up and cracked in the center. That dreaded dome will have you spending some precious cake-decorating minutes sawing off bits of cake while aiming for a level cake. Stop the madness, I say!

I have some tricks up my sleeve for baking level cakes and I use ’em regularly. Here are my secrets.

1. Wilton Bake Even Strips

I’ve been using Wilton’s baking strips for a couple of years now and I can’t imagine baking another cake without ’em.

But I did just that to show you the difference baking strips make. See? Magic.

difference baking strips make

The purple cake on the left was baked without baking strips. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I bought my baking strips at Michaels (the arts and crafts store). I’ve also found ’em at Bulk Barn, Walmart and Golda’s Kitchen, so you have some options for price comparison.

Wilton baking strips soaking in preparation for oven time. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Wilton baking strips soaking in preparation for oven time. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Check out the customer reviews at if you still need some convincing before making this purchase.

A search at their site today reveals that $9 buys you two small strips for 8″ or 9″ round pans. $19 buys you a set of four strips that wrap around 10″ to 16″ round pans.

I’m big on time-management and eliminating frustration so I think they’re worth every penny.

Here’s how to use the baking strips:

  • Soak the strips in a bowl of cold water.
  • Take a wet strip and, starting at one end, squeeze out excess water by pressing the strip between two fingers and sliding down the length of the strip.
  • Wrap the strip tightly around a cake pan and pin it in place. You’re ready to bake.
A trio of cake pans, wrapped in Wilton Bake Even Strips. Photo by Jennifer Melo

A trio of cake pans, wrapped in Wilton Bake Even Strips. Photo by Jennifer Melo

level cakes

After baking, these cakes are pretty level. Photo by Jennifer Melo

2. Pressure

When cakes are warm, press and smooth top with a clean dishtowel. Photo by Jennifer Melo

When cakes are warm, press and smooth top with a clean dishtowel. Photo by Jennifer Melo

When cakes are still warm in their pans, place a clean dishtowel over the surface and use your hands to push down and smooth the top.

! Safety first: Take care not burn your fingertips, hands or wrists on hot pans or through the cloth as steam escapes from the cake as you push down. !

To reduce your risk of burns, do this step when the cakes are warm — not hot — or you could use the bottom of a clean cake pan to push down but I recommend using the dishtowel as a barrier to prevent the cake from sticking to the aluminum pan.

If your cake is super moist with a sticky top, use parchment paper as a barrier between the cake and the pan.

3. Use a knife

Using baking strips and a little pressure, I find that I rarely have to do any additional work to level a cake. But if a cake needs to go under the knife, so to speak, here’s what I learned:

  • Always use a serrated knife. Position the knife’s blade parallel to the cake board.
  • With a gentle sawing motion, use a turntable to rotate the cake as you saw.
  • Don’t rush.
  • Keep your wrist as straight as possible, and focus on gentle sawing while you use the turntable to rotate the cake, evenly moving the knife’s blade through.
  • Keep turning and sawing until your knife slips through the center point all around and you’ve sliced through evenly. Discard the cut piece or smash it into crumbs and use it for decorating.

I’ve never used one of those cake-levelling contraptions but a friend of mine has, with success. Have you used a cake leveller? If so, do you think it’s worth the investment?

Crumbled chocolate cake…it happens

It was all going great until this happened…

crumbled chocolate cake

This is what happens when you don’t use a cake board or cake lifter. Photo by Jennifer Melo

This cake layer disintegrated in my hands when I tried to move it onto a layer of buttercream icing. Lesson learned: Always use a cake board or cake lifter when handling cake layers that are larger than 8″ in diameter.