The Write Stuff – Hints for Writing on Cakes

January 21st, 2010 by Susan Matusiak

Writing on cakes is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks to do. A beautiful cake can almost be ruined by sloppy writing. Some people have lovely penmanship on paper, but writing on cakes is totally different…..you need lots of practice.

Piping Message on CakeWriting on buttercream cakes is a bit easier if your buttercream crusts over or if you could chill your cake in the refrigerator. This will help set up your icing. Practice your message on cardboard or parchment paper the same size as your cake, marking where to place the message. You can pipe in buttercream, royal icing or piping gel. When piping your message on a cake, mark a straight line to guide you using uncooked spaghetti or dental floss lightly pressing into the icing and then remove and write your message.

Another method to help you place the message on your cake is the Piping Gel Transfer. This is used for many patterns and can also be used for messages. Write or print your message on parchment paper, tape the paper with the message side down on a cookie sheet (message will be backwards). Pipe the message using decorating tip 1 with clear piping gel. Remove the parchment paper from the cookie sheet and turn the parchment over (piping gel side down) and place on your cake. Using a brush, gently trace over the gel lines. When completed, carefully lift the parchment paper straight up. Gel message will be transferred to the cake. Now you can overpipe your message in icing.

Another idea would be to use buttercream instead of piping gel as a transfer for your message. Pipe tip 1 in the same color buttercream as your frosting and follow the instructions as above to complete the transfer.

If you feel a little uncomfortable using buttercream to pipe your message, here are a few other ideas that allow you to have more control of the placement of your message.Using Alphabet Molds

  • Fill the alphabet candy molds with melted candy, let set in refrigerator and then remove them from the molds and place on your cake. You can also use rolled fondant in the candy molds, just dust the molds with cornstarch and then press the fondant into the molds and release.
  • Use rolled fondant and cut your message using alphabet cookie cutters.
  • Use tinted royal icing and pipe your message with a round or star tip on waxed paper and let dry (overnight) and then carefully remove and place on your cake.
  • Using FoodWriters™Make a fondant or gum paste plaque or banner, let dry overnight, then write your message with icing or a fine tip FoodWriter™. Place plaque on your cake with mini marshmallows or sugar cubes supporting the plaque below.
  • Try using FoodWriters™ to write on fondant, color flow or royal iced cookies, fondant plaques or color flow plaques.

My handwriting on paper is very nice but it’s not so good on cakes.  I’m all for anything that makes my life easier so I make my messages with rolled fondant and cookie cutters on almost all of my cakes…..it saves me a lot of time and looks great!

Susan Matusiak Susan is the Senior Cake Decorator with over 20 years of decorating experience in the Decorating Room. She is also an instructor at the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Arts. Susan enjoys her job because each day is new and different — from baking cookies, decorating gingerbread houses or decorating multi-tiered wedding cakes all created for the photos in our publications. There is never a dull moment in the Decorating Room…always a lot of excitement here! Susan is a member of ICES (International Cake Exploration Societe) and the State Representative for Illinois.

52 Replies

  1. Ann says:

    Any suggestions for when the piping gel pattern just sticks to the parchment & doesn’t transfer onto the cake no matter how hard you press.

  2. Arifa says:

    Transfer the pattern soon after tracing for the piping gel not to dry on the parchment paper.

  3. dymphna says:

    thanks for all the great tips. Writing on a cake is the most nerve wrecking part for me.

    • Cathy says:

      It doesn’t have to be nerve-racking. Just use your imagination, and think about how much pressure you are using to squeeze the icing out of the bag, or parchment paper, if you use that. And keep it steady. As you begin writing, think about the icing doing the same thing as your pen, and let your mind guide the icing the way it would guide your pen. It really isn’t hard. Just get a little confidence in yourself, and relax and let it flow.

  4. bobbie says:

    if i make a cake with fondant can i use buttercream to decorate or does it have to be royal icing and why?

  5. Kristin says:

    Putting more piping gel on the first place or doing it before it “dries” does not guarantee success. If the pattern does not transfer at all, simply put the parchment paper back on the cake transer/piping gel side down, and run over the piping gel lines with a toothpick. This will create a slight indentation where the pattern was supposed to transfer and then you can follow those lines.

  6. Cindy Blinston says:

    if you lightly tint your piping gel it will show up better when you transfer it. Just choose a color that matches or compliments your finished design.

  7. CECILIA says:

    WHY DON’T YOU HAVE A BETTER TASTING FONDANT?
    WILTON FONDANT IS AWFUL TASTING, IT’S A WASTE OF MONEY AND TIME PUTTING IT ON CAKES OR COOKIES.

    • Susan Matusiak says:

      You can flavor your fondant with extracts and flavorings for a different taste. ALso the buttercream that you frost your cake with can flavor the fondant. I know there are many different fondants in the market and it all depends what type of fondant you like and it is a personal preference for all of us.

      • Patti says:

        Extracts & Flavorings are the idea thing to use to make your Fondant taste better ( I like using the Raspberry flavoring, Cherry is good to ) If you dont want to use 1 of these you can just add some Clear Vanilla or Almond flavoring.

    • Carole says:

      I have a wonderful recipe for easy Marshmallow fondant.
      2 package (10 ounces each) white mini marshmallows
      (use a good quality brand)
      2-5 tablespoons water
      2 pounds (1 bag) confectioners sugar (good brand)
      1/2 cup crisco
      1-2 teaspoons clear vanilla or flavoring of your choice

      Easiest if using a stand mixer. I have a 5 qt. mixer. Put the crisco (not melted) and the bag of powdered sugar in the mixer bowl. Melt the marshmallows in a large bowl in the microwave with the water and stir until all melted (usually do 1 minute and stir, then 30 second intervals until well melted). Pour this mixture directly over the sugar in the mixer bowl (this keeps it from coming out of the bowl while mixing). Use the dough hook and not the whisk. Cover your mixer with a towel and mix on low until combined and then on medium until well combined. Turn out on surface dusted with powdered sugar and knead well (at least 10-15 minutes). Cover in crisco and double wrap in saran wrap. Does not have to be refrigerated. You can add color when mixing or when kneading, or later. Let sit overnight for best results and knead well again, adding either small amounts of powdered sugar or crisco to get correct consistency. This is a wonderful tasting and easy to use fondant.

    • Alison says:

      I like using homemade marshmallow fondant. Recipes are online

    • Elizabeth says:

      You can make your own fondant at home with marshmallow, powdered sugar and a stand mixer. It is a little more effort but IRS delicious and cheap to make.

  8. Cathy says:

    As a young bride, forty years ago, I discovered Wiltons products in a well known department store. I fell in love with the beautiful cakes in the decorating books there. I knew I could make them, if I just had the chance….and of course the equipment I needed. So I talked my husband into buying the cake decorating set, I had my heart set on. That of course was the deluxe set. My plan was to learn how to do it, and make some and sell them. But with large families on both my side and my husbands side, I never really got around to selling many.
    However, I studied those books like the bible! And I practiced what it said do, as close as I could comprehend it. I never had an opertunity to take the classes, though I would have given much to have done so.
    Over the years I’ve made many cakes. And I have been proud of how each one turned out. I’ve never had one that was a complete failure even if one might not have been perfect. But I still pull out my Wiltons books and look through them, then I get creative and come up with my own design. And I’m just being honest when I say I have made some lovely ones. I couldn’t have done it without Wiltons instructions. I am probably their biggest fan on their cake pans. I have several. And when I make a cake, there is no substituteing my Wiltons pans.
    When you get too old to learn, you die, so I am still learning. And one day, maybe I will still have an opertunity to take their classes. If not, I’ve still learned so much from their books.
    One thing I learned was how easy it is to mix colors with the gum paste to get the shade you want. An example is a wedding cake I did for my daughter two years ago. She had a country wedding and I made her cake. It was four tiers and she wanted fall colors. She had a bride and groom ornament on top of the cake, so I had them standing in fallen leaves. I mixed the colors so that there would be all the orange, reds, browns and yellows of fall, but also some of the leaves I wanted varigated so that it showed more than one color. Her cake was beautiful. This week I have a birthday cake to make for another daughter. She will want a yellow cake, with chocolate fudge frosting. She will be thirty three this birthday.
    One thing I need for sure is a box of toothpicks. I can correct almost any mistake I make with a simple toothpick. And it is wonderful that I can actually get all this info about cakes from the Wiltons site right here at my computer!

    • Susan Matusiak says:

      Thank you Cathy for all those wonderful comments about Wilton products. May you enjoy many more happy decorating years!

    • Alison says:

      Do you use cake mixes, or do you have a good recipe? I think I have found one that I really like that uses whole milk, but just curious about what most people do for the wedding cakes.

  9. Really great post. Honest!

  10. Hope Salazar says:

    http://www.wilton.com‘s done it once again! Great post!

  11. Twila Law says:

    You’ve done it once again! Incredible writing.

  12. Margaret Kemp says:

    Can I share this tip with all who love icing? Want to make a transfer of a design for a cake that you can use a number of times or store for future use? Take a sheet of glass (window pane) cover edge with masking tape so as not to cut yourself. Trace your design on paper, turn paper over (for writing), place glass sheet over design and trace design with Royal icing. When dry it is easy to press design onto fondant icing on cake. Greetings from South Africa.

  13. darla says:

    I am making a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for my grandson’s first birthday. Would it be best to make the cake a day ahead of time and refrigerate then ice/decorate the day of party ? Would that dry the cake out ? Can an iced cake sit out in air conditioned home for a day ????

    Can I tint some of the icing for writing a message ?

    • Susan Matusiak says:

      It is usually best to bake the cake the day before you ice the cake. When using cream cheese icing that needs to be refrigerated. You can color the icing but cream cheese tints very pastel. The cake can sit out for a few hours but not overnight,

    • Coralyn says:

      A smilpe and intelligent point, well made. Thanks!

  14. OLUWAKEMI says:

    l have a question on the preparation of fondant, l have followed the fondant recipe of Wilton, yet, my fondant does not draw, it cuts after kneading and l try to apply same on cake.
    l did this first time, and second time l make sure l followed step by step the recipe and method, but yet, l did not achieve best result.

    • Susan Matusiak says:

      I am not sure what you mean by “draw”, do you mean stretch? Also “cut” after kneading do you mean it breaks not stretches? Some time you may need to add some solid vegetable shortening to the fondant to make it softer, it may be a bit firm and that can cause the breaking. If I am not answering correctly please send me another message and I will try to response again.

  15. Irene says:

    It has always been strange to me, but my penmanship with a pen and paper is just plain awful, and almost impossible to read, but when I have an icing bag in my hand it really just flows. I’ve tried using the piping gel idea, but i usually wind up with too much or something like that. I do much better just going slow and free handing it. It works good if you just keep the flow steady and let let the icing do the work.

    • Lynda says:

      I find it easier when using buttercream icing to use a cocktail stick to etch the message then pipe this after in the appropriate colour and if you bodge up the etching just palette knife cake smooth again!
      Please bring Wilton classes to the UK!!!

      • Susan Matusiak says:

        We do have Wilton classes in UK! Found this on our blog.

        Wilton Course 1 and 2 are offered at several independent cake shops in London. You can contact Mrs. Pat Trunkfield, who works for the Wilton distributor in the U.K. (Knightsbridge PME) and is a Wilton class marketing supervisor based in London. She can refer you to the location nearest you offering Wilton courses. Their web site is http://www.cakedecoration.co.uk.

  16. I think some more good tips would be to make sure your piping bag is only a little full so you can hold it lower. This way you have more control. Use your left hand/finger to guide your right hand as it holds the bag and applies the pressure (or right if you are left-handed). Use your arm to write, not your hand. Your hand is just to keep it steady and to keep the right pressure. Make sure the frosting is off a thin consistency.

    Starting with block writing is easier for beginners.

  17. Gigi says:

    I’m still in the practice stages of writing on my cakes… Too much a perfectionist, I have a no-fail way to get my messages on my cakes that nobody has mentioned… I find a great font to fit my project (often through free downloads) and print it from the computer in the correct size. I place the page on my rolled fondant and trace with any tool sharp enough to leave a slight indentation without cutting the paper. Next, I use an exacto knife or small paring knife to cut it out. It’s SO easy and I constantly get great compliments on the look of my lettering and uniqueness of using different fonts!

  18. Beth says:

    I agree with the earlier comment. People I work with make beautiful cakes…only to ruin them when they write. I have found if you hold the bag with your dominant hand.. and write with your arms not your hands, you have better results. Also..don’t stress over it SO much. If all your thinking is..OH MY GOODNESS I’M WRITING ON THIS CAKE..:. You will mess it up! Hold your breath, and in your swirliest script, write like you’re using a pen, & it will get easier…

  19. Heather says:

    Let’s not forget the new sugar sheets ready to go alphabet! Super!

  20. Colette says:

    Also, to practice for writing on the sides of cakes as well as side-work and drop strings, best way is to pull up a stool to your fridge and practice there.

  21. Yoo Sung Lee says:

    I like to write something on the birthday cake I made.
    I need some writing materials. If I need writing jelly in a bag, where can I purchase from?

    Yoo Sung Lee

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  23. Writing is one of the most challenging techniques to master. Practice this one on the bottom of a cake pan. Make sure that you know confidently how to spell what you are writing before you begin. When you write you are going to use your whole arm not just the wrist as you would with a pen and paper. Look at the area before you begin so you can judge your spacing. Lightly with a toothpick make a small dot in the center of your message area so you can make sure you have half your message written at that point. Once you start writing—DON’T THINK TOO MUCH! DON’T OVER THINK IT! Don’t hesitate and don’t stop! Once you start writing go with it let it flow! NATURALLY! Don’t try and force it. Just let it go and write the message. Begin with simply writing the message until you are comfortable with writing and not having it scrunched at the end. Once you are comfortable you can start to make it fancy with the curly cues. When writing on cakes you will have some un-natural breaks in your writing especially after using the letter p because you don’t want to go back across the bottom of the rounded part of the p. So expect some un-natural breaks in your letters. These are supposed to happen and help with your writing to look neat and professional. Good luck and and remember….practice practice and technique technique!

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