12 Easy Dessert Decorating Hacks You Can Do With Household Items You Already Have

You don't need to make a special trip to a kitchen supply specialty store to create professional-level pastry decorations. Instead, try these 12 tips from pro pastry chefs, all of which can be done with items already found in your home.

Beautiful and intricate pastry decorations are a regular sight on Instagram, and while the option to buy artistic pastries at a shop or restaurant always exists, some enterprising home bakers feel the urge to fancy up their own creations. However, professional pastry tools can be pricey (and can take up valuable space in your drawers and cabinets), so we're happy to tell you that there's no need to make a special trip to a specialty store in order to make picture-perfect desserts. Instead, plenty of pastry decorating can be effectively done with tools that you can already find in your kitchen and home. We asked a group of pro pastry chefs to offer up their favorite pastry-decorating "hacks" that use regular household items, and they gave us these 12 easy tips that turn at-home dessert decorating into a very manageable (and fun!) task.

1. Instead of buying a pastry bag, you can use a cornet of parchment paper or a freezer bag with the corner snipped off.

piping icing on a cake with a diy piping bag
Jessica Furniss

Professional pastry chefs use designated pastry bags fitted with metal tips to craft rosettes, piping designs, and other decorative elements with icing. But if you don't have a pastry bag on hand, regular old parchment paper can be used to make a substitute, according to pastry chef Clarice Lam of Kimika in New York City. "If you want to do fine line cake or cookie decorating and you don't have pastry bags and tips, make a cornet out of parchment paper. I almost prefer to use a cornet because it gives me better control of my piping," Lam tells us.

For a pastry bag alternative that's even more likely to already be in your kitchen, try this hack from pastry chef D'Andre Balaoing of Larrea in Las Vegas: "Snipping a corner tip from zipper-top freezer bags makes for great washable piping bags, and cutting a pattern on the tip (a zig-zag, for example) can be a great substitute for decorative piping tips!"

2. A lazy Susan can swap in for a cake turntable.

In order to keep their cakes evenly frosted and decorated, pastry chefs put the cakes on rotating turntables, which allow them to get constant 360-degree views of their work. Instead of shelling out for a cake turntable, "a cake stand on a lazy Susan can work as well," insists founder and head cake designer Rosalin Siv of The Evercake in New York City. "

3. A plastic container lid with holes poked in is a great substitute for a powdered sugar shaker.

A light dusting of powdered sugar can immediately jazz up a cake or a doughnut (especially if said cake or doughnut is in a contrasting color, like chocolate-brown). Most bakers use shakers with perforated lids to get powdered sugar onto their desserts, but executive pastry chef Latonya Crawford of Bastone in Atlanta explains how home cooks can instead use the plastic lid of a food storage container: "Take a plastic food storage top and poke holes in it with scissors to simulate a powdered sugar shaker. Simply pour the sugar you need on top and lightly tap the edge against the palm of your hand to dust sugar onto your pastry."

4. Everyday objects can act as stencils for powdered sugar silhouettes.

Decorating a cake with powdered sugar and paper doily

Speaking of powdered sugar, its light texture and ease of distribution gives you the opportunity to create dramatic silhouettes on dark-colored cakes and pastries. Pastry chef Lindsay Beck of CAMP in Greenville, South Carolina says that many everyday objects can be used to make these silhouettes: "My favorite home-kitchen decorating hack is using objects to act as a silhouette when dusting desserts with powdered sugar. This could be on a plate itself, cake, cookies, etc. Simply dust/cover the object being decorated with powdered sugar with a small strainer or sifter. The objects then are carefully removed, and you are left with the shape you applied. For example, one could place small bottle caps or jar lids on top of a pound cake for a polka dot effect or a row of evenly spaced straws for a striped look. For a more specific design, you could easily cut a shape out of paper before laying it on top of the cake, dusting, and carefully removing. This same technique can also be done with cocoa powder, matcha, etc." You can also use inexpensive paper doilies to make intricate stencils.

5. The back of a spoon can turn frosting dots into "petals".

A surprising amount of pastry art can be created with items as fundamental as silverware. For example, former pastry chef and current recipe developer Ashley Schuering of Confessions of a Grocery Addict says that you can form icing "petals" on your cakes with just a pastry bag (or a freezer bag with the corner cut off) and the back of a spoon.

"First, frost the top of the cake and do a quick crumb coat on the sides (the crumb coat isn't necessary, but does keep things tidier, especially for super moist cakes). Next, make a vertical line of roughly quarter sized dots of frosting down the side of your cake. Using the back of a spoon, 'pull' the dots outward in the same direction, making them look like sideways commas. Add another line of dots where the commas start to narrow considerably, then pull those dots out to sideways commas. Continue your whole way around the cake — it takes some time, but the end result is fantastic! If you're feeling super fancy, you can also do this to an ombre effect by using different zip-top bags for each color," Schuering tells us.

6. Use cookie cutters to create shapes with fondant.

If you have cookie cutters left over from holiday or birthday party baking, you'll be glad to know that those metal tools can be used for more than just shaping dough. 'My favorite "hack' for decorating with fondant is using cookie cutters! Cookie cutters are inexpensive (and most people have them in their kitchen already). Instead of trying to cut shapes in fondant by hand, use a cookie cutter to cut shapes. The shapes will all be uniform, which will make your cake/cupcakes look more professional. Use a dry paintbrush to smooth rough edges, for added finesse," says food blogger Alea Chappell of Trendgredient.

7. Can't find a rolling pin? Try a wine bottle instead.

Lots of recipes call for rolled-out dough, but if your rolling pin is buried at the back of a densely-packed cabinet (or if you never had a rolling pin to begin with), that goal can prove challenging. Luckily, anyone in need of a quick replacement rolling pin can "use a wine bottle as a rolling pin. This can be useful when baking pastries, pies or cookies that use dough and it helps make the rolling more fun!" bakery founder Kimmee Masi of Confessions of A RockStar in New Jersey tells Allrecipes.

8. The classic French pastry decoration known as a "quenelle" can be made with a regular spoon.

French pastries are often lauded for their elaborate decor, but many of these techniques are surprisingly easy to master. One prime example? The quenelle, a smooth oval-shaped scoop of icing or mousse that's used to decorate cakes and to garnish dessert plates. According to pastry chef Kelly Mencin of Rolo's in New York City, a quenelle can be made with just "very hot water (almost boiling,) a spoon, some type of whipped cream or mousse, and the pastry you want to decorate. Hold the spoon in the hot water for a few seconds, then drag the spoon through the whipped cream, left to right, pushing the cream to the other side of the container and creating a mound/ mountain on the right side of the container. Now, abruptly turn the spoon 180 degrees and drag the spoon out of the whipped cream with the rounded cream on the spoon.

Wipe off the bottom of the spoon if needed, then quickly place the cream on the desired pastry. Continue to do the technique, as needed, making sure the spoon is clean and hot every time."

9. A putty knife can be used to smooth the frosting on your cake.

To make the frosting on your cakes as smooth as possible, take a peek inside your garage tool box. "You can use a putty knife as a bench scraper to smooth the sides of your cake when decorating," explains founder/president Gwendolyn Rogers of The Cake Bake Shop in Indiana. You'll want to make sure it's scrubbed clean first, of course.

10. Paint brushes add texture to frosting.

Rogers also encourages you to look through your art supplies (or your kids' art supplies) to find a key instrument for texturizing your cake frosting: a paintbrush. " To create texture on your cake, you can use a paint brush. The bristles on the brush give the cake texture as you pull it across the buttercream," says Rogers.

11. Use a paint brush to infuse cake layers with moisture and flavor.

You can also use a paint brush to apply simple syrup to cake layers to keep them moist. In order to properly frost and decorate a cake, you'll need to ensure that the cake itself is moist enough to avoid crumbling into the icing and to remain structurally sound throughout the decorating process. One way to do this is to "brush simple syrup onto the layers," says cake artist Flora Aghababyan of Wynn Las Vegas. "Boil equal parts sugar and water on medium-high heat for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool completely before brushing onto the layers. This is also another way to incorporate additional flavor to the cake if you want to infuse flavors like vanilla bean or other extracts into the simple syrup," continues Aghababyan.

12. Spreading melted coating chocolate on a baking sheet (or bubble wrap!) creates decorative pieces.

Coating chocolate is famously easy to manipulate, which is why pastry chefs favor it for creating decorative shapes and shards. Executive pastry chef Donald Wressell of Guittard Chocolate says that, in order to make glossy circles to put on cakes and other pastries, you'll only need "a sheet pan, plastic wrap, and a flat bottomed glass." He goes on to explain that you should first "stretch plastic wrap over the back of a sheet pan, not being too careful to remove all of the wrinkles and imperfections. Next, drop melted chocolate in small puddles leaving ample space around the puddles. Lay a second sheet of plastic wrap over the chocolate puddles and use a flat-bottomed glass to flatten the puddles into organic-shaped circles. Place the sheet pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour to set the chocolate. Working quickly, remove plastic from circles and place directly on pastries, ice cream or dessert."

Another fun DIY idea for coating chocolate comes courtesy of Kentucky-based chef, Food Network Star champ, and HUNGRY collaborator Jason Smith, and it features a sheet of bubble wrap: "Melt coating chocolate and spread over clean bubble wrap. Once set, break up and use to decorate pastries or cakes."


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