Piping can be intimidating. Believe me, you are not alone if you are afraid of piping! Piping takes planning, practice, and patience. This tutorial will give a step-by-step overview of techniques that will make piping for cake decorating that much easier.
Photo via Craftsy class Modern Piping
Before we get started with piping techniques, let’s talk about icing.
There are many different kinds of icing and buttercream, so which are best for piping? Piping can be done with most any icing, but I prefer to use royal icing if I am piping on fondant and Swiss meringue buttercream if I am piping on buttercream. Royal icing goes hard and tends not to bleed into fondant, making for a nice clean look that cannot be wiped away easily. Buttercream, however, is a different story.
I like to keep my buttercream cakes in the refrigerator as long as possible. When using Swiss meringue buttercream or any type of buttercream that includes only butter and no shortening, the buttercream will harden on the cake when chilled, making it easier to work with when piping and more smudge resistant. Royal icing should not go into the fridge once it’s on a cake because the humidity will break down the royal icing, causing it to melt.
Now, let’s get back to piping techniques
Knowing the plan can make all the difference! Before you start piping willy-nilly on a cake, it is best to come up with a plan. Sketch ideas, map out what you want it to look like, measure your cake and practice a few times. Joshua John Russell demonstrates this perfectly in his Craftsy online cake decorating class Modern Piping.
Let’s talk about practice. If you want to achieve beautiful lines, swoops, filigree, pearls, shells, leaves, stringwork, or any other type of piping technique, it’s going to take a lot of practice to get everything even and consistent. So here are a few tips that can get you started on your way to lovely piping!
First and arguably the most important part is getting a good consistency to your icing. If you look closely at the above bag of icing, you will see air bubbles — not good! Air bubbles are bad for piping! Take a few extra minutes and gently squeeze your bag to remove the air bubbles before tying off the end.
Now, our icing is ready!
Holding the Piping Bag
There are many different ways to hold a piping bag, but it pretty much comes down to what is comfortable in your hand and what gives you the best results. I prefer to have a somewhat full bag, and then I twist the bag about ¾ of the way up and hold only enough in my palm so I can control the pressure and movement of the bag. I let the back end of the bag rest on my wrist.
One more thought about piping: There may be some of you out there who are lefties like me! As a left-handed person, I have found it easier to hold the piping bag in my right hand and then guide the bag with my left hand. If this doesn’t work for you, try piping from right to left so you can see where you are going.
You will know your icing consistency is correct when you can pipe a string between your fingers and give it a little shake and it doesn’t break immediately. If it breaks quickly, your icing is too wet (add a little powdered sugar). If it is really hard to get out of the bag, your icing is too dry (add a little water).
Now we are ready to pipe!
Let’s begin with straight lines. It is best to practice guiding the icing rather than forcing the icing to go where you want it to go. When doing most piping work, try to keep the tip off of the cake or the practice mat. Let gravity do its job, while guiding the string of icing in the direction you want it to go.
Below, I have piped the middle line by lifting the tip off the mat and guiding the line. The two lines on either side were piped by dragging the tip across the mat. You can see how much cleaner the middle line is, while the other two are not quite straight and have a few bumps.
Make sure while you work that you anchor yourself with your elbows or whichever way you are most comfortable. This is definitely a time to keep your elbows on the table!
Practicing Techniques: Glassware
Another way I like to practice is on a goblet or a flat bottle. It is great to practice on a mat, but most cake decorating is on the side of a cake that is usually upright and round, and that can make a big difference in your piping skills. Just because you are a whiz at swoops on the table does not mean you will be great at them on a real cake. So, practicing on a glass can give you a sense of decorating on a cake without the commitment and time involved in making and prepping a real cake.
As with the lines earlier, it is best to keep the tip away from the glass and to gently guide your string to where you want it to go.
Once you have your string where you want it, just touch the string to the cup and attach it.
If you make a mistake, or you end up with peaks of icing rather than nice dots, use a damp paintbrush and touch it gently to the royal icing to help it form into a small ball.
Royal Icing Filigree Technique
The filigree piping technique has become increasingly popular with brides who love the look of swirls and lace. You can practice this by free-handing a design or by creating your own. When doing filigree always think of “S” and “C”. Our eyes like the look of those two letters together.
Clean up any mistakes or tidy up lines with a damp paintbrush.
Using the glass bottle, you can let yourself enjoy piping. Try new techniques and practice, practice, practice until you feel confident to try your newfound skills on a beautiful cake!
Other fun piping techniques include:
Leaves, flowers, shell boarders and rosettes. Below are a few idea and the tips I used to create them!
From left to right:
- Leaf tip- Wilton 35- You will want thicker icing for leaves so they can hold their shape and even point upward.
- Thin string- Ateco 1S- This tip is for very delicate piping work and often used on bridgework.
- Swirl flower- Wilton 96- Hold the bags straight up and as you press icing out, gently twist to create a swirl, then put straight up.
- Shell tip- Ateco 18- Generally used for shell boarders and swoops. When using, hold in place then press icing out of bag until a small ball forms, stop pressing and pull away, start again.
- Large Leaf tip- Wilton 69, Small leaf tip- Orson Gygi 65- I prefer these leaf tips because they produce a thinner leaf. As you are pressing the icing out, shake the tip slightly to give the leaf a more ruffles, fluid look. Use thicker icing for a more 3-D effect.
- Small Shell- Wilton 13- same as the shell tip, but I really like how small this boarder turned out.
- Parallel lines- Wilton 42- This tip can come in handy if you are piping lots of straight lines or it is perfect for piping a chevron print.
- Rosette- INOX 5- These beautiful rosettes are becoming more and more popular. Simply start in the middle and while pressing out icings, swirl out and close it on the outer edge.
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