25 Must-Know Cake Decorating Terms: a Detailed Glossary

This glossary of cake decorating terms has helped me over the past 10 years of cake decorating, and I hope they help you, too. Knowing the right cake decorating terminology can make a world of difference in your baking and decorating journey, especially if you’re just starting out.

A decorated cake with piped details.

Cake decorating is an art, after all. It combines creativity, precision, and a love of all things sweet!

It takes time to perfect it, but knowing all of the following cake-decorating terminology will help you learn the most important details.

Frostings, Icings, & More

The terms frosting and icing are often used interchangeably, but each recipe type has distinct differences.


Frosting is a thick, creamy mixture usually made from sugar, butter, and other flavorings. It is a more general term encompassing various cake coverings, including buttercream, cream cheese frosting, and whipped cream frosting. 


While both buttercream and frosting are used to cover and fill cakes, buttercream specifically refers to a type of frosting made from butter, sugar, and flavorings. 


Icing can be a frosting, but it can also be a thinner, glossy glaze made from powdered sugar and liquid (like water or milk).

Royal Icing

Royal icing is made from powdered sugar, egg whites, and sometimes lemon juice or meringue powder. You can also buy Royal Icing Mix where you just add water. It has a smooth, matte finish when dry. It is commonly used for intricate cookie decorations and designs.

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Royal icing dries hard, making it an excellent choice for decorations that need to hold their shape and for packaging royal icing cookies.

Royal icing cookies being decorated.

Candy Melts

Candy melts, also known as confectionery coating or melting wafers, are round disks of chocolate-like candy that come in a variety of colors and flavors. Candy melts have a similar consistency to chocolate when melted, but they do not require tempering. This makes them ideal for cake pops, cake popsicles, and other dipped treats that need a hard chocolate shell.

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Fondant is a pliable, sugar-based dough often used in cake decorating to create a smooth, flawless cake surface. It can be rolled out and draped over a cake or molded into various shapes, like flowers or other decorations.

There are several types of fondant, including rolled fondant, poured fondant, and gum paste.

Rolled Fondant

Rolled fondant is the most common type, used to cover cakes and make simple decorations.  Fondant can be really fun to work with, as you can make impressive edible cake toppings. 

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For instance, you can roll your fondant into edible sugar balls and dust them with gold leaf or petal dust for an elegant look.

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Poured fondant

Poured fondant is one of those cake decorating terms that I have yet to master. It is a liquid fondant and is used as a glaze or filling.

Gum paste

Gum paste is a firmer, more elastic version of fondant, ideal for creating intricate sugar flowers and other delicate cake decorations that dry hard.

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The following cake decorating terms will help you master piping decorations on your cake! Piping is a technique that uses a piping bag filled with icing, whipped cream, or other soft mixtures to create designs and decorations on a cake.

Piping Bags

Piping bags, also known as pastry bags, are cone-shaped bags made of cloth, plastic, or silicone. They hold and dispense frosting for cake decorating.

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The narrow end of the bag is fitted with a decorating tip or coupler, while the other end is filled with the frosting and squeezed to dispense it through the tip. Piping bags come in various sizes, so they can hold different quantities of frosting. I recommend the 18″ piping bags for frosting cupcakes, and the 12″ bags for smaller decorations.

Piping Tips

Piping tips, also known as decorating tips, are metal or plastic nozzles that attach to the end of a piping bag.

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Piping tips come in many different brands, shapes, and sizes. Each tip is designed to create a specific effect, such as stars, leaves, or tiny dots.

Some common piping tips include round, star, leaf, petal, and basketweave tips.


A coupler is a two-piece plastic device that securely connects a piping tip to a piping bag.

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The coupler base is inserted into the piping bag, and the piping tip is then screwed onto the coupler. This allows you to quickly and easily change the piping tip without emptying and refilling the piping bag.

For beginners, start by practicing basic piping techniques, like dots, lines, and swirls, to get the hang of using a piping bag. Once you’re comfortable, you can move on to more advanced techniques like making buttercream roses or intricate lace patterns.


Cake filling is the delicious layer sandwiched between cake layers, adding flavor, moisture, and texture. Common cake fillings include buttercream, whipped cream, ganache, fruit preserves, and more. 

Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is a light, airy cream made by whipping heavy cream until it reaches a fluffy, spreadable consistency. It is often sweetened with sugar and flavored with vanilla or other extracts.

Whipped cream is very versatile and can be used as a filling or topping for cupcakes, cakes, cobblers, pies, and more. It can also be used to decorate cakes.


Ganache is a rich, smooth mixture made from chocolate and heavy cream. It can be used as a filling or glaze for cakes, or it can be whipped to create a light, fluffy frosting.

Ganache can also be chilled and rolled into truffle-like balls or piped into decorative shapes.


A compote is a fruit-based dessert made by cooking fruit with sugar and sometimes spices, creating a thick, syrupy mixture. Compote can be used as a cake filling or topping for other desserts like ice cream, cheesecake, or pancakes.

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Preserves are similar to compotes but have a thicker, chunkier consistency. They are made by cooking fruit with sugar, pectin, and sometimes lemon juice, resulting in a spreadable fruit mixture. Preserves can be used as a cake filling or spread on toast, scones, or other baked goods.

How to Fill a Cake

To properly fill a cake, first level the cake layers to ensure even stacking. Then, pipe a border of buttercream around the edge of the bottom layer to act as a dam, preventing the filling from oozing out.

Next, spread your chosen filling evenly within the border, ensuring it’s not too thick or thin. Finally, place the next cake layer on top, gently pressing down to ensure the layers adhere. Repeat this process for any additional layers.

Decorating Techniques

There are a lot of frosting cake decorating techniques that can elevate your cake designs.


Roses are a popular cake decoration, especially for wedding cakes.

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To create buttercream roses, use a piping bag fitted with a petal tip.  Pipe a small cone of icing as the base, then pipe overlapping petals around it, gradually increasing the size of the petals as you go.


Borders add a polished look to your cake, concealing the seam between the cake layers and the cake board. There are many border styles, such as shell, rope, or bead borders, that can be created using different piping tips. They can also be used to hide mistakes! 

You can practice various designs to find the one that best suits your cake.


Writing on a cake can be done using a piping bag with a round tip or by using stencils and edible markers or dust.

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When piping, ensure that your icing is the right consistency. If it’s too thick, it will be hard to pipe, and it can crack or break. If it is too thin, it will be hard to control. However, thinner frosting is often best for writing.  

Practice piping words on a piece of parchment paper before attempting it on your cake. You can even tape the parchment on the wall to practice piping on the sides of your cakes!

Buttercream Rosettes

Buttercream or Icing Rosettes on cakes is one of my favorite cake decorating techniques! The swirled designs is created using a piping bag fitted with a star tip.

Rosettes being piped on a sheet cake from icing.

To make a rosette, start in the center of your desired location and pipe in a circular motion, working your way outward. Release pressure as you complete the circle, and gently lift the piping bag away. These can be used to cover an entire cake or as an accent.


Ruffles are delicate, frilled designs that can add texture and elegance to a cake. To create ruffles, use a piping bag fitted with a petal tip.

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Hold the bag at a 45-degree angle, with the wider end of the petal tip touching the cake surface. Pipe while moving the bag up and down in a zigzag motion, creating a row of ruffles. You can make horizontal or vertical ruffles or even create a ruffled flower design.


The basketweave technique creates a textured pattern resembling a woven basket. Use a piping bag fitted with a basketweave tip to achieve this look.

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Start by piping a vertical line on the cake, then pipe a series of horizontal lines over the vertical line, leaving space in between. Next, pipe another vertical line to cover the ends of the horizontal lines, and repeat the process until the entire cake is covered.

Seashell Border

A seashell border is a classic cake decorating technique that adds a touch of elegance to any cake. To create a seashell border:

  1. Prepare a piping bag with a small star tip.  
  2. Hold the bag at a 45-degree angle and pipe a small, curved mound of frosting, decreasing pressure each time you pull the bag away.  
  3. Repeat this process, slightly overlapping each mound to create a continuous border.

Swirls and Swoops

Swirls and swoops are simple yet effective techniques for adding visual interest to a cake. Using a piping bag or even an offset spatula, apply buttercream to the cake surface and create swirls or swooping patterns by moving the tool in circular or sweeping motions.

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This technique is great for covering an entire cake or adding texture to specific areas, like the top or sides.

Ombre Effect

The ombre effect is a popular decorating term that involves blending colors from light to dark or vice versa. To achieve an ombre effect on a cake, you must prepare several shades of your chosen color.

Start by applying the darkest shade at the base of the cake, and gradually work your way up, using lighter shades as you go. Blend the colors where they meet to create a seamless transition. Ombre buttercream looks great for water-themed cakes like a Moana Cake Design.

Preparing frosting to decorate a cake.

By familiarizing yourself with this cake decorating terminology, you’ll be better equipped to create show-stopping cakes that are both beautiful and delicious!

But remember, practice makes perfect! It’s a good idea to experiment with new techniques and push the boundaries of your cake decorating skills. Happy decorating!

Did I forget any cake decoration glossary terms?

Please let me know! Leave a comment below or tag @dessertladyblog on Pinterest

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