These Tools Might Make Your Cakes Instagram Famous

Shag cakes, ruffle layers, string-art lattice work — these aren’t couture trends, they’re (almost) too-beautiful-to-eat cakes and pies that you can find on Instagram. Designing #baking art looks difficult, but bakers we talked to said their designs don’t require fancy equipment.

To find out what other tools Instagram bakers use to achieve flawless edges, vibrant colors and eye-catching designs, we sat down with Alana Jones-Mann, a designer and baker based in Los Angeles, Lauren Ko, a Seattle-based self-taught pie baker who makes “modern geometric pie art,” and Tampa-based vegan baker Dawn Konofaos.

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“Some people might look at my cakes and think they look very complex, but I only use very basic cake decorating tools,” Ms. Jones-Mann said.

Ms. Ko uses pie dough and firm fruits to create freehand designs. Despite the precise look of her work, she doesn’t rely on X-acto knives or stencils. “I started with a sharp paring knife and a sharp chef’s knife. I’ve moved to a rolling pastry wheel and I have a basic ruler that I mainly use as a straight edge,” she said.

Ms. Jones-Mann re-creates Mexican embroidery and cactus gardens in frosting but is probably most well-known for her “shag cakes,” which she pipes by hand to create richly colored water-topography shapes with a carpetlike texture. She makes her intricate designs by using a piping tip that’s available in the most basic sets (Wirecutter, the product review site owned by The New York Times, recommends the Ateco 14-Piece Cake Decorating Set.) She prefers to use a simple No. 2 round piping tip to create individual strands, instead of a “grass tip” with multiple holes.

She also likes using a coupler, a two-piece plastic insert that can secure the selected piping tip onto the piping bag. The coupler lets you easily remove and replace a piping tip. “If you want to switch tips, or if a piece of sugar in your frosting gets lodged in the end of the tip, it makes it really easy to clean out,” she said. The Ateco set we recommend includes a single plastic coupler, but you may need extra if you want to use one for each bag of colored icing.

If you’re going through a lot of plastic disposable bags with multiple colors of buttercream frosting, consider switching to silicone piping bags, as Ms. Jones-Mann has — you can wash them out with hot water and reuse them, and they offer the added benefit of insulating the buttercream a bit more from the melting heat of your hands.

Ms. Jones-Mann creates a vibrant palette for every cake by mixing custom colors each time. She prefers AmeriColor food coloring gels, which Wirecutter also preferred after testing them against the competition. To get her signature ’60s and ’70s colors, she sometimes adds a touch of cocoa powder to produce an ivory-based palette for true avocado green.


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