While the big holiday rush may be winding down, most families I know still have a birthday or two coming up soon. As much as I love decorating there are days I just don't want to pull out the piping bags, gel colors, tips, and other hoopla that I usually use for cakes.

Have no fear, though. You can still make an amazingly beautiful cake with simple kitchen tools and no piping is involved. Hey, PJ, no piping! Come on, you can DO this!

What you will need is a computer, a printer, and sharp scissors or an X-Acto knife. Plus cocoa powder, a fine sifter, and some imagination. Oh, yes, and a cake.

First, pop online and browse some free sites for a pattern. For beginners, start with plain silhouettes that don't have a lot of fiddly small areas to cut.

This particular cake was for a little girl's birthday, so I went classic and elegant. The only really delicate parts of the ballerina were her fingers, so this made a good choice.

Once you've printed out your design, place it on a safe cutting surface and cut with a very sharp X-Acto knife or very sharp scissors.

Aaarrrggghh! What is with the blurry photo? No matter what I tried, I just couldn't get a clear shot of this. *sigh*.  Just use care and trim around the whole design. Turn the cutting surface rather than the paper for smoother curves.

Once you've trimmed out your silhouette, give it a few practice runs on your cutting surface or another washable surface.

Place about 2 to 3 tablespoons cocoa in a very fine sieve. Our sugar duster works beautifully for this task, and our black cocoa makes a very stunning statement. You can certainly use other cocoas; they might not be quite as classic black, though.

Dust the cut-out lightly and evenly. Tapping the side of the sieve with a spoon tends to work better than shaking, in my opinion. Pay close attention to the little details, too, such as fingers and toes.

Not bad. Not bad at all. Removing the cut-out template takes a bit of practice, which is why testing a few times will help you get it right. Simply wash off the cocoa, or brush it back into a bowl and try again until you're happy with the results.

Here's a closeup. You'll definitely have a little bit of blurred cocoa on the very edges but unless you get very close and really look for it, no one will notice.


Once you're happy with your technique, get ready for the real deal.

You all know my affinity for Italian Buttercream. I was able to access the big stash in the freezer, and tint it a pale, pale pink. A touch of Fiori di Sicilia and a drop or two of blackberry flavor gave it delightfully fruity flavor, too.

After layering my cakes, I happened to have one layer left over, perfect for a practice run. You'll see that this is actually the black cut-out piece of the paper. I had it taped to the fridge for fun. The paper stuck a little to the soft, creamy icing, but that's just fine.

When you are dusting the actual cake, be sure to put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up the icing so that the paper will not stick. I was rushing a bit to test this out, I tend to get excited about cake.

Dust with cocoa, peel up the template...

Sprinkle on a few stars I found in the back of my stash. I'm sorry we don't have these for sale at this time, I'm hoping we'll have them again someday.

Et voilà! Now feeling confident, we'll go for it!

Place and center the paper template on your cake. If your cake is small enough, trace around the cut-out design with the cake pan, and cut off the excess paper. Then your template will exactly match the cake, making it very easy to determine placement.

Dust on the cocoa. Remember, NO blowing!

Peel off the template to reveal your perfect picture. If you have any slight smudges use a very small flat tool to scrape them away. Here I've used the back of a small measuring spoon.

The finishing touches? A border of chocolate chips to echo the black and pink theme, a dusting of edible glitter, and a sprinkling of edible pearls.

And not a piping bag in sight.

Just think of all the possibilities for this technique. Skull and crossbones for a pirate party? Bridal cupcakes complete with blushing brides? How about making your own silhouettes?

There are plenty of tutorials online on how to set up a light and trace your child's outline. Wouldn't Grammy just cry buckets over such a personalized cake?

Actually, let's keep the tears to a minimum and hope she's all smiles at you, her favorite rock star cake decorator!

MaryJane Robbins
The Author

About MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team the following year. MJ loves to create decorated cookies for the catalogue, and blog about all kinds of foods, especially sweet treats.

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