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Cake decorating is one of the sugar arts that uses icing or frosting and other edible decorative elements to make plain cakes more visually interesting. Alternatively, cakes can be molded and sculpted to resemble three-dimensional persons, places and things.
Cakes are decorated to mark a special celebration (such as a birthday or wedding). They can also mark national or religious holidays, or be used to promote commercial enterprises. However, cakes may be baked and decorated for almost any social occasion.
Cake decorating originated in 17th century in Europe. During the 1840s, the advent of temperature-controlled ovens and the production of baking powder made baking cakes much easier. As temperature control technology improved, an increased emphasis on presentation and ornamentation developed. Cakes began to take on decorative shapes, were adorned with additional icing formed into patterns and flowers, and food coloring was used to accent frosting or layers of cake.
There is no official answer to who specifically began cake decorating. Cakes have been decorated for many centuries for special occasions. Wedding cakes have the longest traditions and are considered the most artistic form, and Christmas cakes being decorated began in the eighteen centuries, they were consider Twelfth Night Cakes and were only baked by the rich for the rich. 
Even though baking from scratch decreased during the latter part of the 20th century in the United States, decorated cakes have remained an important part of celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, showers and other special occasions.
A cake turntable (or rotating tray) can be used when decorating a cake.
Cake decorations are adornments or embellishments that are placed on top or around cakes. Cake decorations can be made of edible material or food-safe plastics.
Fondant, also known as sugar paste or ready roll icing, exists in many different colors, and it is usually easy to handle once prepared properly. It must be rolled out with cornstarch to avoid sticking to any surface and to smooth it out. Once completely smooth and thin enough, cake decorators are able to mold fondant into many different artistic expressions. Many of these expressions are also taught in professional cake decorating classes. Fondant is primarily used to cover cakes, but it is also used to create individual show pieces for cakes.
Royal icing is a sweet white icing made by whipping fresh egg whites (or powdered egg whites, meringue powder) with icing sugar. Royal icing produces well-defined icing edges especially when decorating biscuits/ cookies and is ideal for piping intricate writing, borders, scrollwork and lacework on cakes. It dries very hard and preserves indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but is susceptible to soften and wilt in high humidity.
Marzipan is often used for modeling cake decorations and sometimes as a cover over cakes, although fondant is more preferred.
Modeling chocolate is a chocolate paste made by melting chocolate and combining it with corn syrup, glucose syrup, or golden syrup. The chocolate is formed into a variety of shapes and structures that cannot be easily accomplished with other softer edible materials such as buttercream frosting, marzipan, or fondant. Modeling chocolate can be made from white, dark, semi-sweet, or milk chocolate.
Edible ink printing is also used in decorating cakes. After breakthroughs in nontoxic inks and printing materials in the early 1990s, it became possible to print images and photographs onto edible sheets for use on cakes. It is the process of creating preprinted images with edible food colors onto various confectionery products such as cookies, cakes, or pastries. Designs made with edible ink can be created with an edible printer, a specialty device which transfers an image onto a thin, edible paper. Edible paper is made of starches and sugars and printed on with edible food colors. Originally introduced as a specialty service provided by bakeries, this technology can now be used by home consumers using the specialized paper, ink and printers.
Decorating a cake usually involves covering it with some form of icing and then using decorative sugar, candy, chocolate or icing decorations to embellish the cake. But it can also be as simple as sprinkling a fine coat of icing sugar or drizzling a glossy blanket of glaze over the top of a cake like a mirror cake style that uses a glaze of gelatin, sugar, water, and sometimes chocolate. Icing decorations can be made by either piping icing flowers and decorative borders or by molding sugar paste, fondant, or marzipan flowers and figures. An embossing mat is a tool for cake decoration that creates embossed effects on the top of cakes, cupcakes, or similar items. The user presses the mat down into cake dough or icing and the pattern embossed in the mat is transferred to the item. Embossing mats are often made of silicone rubber or similar flexible polymers. A modern and popular technique today (2020) is the 'Naked Cake'. This is usually completed with multiple layers of cake and fillings between each layer. Rather than coating the outside of the cake with frosting or ganache, they are left plain, or 'naked'. Often they are decorated simply using icing sugar or fresh flowers on top. They are popular as wedding and engagement cakes.
This has become a form of unique artistry, and ranges from a single-layer cake, decorated simply, to a multi-layered 3-dimensional creation, that is decorated with edible ribbons made of sugar. Early construction methods of cutting shapes out of cake and piecing them together to create a structure have been superseded by preformed character pans, and the shaping of cakes out of fondant and different forms of marzipan.
Using this new form of fondant artistry should be used on a heavy cake consistency. It can, however, be used on the traditional cake mix purchased in a store. Fondant is heavier than traditional knife spread frosting. Pre-made fondant that is available in the cake decorating section in stores has little flavoring. A homemade fondant can be made quickly for very little cost, and tends to have a better flavor than the pre-made store bought version.
Whether using icing or fondant or marzipan to cover cakes, if a cake has multiple layers then in order to keep it from sliding it may need to be secured using dowels made from plastic straws, bubble tea straws, wooden chopsticks or wooden dowel.
Tiered wedding cake with calla lilies
Science cake with Bakelite oven chocolate cake top
A Fourth of July cake decorated in red, white and blue
A fondant-covered cake depicting a sewing kit
Advanced cake decorating techniques[clarification needed]
A cake sculpted to look like a cheeseburger with fries
A cake decorated to look like a pumpkin with mice living in it
Media related to Cake decoration at Wikimedia Commons