Here's How to Decorate Any Cake Without Any Fancy Ingredients or Tools

When all else fails, we still have anxiety baking.

There is a very direct correlation between the amount of time spent inside social distancing and the number of loaves of banana bread, homemade sourdough, no-bake cookies, and other forms carb-filled comfort food that continue to flood my kitchen countertop these days. And why not? Next to exercise, baking is one of the best ways to unwind and reduce anxiety (pro tip: if you make a dessert with eggs or cream that need whipping, you get some of both).

But the more time we spend hunkering down indoors, the more ingredients seem to vanish from supermarket shelves and online grocers. Don't let it stop you. No eggs? Find your substitution options here. No yeast? We've got you. And who even needs all-purpose flour when you have so many other options?

Cake decorating shall be the next frontier. Whether you want to pull out all the stops for a loved one's birthday, virtual Mother's Day celebration, or maybe you just have a sweet tooth and a ton of time on your hands (hiii), now's the perfect time to let loose and get creative. Don't let missing ingredients hold you back—we tapped Elizabeth Nelson, test kitchen manager at Wilton, for her top cake decorating substitution tips for making elaborate desserts in a pinch.

No powdered sugar?

Mix together 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a high powered blender until a fine powder forms. Sift the mixture and use as a 1:1 substitute.

No fondant?

You can make fondant from marshmallows and powdered sugar. (It'll probably taste a lot better this way, too.) Melt 4 cups marshmallows in the microwave with 2 tablespoons water for about a minute and stir, reheating if necessary, until the mixture is even and free of lumps. Add food coloring or flavors as you wish, then gradually stir in 4 cups powdered sugar with a rubber spatula until it gets super thick. Knead the mixture on a sugared work surface as you would dough until it smooths out and becomes less sticky. Once it's a smooth ball, you can roll it out or shape it as you would fondant.

No sprinkles?

You can make them out of royal icing, a decorating bag, and a small round piping tip (Tip 3). Fill the bag with the royal icing and pipe lines on parchment paper. Once dry, chop it into pieces and use as sprinkles. For extra color, add food coloring to the royal icing before adding it to the bag.

No icing?

Use whipped cream instead, or melt/toast marshmallows on your cake or on top of each cupcake for a light, fluffy alternative.

Cake mix but no eggs?

Add one can or 1.5 cups of soda to the box mix for a fluffy cake:

  • Vanilla Cake Mix + Orange Soda = Creamsicle Cake
  • Strawberry Cake Mix + Vanilla Cream Soda = Strawberry Shortcake
  • Spice Cake Mix + Ginger Ale = Ginger Spice Cake
  • Dark Chocolate Cake Mix + Root Beer = Chocolate Root Beer Float Cake

No decorating bags or tips?

Put your icing in to a heavy-duty gallon or quart plastic bag and cut the tip off. You can make some simple piped decorations similar to what you would do with a round piping tip. You can also use an ice cream scoop to top cupcakes with icing.

No plastic bags or piping bags?

Try using parchment paper. Cut a large triangle from baking parchment, roll like a cone and fold the ends over at the top of the cone. Fill the bag with icing and start piping.

No decorating candies?

Tint white sugar with food coloring for some extra color! Place the sugar in a sandwich bag, add color, then knead the to blend the color. This works best with a concentrated gel food color. Sugar can be spread out on a cookie sheet to dry if needed. Fresh herbs, fruit, and crushed cereal are other great ways to dress up a simple dessert.

No decorating tools?

Make designs with homemade stencils using paper and scissors. Hold the stencil over cakes, cupcakes, or brownies and dust with powdered sugar, cocoa, or sprinkles. You can also use a tea strainer for the same effect. For a combed look, drag the tip of a teaspoon around the sides of a cake to create light texture.

No cupcake liners?

Use parchment paper to make cupcake or muffin liners.

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