Too busy hustling to bake a cake from scratch? Here’s the Maiden Aunt guide to creating your own “get it down your cake hole and then come back for more” signature bake like a pro.  Tell your friends you just threw it together without a hint of irony.

Here I describe two ways to cheat your way to cake success. First, cheat with the cake. Second, cheat with the decorating.  Use all the cheats below for both the cake and the decorating and easy street will take you all the way to “Wow! How did you learn to do all of this?”.  Put in more effort to achieve a more personalised look or flavour. And obviously looks are more important in the Insta-world we live in, so focus your efforts there.

The cake

If you want to bake, then one way of saving time is to use the all in one method as favoured by good old Delia (Smith)  and La Bezza (Mary Berry) .  Or you could use a cake mix where you just stir in some oil and some eggs.  To either of these, you can add your own flavourings like lemon or orange zest, coffee, cocoa powder, dried fruit and nuts, or chocolate chips.  You can also add trail type mixes.  I’ve used the Whitworth dried cherry and chocolate chip one in a chocolate brownie and then added some walnuts – yummm!

Many cakes freeze well so you can bake ahead and then defrost and decorate on the day.  See Delia’s tips for which recipes work best.  I’ve also successfully frozen a Betty Crocker cake before.

I made this by piping Betty Crocker chocolate icing and adding fresh raspberries

Of course, you can also buy a plain ready-made cake or cup-cakes to decorate yourself.

The decorating

There are a great range of ready made buttercreams and frostings available.  These are really easy to spread (much easier than home made buttercream) and taste good too.  I like to pipe mine to make it look like I’ve made more of an effort.  The truth is that it’s easier than trying to get an even spread.

Drizzle style icing can also work well (icing sugar mixed with a little bit of water), especially when combined with extra tasty bits like lemon zest for a lemon cake, or banana chips for a banana cake.

Drizzled icing with lemon zest is a classic decoration


Banana bread with drizzle icing and banana chips


Dusting icing sugar over a cake covers all manners of imperfections.  Using a stencil can take your cake up a notch.   It could be a simple star or heart cut out of baking paper and placed in the middle of the cake and then very carefully removed once the cake is dusted.

Icing sugar dusted hearts

Many supermarkets also do a range of plain iced cakes – these are usually fruit cakes with a plain white fondant icing that are advertised as celebration cakes or wedding cakes.  You could also take a fully ready made cake and add your own decorative touches.

Shop bought iced cake ready for your creativity

Edible decorative items that work well include berries, nuts, chocolates (like Smarties or Ferrero Rochers) and gold balls. Where sticking in required, I use a tub of ready-made icing or melted chocolate.  Pomegranate seeds also make everything that little bit more fancy.


These unwrapped Ferrero Rochers have been taken to the next level with edible gold spray paint
Here I used ready made icing to stick on the KitKats and the tiers together. Then I topped with M&Ms.
Fresh berries and edible flowers add instant impact

Non-edible decorations are perfect for when you are pushed for time, want to be able to prepare the decorations in advance, or need to be able to transport your cake easily.  These could be simple flags cut out of coloured paper stuck to cocktail sticks using Sellotape.  Or other shapes like leaves, stars, hearts or trees.  There are lots of free printables available on Pinterest if you feel like you can’t draw.  I’ve also used plastic animals and figures before.  Sometimes random items are much more fun than using figures sold as cake toppers.

What are your favourite tricks and tips? I’d love to see your photos.