How to Decorate a Cake with Any Picture

My young nephew, Jack, loves “Thomas the Train.” So, when his next birthday rolled around, my crafty sister-in-law decided to make him a “Thomas” cake. I thought she meant she would buy a train-shaped cake pan, add plenty of blue icing and other colors like red and black for the details, and make Jack a cake that way. Nope. She had another way in mind.

What she did was use a sheet cake and rice paper to put a picture of “Thomas the Train” on top. It turned out looking great and it received many compliments! Here’s how you can decorate a cake by putting any picture on top, as well:

Step One – The Cake
First off, you’ll need to bake a cake. It can be a sheet cake or a two-layer cake. Either size works for this project. The top of the cake will need to be as flat as possible. Before you place the pans of batter in the oven, gently tap the bottoms of the pans against a counter or table top. This will help to release air bubbles and help the cake to bake flatter.

Step Two – The Base Frosting
After the cake has thoroughly cooled, you’ll need to frost it. You can actually use any flavor/color frosting you choose. But, keep in mind that the colored picture will show up the best on a white frosting background.

You can easily mix up a bowl of frosting. If you’re in a real big hurry, you can always use store bought frosting, but homemade always tastes better. A simple, but tasty frosting is made up of powdered sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a half teaspoon of butter. Add a few tablespoons of milk, then whip the ingredients together with an electric mixer. Keep adding a little milk until the frosting is a spreading consistency. For chocolate frosting, mix in some cocoa powder. To make Chocolate Mocha Frosting, mix in the cocoa powder plus a half teaspoon or so of instant coffee granules. Whip the ingredients together until they are well mixed and the frosting is fluffy.

If you’re using a sheet cake, all you’ll need to do is to frost the top. A two-layer cake, of course, will need to be put together and frosted.

Step Three – Your Picture
Now you’ll need a picture of your subject. It can be “Thomas the Train” for a child, a picture of another cartoon character, or a photo of a person or thing. You can use any picture you want! All you have to do is blow it up so it fits the size of your cake. A computer scanner and a printer works well for this step.

Step Four – Tracing the Picture
For this step, you’ll need a sheet of Rice paper and a black, non-toxic crayon. Lay the Rice paper over top the photo so it’s positioned as close as possible to an end. Then, use the crayon to carefully trace the picture onto the paper. For the finished design to look as real as possible, make sure that you include details.

Once you finish with the tracing, use the scissors to cut the outline of the picture from the Rice paper. Then, carefully position it over the top of the cake and make sure it’s centered. Gently press it down in place.

Step Five – Filling the Picture In
This is really the fun part where you’ll begin to see the picture you have chosen come to life! Don’t worry if you’re not good with painting or crafts. Just take your time and you’ll do fine.

You’ll now need a large cake decorator or a pastry bag. My sister-in-law uses a cake decorator/cookie press type tool. You can find one these at your local department store. Pastry bags are readily available at your local bakery supply shop. Place a tip that just creates a plain line on the end of the decorator or the bag. Fill the tool with brown or black frosting and fill in the outline of the picture. Set this frosting aside as you’ll use it once again.

Note: Whether you use a cake decorator or a pastry bag, it’s a messy hassle to change the frosting everytime you need a new color. To avoid this, you can buy tubes of decorating frosting in the colors you need. A small tube of frosting works especially well when you’re filling in details on the picture.

The next step is to change frosting colors and start to fill the inside of the decoration in. So they don’t get lost in the frosting, outline the smallest areas first. Then, proceed onto the larger details.

Finally, use the dark brown or black frosting to outline the picture again. Then, use additional frosting to make a border around the entire cake top, and, you’re finished! Doesn’t it look good enough to eat!

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