Top tips for using chocolate to decorate a cake

Wednesday 16th March 2016

Chocolate cake is one of the nation’s favourites. Rich, moist, delectable, and perfect for every occasion, a rich chocolate sponge lends itself to being sumptuously and imaginatively decorated.

Before you approach the decoration you’ll need a delicious chocolate cake recipe. You can decide whether you want to use the sponge mixture in one big cake or as cupcakes. When you are working with melted chocolate to create a rich cake covering, or when doing chocolate work, you’ll want to retain the glossy sheen. This means first tempering your chocolate.

How to temper chocolate

You don’t need to be a master chocolatier to master this technique, just follow three simple steps:

  1. Use a serrated knife to chop your chocolate into small chunks, or use chocolate buttons, fèves or pistoles.
  2. Place the chocolate into a bowl. Half fill a pan with hot water; this is your bain-marie. Place the bowl in the pan being sure not to let the bowl touch the base or any water seep into the bowl. Gently allow the water to heat up without bringing it to the boil.
  3. Stir the melting chocolate with a spatula regularly and tease out any lumps so the melt is even. If you overheat chocolate you can risk ‘sugar bloom’, which means that the sugar has crystalized and the chocolate becomes grainy.

Chocolate melts in a child’s fist so it needs to be treated gently to avoid it becoming claggy and dull. If you follow this technique then you can be assured of beautiful, glossy chocolate that is ready to be applied to your cake.

Chocolate cake decorating ideas and tips

  • Chocolate is a delightful and versatile confection to work with, but because of its low melting point it must be treated with the utmost delicacy, so getting the right working temperature is key. An ambient temperature of 20 degrees is the ideal environment in which to work.
  • Chocolate works beautifully with fruit, in particular red fruit like strawberries, raspberries and cherries. As well as being a delicious flavor combination, the natural reds of the fruit against the chocolate is unrivalled for impact. Orange is also a very happy partner for chocolate and can be integrated into the chocolate itself, or the colour contrast of the citrus fruit enlivens the overall effect.
  • Cream works beautifully with chocolate. The beloved Black Forest Gateaux comprises fruit and cream as well as liquor. The sponge texture is moist and much lighter than ordinary chocolate sponge and is more of a dessert for this reason.
  • Chocolate couples beautifully with all kinds of nuts, from pistachio to hazel nut. The nuts can be an ingredient of the cake itself, or used as decoration. The lime green of pistachio makes a particularly vibrant contrast to deep dark chocolate.
  • Other confections like candy, marshmallow, macarons and truffles make wonderful decoration. Chocoholics might say that there is nothing that chocolate does not go with.
  • Chocolate is straightforward to store. It contains very little moisture and therefore it is slow to spoil. However, the breakdown in fats over time can make the chocolate rancid, therefore it should be protected from oxygen, light, humidity and heat. Under the right conditions chocolate can last for up to a year, while white and milk chocolates closer to half a year.

A trio of choccie favourites

There are countless ways to decorate chocolate, but these three ideas make great base camps for the chocolate adventurer and are sure to become firm favourites with friends and family.

Chocolate cupcakes

The traditional chocolate cupcake is hard to beat. The bright chocolate bean colour pops playfully offset the deep chocolate frosting, making it popular with the kids. Have fun with sprinkles, candy and nuts when you decorate these cheerful cupcake staples.

Snowdrop cake

This lovely chocolate cake is itself fairly straightforward to make. The more advanced skill comes with creating the delicate and beautiful snowdrop flowers. A little (non-edible) florist tape and wire will help secure the structure of the blooms. Modelling paste is all that’s needed to form the charming, nodding petals. The elegant simplicity makes it the perfect cake for late winter birthdays.

Nutella cupcakes

These snack-ready morsels lend themselves to any occasion from high tea to a birthday party. Crowned with Maltesers and rich with Nutella yumminess, the only disadvantage is that they will disappear quickly.

Why not browse our recipes to explore more exciting baking and decorating ideas?