Cake stencils are an easy to use tool for decorating cakes, cupcakes and cookies. They’re typically made of thin plastic or metal and feature a cut out design on them. The designs can be anything from a simple smiley face to an elaborate snowflake scene. They’re used by holding the stencil over your cake and sprinkling a finely ground powder – such as cocoa powder, ground cinnamon or confectioners’ sugar – through the stencil to transfer the design onto the top of your cake. The problem with stencils is that they require a little more practice than you might think to get clean lines on your finished product.
Stencils can be used on all kinds of cakes, both frosted and unfrosted. On unfrosted cakes, you can simply set the stencil directly on the cake and sprinkle away, then carefully lift the stencil off the cake. It is a very nice way to add a finishing touch to a simple cake without frosting it.
This strategy also works on cakes that are covered with fondant, although a powdered sugar stencil will not stay in place on fondant unless you wet it slightly before hand. Some cake decorators spread icing through their stencils instead. This is done by placing the stencil on the fondant and spreading a thin layer of icing over the top with an offset spatula for a design that will stay securely in place. With this technique, the stencil should be removed before the extra icing dries.
If you are working with a cake frosted in buttercream or another soft icing, you should not place the stencil directly on top of the cake. The odds are good that, if you do, you’ll end up with a stencil that is stuck to the frosting and will mess up both the frosting and the stencil design when you go to lift it. Instead, make sure that the icing on your cake is as flat and level as possible (pile it up then smooth the top with an offset spatula or butter knife) and hold the stencil very, very close to the top of the frosting before dusting it. Lift the stencil slowly and straight up, so no excess material falls onto the cake.
No matter what decorating product you are using, from colored sugars to cocoa powder, you should always sift it through a fine sieve into place. This will give you a lot of control over where it goes and how much gets onto the cake, but it will also ensure you get an even coating without clumps every time.