Stenciling is my favorite way to decorate baked goods

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Until I became a pastry chef, I associated stencils with quaint country inns and old-fashioned arts and crafts projects. But they can be used for much more than a retro wall decoration. If you have a good stencil and a powdered ingredient (think caster sugar or cocoa powder), you have a chic and effortless way to decorate a cake, cookies, pies, or even the plate on which your dessert is served. The best of all? You don’t need any equipment beyond what you already have in your kitchen. To embark on this aesthetic journey, all you need are two things: something to use as a stencil and an ingredient that you want to decorate your baked goods with.

What can you use as a stencil?

Any light object that can cover part of a cookie or cake can be a stencil. “Official” fantasy cake and biscuit stencils can create intricate designs on a professional level. But several basic kitchen items stand out as my favorite ways to make simple homemade cake and cookie stencils.

A sheet of parchment paper ranks high on the list, with plenty of ways to get creative. Lightly drape a square of parchment over any part of your cake topper. Sprinkle the negative space not covered by the parchment with a topping such as powdered sugar and lift the stencil from the cake. Play with angles for a modern and minimalist design.

For a more involved stencil action, be happy with the scissors. Cut the parchment into strips of any thickness. Arrange the strips on top of your baked goods in rows, angles, crisscross patterns, or in a combination. Top with your stencil ingredient.

You can also cut paper into stencil shapes: hearts for Valentine’s Day, little stars just because, etc. Tear the parchment into narrow, uneven strips and arrange the strips tightly together for the zebra lines.

Beyond the paper world, fresh (clean, of course) leaves make beautiful negative space stencils for fall. An old-fashioned paper doily can be used as an instant intricate stencil, and kitchen utensils like a fish spatula can be used to create modern lines.

Photo by Isa Zapata, Food styling by Cyd McDowell, Accessories styling by Paige Hicks

What can you decorate with?

Once you have determined what type of design scheme you are looking for, you need to decide which ingredient you are going to use to create it. Keep two considerations in mind when deciding on your stenciled ingredient: will it look good, and will the flavor complement the dessert?

Some of my go-to dry ingredients for stenciling the surface of a cake, pie or cookie include the always classic powdered sugar, sanding sugars in different colors, cocoa powder and matcha powder. (And, honestly, rainbow glitter is always a good move.)

Coloring powder with blue dots

If you want to get a little more involved and the flavors work, blend freeze-dried fruits like strawberries in a blender until they are reduced to dust. The resulting powder will have a beautiful natural shade and a bright tangy flavor.

Freeze-dried strawberries (pack of 3)

Here’s how to make a stencil like a pro.

Use a light touch. Unless you go for a stucco look, make sure your stencil rests very lightly on the frosting of your cake, otherwise it will leave a distinct impression. You can even chill the frosted cake for a few minutes to harden the frosting before you stencil it, which will prevent the stencil from dripping or making a deep indentation.


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