How-To: Piping Tips

Icing cakes is an art form. We chat to Safia Osman, the mastermind of our pastry programme at Black Sheep Restaurants, on how she manages to get it so right every time.

Side note: every time means every time. Early on in her career, Safia was tasked with creating a birthday cake for a VIP chef guest. She was out with friends when her phone blew up with calls and desperate texts from restaurant managers, chefs and PRs: turns out, the cake she’d planned to make and ice the next day for the following night was in fact for that same evening. Never one to be fazed, Safia ran to the bakery at 11pm, where she rifled through the fridges for a cheesecake before melting down white chocolate into a plaque and throwing it in the freezer. Meanwhile, her equally inebriated friend poured dark chocolate buttons into a hasty bain-marie to be piped out into letters that miraculously were both spelt right and looked beautiful.

“The ladies on my team at the bakery hate piping. They’re terrified of it, as it’s notoriously difficult to get right” [and very easy to get very wrong…]

Here’s the pep talk I give them most days – it seems to help!”

1. It’s ok to make mistakes. That’s how you will learn.

2. On that note – practice makes perfect! You’re not gonna get it on your first shot. Persevere and don’t lose heart.

3. Making your piping bag: get a fancy bag if you like but I use humble parchment paper, folded in quarters and cut like a rounded pizza slice.

4. You are the boss, not the bag. Hold it upright at a 45 degree angle to have more control.

5. Making your icing: see my go-tos for the perfect buttercream below.

6. Practice your design or writing on parchment paper first, before on the actual cake. For example, if you’re attempting a rose pattern, that’s gonna be tough to get right on the spot. Give it a few whirls first on paper.

7. For writing, it’s best to find out what your style is. Cursive or print? Bold caps? Calligraphy?

8. On paper, write out the full alphabet a few times, in several long lines. Capitals on one line, lowercase below it. This way, you can get a feel for what your style is, as well as what letters you need more practice on. For me, I always struggle with the letters g, q and z.

9. Have fun with it! It’s not meant to be scary. Repeat: you are the boss, not the piping bag.
There are a million kinds of buttercreams out there, each with a different recipe and method.

The general rules I tell my team are:

1. Butter must be soft and at room temperature to achieve a silky smooth texture.

2. Once icing sugar is added to the butter, take your time mixing. This will ensure that the sugar is completely incorporated and you won’t get that granulated texture.

3. Those two are key. After that, flavour and colour your icing/buttercream/frosting to your heart’s content.

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