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25 cake decorating ideas — from easy to elaborate

These bakery-worthy decorating ideas really take the cake.
/ Source: TODAY

When in need of a cake for a special occasion, it may be easier to snag something from the store, but we're here to convince you to take on the challenge of making a showstopping cake yourself. It'll be rewarding for both you and the recipient of your masterpiece.

We sourced cake-decorating ideas from some of the world's top bakers and chefs. Some are elegant; others are fun; all are fantastic. These recipes break down how to decorate a cake like a pro, from getting the icing just right to balancing beautiful flavors and creating surprise designs that will wow guests.

So, grab your mixing bowls, piping bags and spatulas — it's time to get creative with your cakes.

Rainbow Heart Cake

Rainbow Heart Cake

Amanda Rettke

Amanda Rettke, food blogger behind I am Baker and the author of "Surprise-Inside Cakes," goes beyond classic desserts with her creative ideas for making amazing over-the-top cakes. Here are her step-by-step instructions for how to make her stunning surprise-inside rainbow heart cake.

Red Velvet Layer Cake

Red Velvet Layer Cake

Christina Tosi

The bold color contrast of rich, ruby-red velvet cake layers and cool white cream cheese frosting is a showstopper. It's like taking your taste buds on a walk down the red carpet.

Lemon Flower Cake

Lemon Flower Cake

Courtney Rich

This cake captures all the vibrant colors and fresh flavors of a spring garden in every sweet bite. The festive flowers and lemon-scented cake and frosting make it bright, citrusy and delicious.

Tickled Pink Cookie Dough Stack Cake

Tickled Pink Cookie Dough Stack Cake

Kristen Tomlan, founder of DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections

This one is a showstopper — beautiful and delicious! It has the best of both worlds — edible cookie dough and soft-baked cookies, plus frosting.

Pancake Layer Cake

Pancake Layer Cake

Christina Tosi

This breakfast-inspired cake looks and tastes like a tall stack of pancakes. Fluffy buttermilk cake layers and sweet maple frosting pack all the flavors of the morning favorite into an impressive dessert.

This recipe doesn't add any unexpected extras or fancy new flavors. It's a traditional, straightforward red velvet cake that shows off the unbeatable flavors and textures of this iconic classic.

"As a middle-aged woman of the world, it is no secret to me that you can doctor up boxed cake mix to create a heavenly dessert," says Ree Drummond. "This trend took hold in the nineties and it gave masses of people permission to forgo the measuring and mess of a from-scratch cake. But just in case your generation hid this eternal cake mix truth from you your whole life, I'm here to lift the veil.

"This is an incredibly simple way to ease into the cake-mix era in your life: a rich, very chocolaty cake that's such a cinch to make, it might become your go-to birthday cake request."

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake

Craig Strong

Coffee is the secret ingredient to making this chocolate cake super moist and flavorful. It's easy to make and can be decorated with plump berries and edible flowers when you need an easy cake recipe for a special occasion.

The vanilla base for this cake can be a go-to base for just about any cake, whether you keep the color as is or have fun with food coloring. It’s not too sweet and it's perfectly moist with a nice, tight crumb. It freezes well and is a great base recipe to build off of. Experiment with different mix-ins like chocolate chips, blueberries, orange zest or sprinkles.

The Ultimate Cookie Lover's Cake

The Ultimate Cookie Lover's Cake

Kristen Tomlan, founder of DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections

This is the perfect cake for the cookie dough lover in your life! You can use any flavor cookie dough for the cookie dough layers and any color sprinkles in the cookie layers to customize the taste and look.

Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

Nowadays, most people use angel food cake or pound cake for this dessert, but country singer Trisha Yearwood likes the old-fashioned mix of the not-so-sweet biscuit with the sweetness of the strawberries and the whipped cream. It's an ode to her grandmother, who always used biscuits instead of pastry in her recipes.

Classic Carrot Cake

Classic Carrot Cake

Gesine Bullock-Prado

Both the cake and the frosting in this adorable carrot cake are incredibly simple recipes, which are easy enough for anyone to make for a special occasion. And let's not forget — it's a pleasure to eat!

Ramen Bowl Cake

Ramen Bowl Cake

Rachel Fong

This fun cake turns a classic bowl of ramen noodles into a fun and sweet treat. The frosting noodles and adorable decorations are surprisingly easy to make, but look so impressive.

Lemon Velvet Cake

Lemon Velvet Cake

April Anderson

A dense, lemony confection, this cake reminds us of spring and the end of winter. It's easy to throw together and make fancy with swirls of icing and twirly lemon rinds.

Caramel Cake

Caramel Cake

Gesine Bullock-Prado

Bullock-Prado shares how to make homemade caramel for this gorgeous cake. "That simple act of heating sugar to the point that it changes from brilliant white to slightly golden to coppery brown is my weakness," she says.

Mini Conversation Heart Cakes

Talk about showing some love! These darling Valentine's Day-themed cakes are so much fun to bake, decorate and customize.

'Rainbow Explosion' Cake

Despite its incredibly impressive, send-your-kid-over-the-moon-on-their-birthday design, this rainbow layered cake is actually really easy, and mainly requires repeating a simple recipe for a simple cake and icing a few times.

Easter Bunny Cake

Easter Bunny Cake

Amanda Rettke

"This is one of my favorite cakes ever. I want to hold it close and never let it go, but I might look silly with big pink and white melted chocolate ears stuck on my shirt. So, if you decide to make this cake, know it’s an extension of my heart," says Amanda Rettke about this cake that's cute as a button (or, rather, a bunny).

Christina Tosi's Valentine's Day Layer Cake

Ideal for Valentine's Day or any occasion that calls for chocolate (is there any occasion that doesn't?), this cake is layered with pickled strawberry jam and milk liquid cheesecake. In other words, it's divine.

Funfetti Cake

Funfetti Cake

Peter Callahan

This cake is so much fun they put it right in the name! Rainbow sprinkles give this cake an undeniably festive flair. Kids and grownups alike will love this delicious, multicolored cake.

A wild streak runs through this dessert beneath a coating of rich chocolate frosting. Cut a slice and reveal zebra-like stripes of vanilla and chocolate cake. It’s a surprisingly easy trick to pull off — simply alternate spoonfuls of batter in the center of the pan and create concentric rings.

Lemon and Blackcurrant Stripe Cake

This cake is just so impressive and enchanting when you slice into it. The combination of tart lemon and sweet, dark berries coupled with the rich buttercream frosting make this a refreshing yet decadent dessert.

Rainbow Drip Cake

Rainbow Drip Cake

Joshua John Russell

Drip cakes are super cool and surprisingly easy to make. Adding drips to a cake can really make your work eye-catching, and it feels like a therapeutic, art experiment — kids and amateur decorators welcome!

Martha Stewart's Lemon Mousse Cake

Lemon and meringue make one of the all-time great culinary duos. Here, they’re whipped up into a light-as-air cake. A Swiss meringue frosting is piped on and then toasted for a golden hue, to highlight its sensuous curves. A big pile of raspberries on top looks as if it’s keeping the whole creation from floating away.

Truly, madly and deeply chocolate: Pools of rich salted caramel separate layers of chocolate cake, which are then swathed with dark chocolate frosting and sprinkled with flaky salt. Prep the wondrous cake layers and caramel up to three days before assembling (chilling actually improves the texture for stacking), so you can make it look effortless.