Our cake-makeover experts were full of good ideas and tips for turning a plain cake into something drop-dead gorgeous:

* Look beyond the cake aisle for decorating ingredients. Consider cookies, candies, fruits and nuts.

* Decorate the sides of the cake. Press chopped nuts, cookie crumbs, toasted coconut or crushed candies into the frosting, using your hand. Cover the side completely or just halfway up.

* Toast coconut and nuts. It crisps them, deepens their color and gives them a much better flavor. Just a few minutes on a baking sheet at 350 degrees is all it takes. Let cool.

* Combine chopped toffee bits with chopped toasted almonds. Add two or three pinches of finely ground espresso (not instant; use the real beans).

* Create a more subtle look with colored sugar by combining it with an equal amount of white sugar. Sprinkle on top of white icing for a soft, pastel look.

* Decorate the top of the cake first, so that if anything drips, you can cover it up with the ingredients you use to decorate the sides.

* Make chocolate straws (also known as chocolate cigarettes). Spread melted semisweet chocolate on a marble slab or the back of a baking sheet. Let cool or refrigerate until it hardens. Take the thin, flat edge of a knife and pull it along the hardened chocolate so that a thin layer peels off and curls up into a long "straw." Pile the straws on top of the cake, surrounded by some berries. Or stick them straight up to give the cake some height and visual interest.

-- Candy Sagon