Let's be real: Cakes are just as much about looks as they are taste. Our creations have got to tempt the eyes and the palate, so knowing how to frost is definitely the skill to master.
Tools You Need to Frost a Cake
Let's start with the gear. You don't need many tools to make a beautiful cake, but throwing down for a few key items will make the job a whole lot easier. (Yes, you really do need a turntable. Don't have one? These ideas could help .)
- Cake board, platter or stand
- Piping bag (optional)
- Large round piping tip (optional)
- Offset icing spatula
- Bench scraper or straight icing spatula
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to frost a cake, we've gotta talk about crumb coating.
What Is It?
Crumb coating a cake means adding a thin layer of frosting to the exterior before adding a thicker, final coat of frosting.
The thin layer of frosting traps stray cake crumbs and prevents them from popping up in your finished cake. Adding a crumb coat also helps fill in any gaps between your cake layers to give you a solid surface before adding your smooth final coat.
Quick Tips for Crumb Coating
- Work from a smaller, separate bowl of buttercream when crumb coating. That way you won't risk introducing crumbs into the frosting you'll use for the final, perfect coat.
- If it's warm where you are, chill your filled cake until firm before adding the crumb coat so that the layers don't wobble around while you're working.
- Don't fret if the crumb coat isn't entirely smooth, but do make sure to fill all gaps before moving onto the final coat. A gap-free surface is the key to an easy and flawless final coat.
Setting the Crumb Coat
No matter what kind of buttercream you use, the crumb coat needs to set before moving on to the final coat. Pop the cake in the fridge for 15-20 minutes, or until it's firm to the touch. If you're working with American buttercream , the cake can be left at room temperature until the buttercream has formed a crust (about 20 minutes).
OK, here's the good stuff — how to actually frost your cake. There are plenty of ways to ice a cake, but I'll cover two here: The easier option for a loose, rustic look, and how to get fancy with a smooth, professional finish.
The Easiest Way to Frost A Cake: Rustic Style
1. Plop the frosting on the cake
Scoop a mound of frosting (a little over cup for a 6" round cake, about 2 cups for an 8" round cake, etc.) on top of the cake. This may feel like a lot of frosting, and that's as it should be.
Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting out while turning the turntable, pushing the frosting over the top edge to make an overhang. Move the spatula through the top frosting to create fluffy peaks and valleys.
2. Spread the frosting down the sides
Use the offset spatula to spread a thick layer of additional buttercream onto the sides of the cake, turning all the while. Pull the excess frosting from the top edges down onto the sides as well. Create fluffy peaks and valleys all over the sides of the cake, just like you did with the top.
3. Clean up the top edge
To clean up the the top edge, knock down any buttercream that's poking up and spread things out a bit as needed to make the edge fairly even all around. Avoid overworking things here — once you have a nice, rustic look, you're done!
Option 2: Smooth Style
1. Spread frosting on top of the cake
Scoop (or pipe) a mound of frosting on top of the cake. Be generous at this step, and throughout. A nice thick layer of frosting is easier to make smooth.
Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting out, pushing it over the the top edge.
Once the top of the cake's covered, hold the blade of the spatula against the top of the cake. Keep the spatula steady while you use your other hand to spin the turntable. Spread and spin until the top of your cake is level and smooth. Again, don't overwork it. Quit while you're ahead.
2. Spread frosting on the sides
Load your spatula with frosting and apply it thickly to the side of your cake. (You can also pipe it on with a pastry bag and a large round tip if you prefer.) Smooth it out by holding the long edge of a bench scraper or straight icing spatula vertically and using your other hand to spin the turntable.
- Stop every few spins or so to scrape excess buttercream back into the bowl. Dip the spatula in warm water and wipe it down with a paper towel if frosting starts to build up. Slightly warming the spatula like this helps the buttercream get even smoother.
3. Make it perfect
Fill in holes if needed (it happens!) and re-smooth by giving the turntable another spin.
Repeat spinning and scraping until the sides are as smooth as you'd like them to be.
4. Clean up the top edge
After the sides of the cake are smoothed, you'll see some excess buttercream peeking up over the top edge. Working as precisely as you can, use the flat edge of an offset spatula to swipe the excess buttercream in toward the center, creating a crisp edge while maintaining a smooth top.
Learn More Now
Get more tips for flavoring buttercream and decking out cakes and cupcakes in our free guide, Not-So-Basic Buttercream Decorating Ideas.