How to frost a cake with perfectly straight edges, smooth sides, and even layers? You’ve come to the right place, friends. This guide will show you how to make your pastry chef successful.
Keep in mind that your fridge and freezer can be your best friend. You can forget about using wax paper or parchment under your cake. It’s a wasteful and unnecessary practice. If you need to clean your platter or cake board, there is a thing called a wet towel. So, let’s get started!
Let’s start with the what before we get into the how. That is what you really need. You don’t necessarily have to use the fancy tools pastry chefs use, but you do need some basic items.
- 2 to 4 round layers, frozen
- 1 to 2 quarts buttercream or frosting at room temperature. Freshly paddled in a tabletop mixer until it is smooth and silky with no air bubbles.
- You will need one quart for 6-inch to 8 inch cakes. This depends on how many layers you have and the decoration that you plan to do. We recommend at least 1 1/2 quarts buttercream for a 9-inch layer cake.
- Serrated knife
- A small and large offset spatula, as well as a regular rubber spatula
- A straight-edge scraper made of silicone or plastic for making cakes smoother. For taller cakes, we recommend a scraper that is at least 6 inches in width.
- You can use a cake board, platter, or plate to serve your cake.
- Use a rubber mat or a wet paper towel to make a cake turntable. Place it flat between the turntable & cake board, so it doesn’t slip.
- The entire cake can be stored in the refrigerator.
- Both disposable and reusable pastry bags and piping tips, both available.
You will need to prepare your favorite frosting recipe before you begin assembling the layers of the cake. It’s important to have all the components and tools you need ready for when you need them, just like how we prepare miseen place for cooking. To determine how much buttercream you need, consider the dimensions of your layers and our checklist. Make sure the buttercream is at room temperature before you start assembling.
Here are our top recipes and tips for flavor variation:
- Buttercream Frosting
- Italian Buttercream
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Vegan Buttercream Frosting
- Cream Cheese Frosting
- Brown Sugar Frosting
- Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Make the cake
Now you are ready to create the magic. Before we talk about decorating and layering, let’s first discuss the cake. Frozen cake layers are the key to creating clean layers. Each layer of cake is wrapped and frozen flat. This is because cakes and most other pastry items will cut better when they are frozen or cold. It will also be easier to assemble and freeze.
Grab the cake turntable. Wrap one layer of the cake. Keep the plastic wrap between the top and bottom of the turntable. When baking cakes, most will have a dome on the top. To create even layers, we must trim this dome.
Now, bring the cake to your eye level. Use a serrated knife to begin cutting into the cake at the place where the dome and top end of the cake meet. Cut into the cake for a few inches, then turn the turntable to continue cutting around the perimeter using the top edge of the layer as a guide. You can end the cutting process by cutting through the entire layer. Continue with the other layers, and then set aside.
- This technique can be used to reduce layers that are too thick.
- Don’t throw away your cake scraps. Keep your scraps in a container that can be used to make cake pops or for snacking. You can wrap the scraps in plastic and freeze them for up to 6 months.
Assemble the cake
To prevent it from sliding, place a non-slip mat/wet paper towel flattened between the turntable’s plate and cake board. Place a layer cake bottom-side-up on your cake board. You can use the rubber spatula or a spoon to scoop out enough buttercream to make a 1/4- to 1/2-inch layer between the layers of cake.
Use a small offset spatula to spread the buttercream all around the edges of the cake. The offset spatula should be held at 45 degrees. Use the offset spatula to gently turn the turntable toward you, smoothing the buttercream layer. Any excess buttercream can be scraped back into the bowl.
Next, top with the second layer. Trim the sides down. Continue these steps until all layers are used.
Add a Filling
You will need to make sure that the cake is covered with a border if you use a different filling, such as pastry cream, jam, fruit, curd, or jam. This will prevent the filling from escaping.
- This is done by setting up a pastry box with a 1/2-inch circle tip or simply cutting a 1/2-inch hole at the tip.
- As instructed, spread a 1/4 inch layer of buttercream on top of the cake layer.
- Pipe a circle around top of buttercream .
- Place the filling in the middle of the circle, and then add the next layer. Continue this process until the last layer of cake is placed on top.
- All layers are not created equal. They can get smashed or damaged in the freezer while they are unmolding. I put my worst layer in the middle, my best one in the bottom, and my most beautiful on the top.
- Buttercream and frosting should be at room temperature. It is important that the buttercream and frosting be at room temperature. Too warm will cause it to spread poorly, and too cold will make it difficult to create a thick layer.
- You can add flavor or moisture to your cake by brushing it with simple syrup, before frosting or filling.
- When stacking your layers, ensure you are at eye level with the cake. You can also use the turntable to view all sides of the cake. Be sure that all layers are straightened. To gently push out any layers that are not in the right place, you can use your hands to gently push them into one line.
Crumb Coat the Cake
Once your cake is assembled, it’s time for the crumb coating. This method creates a thin layer of frosting on your cake to hold in any crumbs. It makes your final layer buttercream smoother.
Spread about a cup buttercream onto the top of your cake. Then, use the offset spatula to spread the buttercream evenly along the edges of the cake. Place the offset elbow in the middle of the cake and hold it at 45 degrees. The blade should be parallel to the base. Next, gently turn the turntable toward you until it feels smooth.
Buttercream will hang over the sides as you smoothen the top. This is what we want! The offset can be used to push the buttercream down from the sides of the cake. Keep the offset vertically. To smoothen the sides of your cake, turn the turntable in the direction you want.
To add buttercream to any gaps between layers, use the offset’s back. The offset should be held vertically perpendicular the base. If you are left-handed, the offset should touch the right side of your cake. Next, spin the turntable to smoothen it.
Allow the whole cake to cool in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. This will help you prepare your base coat and create a clean product.
Frost the Cake
You need to have a plan of how you see your final cake before you apply the buttercream. Are you looking for straight edges or smooth edges? Perhaps piped with buttercream swirls and pearls. You may prefer a rustic look. You will be able to decide how to apply the final layer of frosting. You can either be very careful about imperfections or embrace the whimsical swooshes that come with frosting.
Once the crumb coat is dry, it’s time to apply the final frosting coat. Spread a generous amount of buttercream onto the top of the cake. Smoothen it with the offset spatula.
Use a small amount of buttercream to coat the sides of each cake. Then use a wide pastry scraper or a spatula to evenly coat it. First, apply a uniform layer of buttercream to the sides of the cake. Then we can work on smoothing the sides.
You can give your cake a rustic, abstract look by adding buttercream to the sides or top with a small offset.
For straight sides, make sure you are at eye level with the cake. Fill in any areas that have buttercream gaps or other irregularities to get smooth edges. The pastry scraper can be held at 45 degrees to the back of your cake and pulled towards you. Scrape any buttercream from the bowl. You can smoothen the cake by doing a few rotations, adding more buttercream as necessary. To set the frosting, place the whole cake in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
- It may be simpler to fill in small gaps in buttercream by using your offset spatula.
- To get the buttercream to set even better, place the frosted cake in the fridge for 10 minutes. To heat the back side of the buttercream, either run the small offset spatula in hot water or heat it with a kitchen torch. Smoothen out any imperfections. This technique can also be used to create a flatter top.
Decorating & Garnishes
Now it’s time to have some fun. The frosted cake can be served as-is or decorated with ganache drops, sprinkles, or a border. You have the option to make it your own. Imagine the cake of your dreams, and then attack!
Pipe small stars, pearls, or waves around the cake’s base to give it a finished look. This can be done by using a 1/4 inch tip or any other size, and then pipe around the circumference. You can also repeat the same look for the top.
When piping borders, it is best to work in sections and to think of each section as a clock. Pipe the first swirl at 12 o’clock. The next one at 6 o’clock. Next pipe the second at 9 o’clock. Finally pipe the third at 3 o’clock. You can then pipe the middle of each swirl until you like the look.
Our Top Picks for Garnishes
You don’t have to use buttercream. Try some of our favorite toppings for your cake:
- Berries and other fresh fruits
- Choco curls or chocolate flakes
- Toasted coconut
- Regular or edible flowers
- Ganache and caramel drip
- Sprinkles, almond slivers or toasted coconut can be used to coat the sides. Simply press a few handfuls of buttercream onto the side.
Your cake can be kept in a container with a lid for up to 3 days at room temperature. It can also be stored in the fridge for up to 6 months. This will depend on the ingredients used in your cake.