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Frosting a Layer Cake: Tips & Tricks

October 10, 2010

Thank you to everyone who voted for us inFoodbuzz’ Project Food Blog

to get us to this round. A new voting session begins October 11th-14th

and you can go HERE to place your new vote.

~ Mary ~

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Cupcakes have invaded the planet, and I’m on a crusade to bring back the layer cake.  Cupcakes are swell, but a layer cake is GRAND!  Layer cakes are for birthdays.  Layer cakes are for weddings.  Layer cakes say HAPPY! SMASHING! FOR ME!?
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Don’t let layer cakes intimidate you.  If you don’t succeed, no one’s going to turn down a piece of cake no matter what it looks like.  Practice, practice, practice and soon enough you’ll be looking all cheeky sweetie!

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I haven’t had any formal training, just years of practice, trial and error and this is what I’ve found that gets success.  This may seem like a lot of steps, but most are pretty quick.  Lets’ get started, shall we?

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First and foremost, the biggest issue is an EVEN cake.  This starts well before frosting even touches the cake.

Always weigh OR measure equal amounts of batter into each cake pan. This is crucial and plants you smack dab on the road to success. NEVER trust your oven’s built-in thermometer!  ALWAYS have an
old-school one sitting on the
middle shelf IN your oven.
Ovens tend to be uneven.  Twice throughout the baking, sneak in there and give your cakes a 1/3 of a turn.  CAREFUL not to disrupt them.

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Once your cakes have finished baking, allow them to cool COMPLETELY.

Take your cakes out of their pans and set them on a clean counter.  Now you’re going to slice off the dome.  You can do this with a serrated knife, which I did for years,  or you can get the cake cutter in the photo above for $6 from IKEA.  It’s worked like a dream for me!  Each cake dome MUST be sliced off  at the exact same height.  That’s where the IKEA cake cutter comes in handy.  It’s like a cheese cutter, and you can adjust the height of the wire.  What do you do with the cake top?  Sample your cake, of course!

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Since I transport most of my cakes, I don’t like to frost them on the cake stand, itself.  Heck, I don’t even like to frost it on the stand, even if it’s staying put.  So let’s give it a base.

Take the pan you baked in and a CLEAN
piece of cardboard and trace an outline.
Cut it out a little inside the line so that it will
stick well under the cake and be invisible.

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Another piece of equipment you can see in the right photo below is a lazy susan (the white ‘plate’).  They are inexpensive and are a true saver when it comes to concentrating on frosting and getting a continuous flow.  When you don’t have to start and stop to turn the cake around, it’s true frosting-a-cake nirvana.

You can either keep working directly on the
counter, or invert your cake pans
and work off of those.

Turn your cakes upside down so you will
be frosting those lovely edges that were
touching the pan while baking.

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Measure equal amounts of frosting onto
each layer.  Make sure you leave aside an
equal amount, or more, in the bowl for later.
Another tool, the off-set spatula.
CLICK to see.

You will want to spread the frosting around the whole layer if you’re using just one type of frosting.  When you spread it along the sides, go lightly, just barely scraping the sides with your spatula.  This gives it a crumb coating, and you’ll cover it up at the end.

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In these photos I am using two types of frosting, the white one being a mousse.  In this instance of using two types of frosting, you’ll want to spread the frosting/filling to within 1/4″-1/2″ of the edge.  This allows ‘smooshing’ room from the weight of the layers once you stack them and gives you an edge to work with at the top.  At this point if you see the cake uneven on the top, add more frosting in that area to even it out for the next layer.

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Take your spatula and even out the middle fillling. Start applying your crumb-coat of frosting.  See how slippery the mousse is?  You’ll want to stabilize your cake so it stops moving about. Stabilize your cake with wooden dowels or some straws (they’re the easiest).  Measure and cut just below the surface of your frosting.
Push your straw in so it’s just below the surface.  Go ahead, add a few more. Continue applying your crumb coat. Once you’ve got a crumb coating around the whole cake you can add the frosting more generously.
You might need to use a piping bag or your fingers to get the rim around the top of the cake. When you’ve got enough frosting covering the outside, take your spatula and add a continuous up and down decorative swirl around the whole exterior. Now you’ve got to lift that cake to its final destination.  I use some large spatulas.  Sometimes I use one spatula and my hand.
Jimmy the spatula underneath the cardboard base. Lift carefully.  You can see I went too quickly, and the weight sort of pushed the mousse out a little. There you have it.  Smooth out any divots, dents or pooches.

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Good job!  Let’s have a slice!  Now go get the tools and get to practicing.  You, your family and friends will be glad you did.  In fact, the more you practice, the more they’ll love you for it.  Of course they love you even when you don’t make them cakes.  Really, they do.  No, I’m serious.  Not to worry.  Hint:  the more flavors you practice making, the more they’ll love you.

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58 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2010 11:23 am

    This cake sure is grand! All of your photos are very clear, and, most importantly, that cake looks incredibly tasty! :)

  2. October 11, 2010 7:02 am

    MAry, this is wonderful. I needed this tutotorial. NOw if I can get to Ikea for that cake cutter! My vote is with you! :) Oh, and I want a slice of that cake. I do. Yum!

  3. October 11, 2010 8:07 am

    Great tutorial, that cake looks mouthwatering… :)

  4. October 11, 2010 8:27 am

    beautiful looking cake!!

  5. October 11, 2010 8:34 am

    Great post! I have a roadblock when it comes to layer cakes, but I love them so. And I must get one of those cake cutters. You have my vote!

  6. October 11, 2010 8:41 am

    Awesome pictures and lovely blog! : )

  7. October 11, 2010 8:43 am

    Grand indeed. Terrific choice for the challenge! You got my vote! Good luck!
    LL

  8. October 11, 2010 8:54 am

    I knew I was doing something wrong when I frosted cakes before. And now I know what it was. Perfect tutorial. GREG

  9. October 11, 2010 9:04 am

    This is a very handy tutorial, indeed. My challenge next year is to tackle some baking techniques and (attempt) to master them. One of those things will be layer cakes, which I find terrifying. It’s great to know that there is such a thing as a cake slicer!

  10. October 11, 2010 9:18 am

    OH GOODNESS, cakecakecake, I love cake. I am now on your restore the layer cake to supremacy bandwagon, I’ve been on a cupcake binge for like a year and I forgot how lovely layer cakes could be! That was a nice tutorial and it’s very nice to know that your technique was mastered through trial-and-error. You definitely have my vote. A million times good luck and can’t wait to see whatever you make =]

  11. October 11, 2010 9:34 am

    Great tutorial!! This post was so informative and helpful- you’ve absolutely got my vote!!

  12. October 11, 2010 10:24 am

    I’m with you. There is nothing more appealing than a layer cake. Cupcakes are cute, layer cakes are grand! I just made my first multi-layer cake (and posted it) this weekend. It ain’t easy – lol…. What made it even more difficult, I used a lemon curd filling. Love your directions! Best wishes.

  13. October 11, 2010 10:25 am

    Okay, going into this I decided anyone who gives me a tip I will actually use will get my vote. That IKEA cake slicer – BRILLIANT. Delicious-looking cake, too! :-)

  14. October 11, 2010 10:44 am

    Beautiful! I’ve only tried a layer cake once and it was a disaster, this is the help I needed!

  15. October 11, 2010 11:13 am

    Mary! You rock@! I love layer cakes… nice pics… very fun! – Megan

  16. October 11, 2010 11:49 am

    Great tutorial! And gorgeous cake! (excuse me while I drool…) You really show that impressive cakes like these are within everyone’s reach. Nicely done. I voted for you!

    Good luck! Hope to see us both in round 5!!! =)

  17. October 11, 2010 1:20 pm

    Those cakes all look so delicious! As often as I bake cakes, I always seem to dread the icing part. Great post and thanks for all the tips!

    Good luck!

  18. October 11, 2010 1:30 pm

    Great tutorial! And, I always knew there was a term for leaving a little unfrosted on each layer, and now I know that it’s called “smooshing room” LOL You’ve got my vote – good luck!

  19. October 11, 2010 1:35 pm

    I love layer cakes, but I’m usually not good at making them. Thanks for the advice! I was about to buy a cake stand but now I see I need a lazy susan.

  20. Pat permalink
    October 11, 2010 1:57 pm

    Beautiful Cake!!! Huge accolades to the tutorial!!! I learned LOTS!!!
    No wonder your cakes are always perfect, you do every step perfectly!
    Many thanks for sharing your secrets!!!

  21. October 11, 2010 3:11 pm

    I voted for you!! I have no doubt you’ll sail through to the next round! :D

  22. October 11, 2010 3:56 pm

    That was great. Useful information and great photos. I voted for you. Good luck!

  23. October 11, 2010 4:17 pm

    Great tutorial ! I do love cupcakes but a layered cakes spells Celebration to me ! Definitely learned a trick or two – thanks for doing this and for showcasing the layered cake !

  24. October 11, 2010 4:32 pm

    Love the tutorial, and the fact that you said where you purchased your cake cutter! I’ve been looking for one of those, thanks! Good luck in round 4!

  25. October 11, 2010 4:46 pm

    you know i love you, why do you do this to me and my thighs?!? I come here everyday to see what youre up to and then you do this! UGH fine i will go hone my cake baking skills and then eat a babillion pounds of cake, cursing you the entire time! :)

    Thanks for the tutorial, i feel ready to layer properly now!

    Whit

  26. October 11, 2010 5:51 pm

    This is such a good post. I have a hard hard time frosting cakes. It makes me hate them a little. Now I need to go to Ikea and buy that genius cutter.

    You have my vote

  27. October 11, 2010 8:03 pm

    fabulous instruct! and wow what gorgeous mouth watering cakes all of them! good luck vote is in :)

  28. October 11, 2010 8:22 pm

    Okay now I’m craving cake! But not just any cake…the cake in your post! Delicious. Spectacular. Wow. Hope to join you in the next round!

  29. October 11, 2010 9:02 pm

    As someone who pretty much always ends up with lopsided cakes, I cannot wait to try your techniques! You got my vote!

  30. October 11, 2010 10:04 pm

    Wonderful tutorial! You didn’t skip a step. I’m a cupcake newbie and prefer layer cakes so this was great for me to see. Very nicely done! The straw idea is so clever.

  31. October 11, 2010 10:30 pm

    This is such an awesome tutorial!! Frosting is one of my nemesis and something I ALWAYS wish I was better at. Now, if only you could teach my to frost some pretty flowers?? :)

  32. October 11, 2010 10:45 pm

    Wow. This is something I’ve never been game to try beyond one layer. Thanks for the great step-by-step.

  33. October 11, 2010 11:18 pm

    I heart cake! Great job!

  34. October 11, 2010 11:46 pm

    I loved your post, that cake looks amazing, you sure got my vote.

  35. October 12, 2010 8:32 am

    What a perfect post! Thank you so much for all the tips! I tried my hardest to make a layer cake in college and it kinda was…well it was a disaster, but it tasted amazing! Like you said, no one turns down a piece of cake no matter what it looks like! hehe, since then I have gotten much better at it, but this is so helpful, thank you thank you!

  36. October 12, 2010 8:33 am

    Excellent post! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a detailed tutorial on how to frost cakes, and you have provided some excellent tips. Hee hee, maybe some day when I muster up the courage to make a three-layered cake I can try to frost it!

  37. October 12, 2010 8:42 am

    my cake leveler by wilton, that i bought at michael’s was seriously one of the best purchases i ever made. i also bought a small plastic triangle so i can press designs into my cake. between the two of those things, and less than five dollars, cakes got so much more simple.

    i also like to use a heated knife (dip in HOT water and dry it) it semi melts the frosting allowing for a smooth sheen. if that’s what you’re going for at least. :)

  38. October 12, 2010 11:30 am

    lovely tutorial
    delicious cake

  39. Shanti permalink
    October 12, 2010 3:34 pm

    I’m totally going to buy that cutter from IKEA. Now.

  40. October 12, 2010 5:31 pm

    Great directions – I want to go make a layer cake now. Wonderful pictues.

  41. October 12, 2010 5:31 pm

    I am SOOO super duper bad at frosting cakes, it’s unbelievable. I’m really good at eating them though. Thanks so much for this tutorial! Perfect for this challenge…I really feel like I can tackle a five layer cake now.

    You’ve got my vote!

    If you’d like to check out my entry, you can find it here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/4/view/1293

  42. October 12, 2010 9:57 pm

    Excellent post – you got my vote for this! Good luck :) Feel free to hop over to leave a comment :)

    Have a wonderful day!
    jen @ http://www.passion4food.ca

  43. October 13, 2010 5:38 am

    I’m with you—bring back the layer cake. Your tutorial is sure to help the cause—nice job!

  44. October 13, 2010 11:14 am

    great explanations and wonderful cakes! Voted for you :-)

  45. October 13, 2010 3:37 pm

    Just voted, good luck and what a great tutorial!

  46. October 13, 2010 5:20 pm

    Great entry my dear and nice dish tutorial, I need that slicer he he. voted

  47. October 13, 2010 5:34 pm

    What a great tutorial! I normally steer well clear of frosting any cakes or at most I deal with 2 layers. There’s lots of stuff in here that I just wouldn’t have thought of before, but I will be checking back if I’m ever tempted to frost a cake in the future.

  48. October 14, 2010 12:42 am

    Frosting a cake is one of those things that’s way harder than you’d think. I’d make risotto a million times before frosting a multi layer cake (with aesthetic expectations). Great tutorial, I may have to pick up a cake cutter. Good luck this week, voting for you!

    Lick My Spoon

  49. October 14, 2010 2:49 pm

    Wow… this is by far, one of THE best if not THE BEST cake frosting tutorials I’ve ever seen! You’ve definitely got my vote and hope to see you in round 5!

  50. October 14, 2010 3:26 pm

    These were great tips. You have my vote.

  51. October 14, 2010 4:21 pm

    Bravo – great work on this post. I don’t weigh my batter….but I will now – great tip.
    Delicious – that cake looks amazing:) Voted.
    – Butter
    (from Running On Butter)

  52. October 14, 2010 7:02 pm

    Great tutorial…I’m not so fabulous at frosting cakes, myself. …and yeah, I definitely feel the urge for a big slice of cake now ;) Good luck in this round!

  53. October 14, 2010 11:07 pm

    This is anwesome step by step demo —makes decorating a decadent cake so easy!

  54. October 16, 2010 12:53 am

    Wow! That’s a mighty gorgeous cake indeed! Love it!

  55. October 16, 2010 11:10 pm

    Great tips and luscious photos!

  56. November 9, 2010 7:56 am

    Great tutorial. You really do make layer cakes look like piece if cake or cupcake :)

  57. November 9, 2010 11:33 am

    Awesome post, useful tips! thanks for sharing!

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