How to Frost a Layer Cake
Discover the secret to a picture-perfect, crumb-free sheen.
Frosting a layer cake can seem intimidating, but with a little patience and a few tips on technique, you can frost like a pro.
To ensure success, wait to frost your cake until it’s completely cooled to room temperature — approximately 4 hours or more after baking.
Level the Cake Layers
Often when you bake a cake, the layers turn out uneven, but leveling takes care of that. Simply slice lightly across the top of any high spots on each layer using a bread knife or other serrated knife.
Prep Your Cake Stand
Begin by cutting a round of cardboard to fit the size of your cake. Place the cardboard in the center of your cake stand — it will help you rotate the cake while you are frosting.
Then, with your homemade frosting, spread a few tablespoons in a thin layer on the cardboard. Center one cake layer on it, anchoring the cake with the frosting. Secondly, place four strips of parchment or wax paper on the platter around the cake, with the edges just barely tucked under. This will keep your serving platter clean.
The best utensil to use for frosting a cake is an offset icing spatula. It gives you the most control while you work. If you don’t have one, try an icing spatula or a butter knife.
Frost Between the Cake Layers
Start by placing about 3/4 cup of frosting in the center of the base layer and gently pushing the frosting toward the cake edges with the spatula. Be careful to keep the frosting level so you have a nice even layer when you cut into the cake.
Place the next cake layer on top of the frosting, aligning the edges. Very gently press the cake layer in place. If you're making a three-layer cake, spread frosting on the second layer the same way and top with the third cake layer. Once the inside layers of frosting are finished, it’s time to get down to business.
Create a Crumb Coat
Making a crumb coat is the No. 1 rule when frosting a layer cake. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that seals in crumbs and keeps them from ruining the final look of your cake. To create it, use your spatula to spread a small amount of frosting across the top of the cake. Then scoop about 2 tablespoons of frosting at a time onto the tip of the spatula and gently smear onto the side, working to cover the entire surface.
After the crumb coat is in place, refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes to set the frosting. This keeps crumbs from getting into your final frosting layer.
Frost Over the Crumb Coat
Next, apply a thick layer of frosting over the crumb coat. Start by placing about 3/4 cup of frosting in the center of the cake. Use the spatula to gently pull the frosting toward the cake edges, working to keep the frosting layer even. Make sure to evenly frost the sides as well.
Create a Shiny Seal
To create a smooth surface, dip your spatula in warm water, shake off any excess water and glide the bottom of the spatula along the surface of the frosting. When the spatula begins to stick to the frosting, simply dip it in the warm water again and continue smoothing.
Continue dipping and gliding until the entire surface of the cake is smooth.
If a completely smooth cake isn’t your thing, use the back of a spoon to make swirls in the frosting.
Clean Up & Serve
Once your cake is complete, gently pull out the parchment or wax-paper strips, revealing your nice, clean serving plate. Now, cut a slice of that beautiful cake and enjoy.
Find more helpful how-tos here »
Plus: Get a full recipe for a chocolate layer cake »
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