A step-by-step guide penned by Kaitlin and photographed by P
- Offset Spatula(s)
- Spoons or knives may cut it when it comes to frosting cupcakes, but these are the way to go when it comes to frosting cakes. They're available in a variety of sizes and shapes, but I think the best two to have in your arsenal are the 8" model and the 13" one.
- Bench Scraper
- In my opinion, this is the secret to getting a smooth layer of frosting. With a little practice, this will become one of your favorite tools.
- Dishers/Portioners/Ice cream scoops
- If you don't have one of these, a large spoon will get the job done, but since I have a few (they're good for portioning cookies), I'm using a #24 (1 1/3 oz) scoop today.
- I always use a turntable to frost cakes. It's an unnecessary investment if you don't frost cakes with any regularity, but if you do, you'll be so happy if you buy one. Look for them at small cake supply stores - they usually sell them there cheaper than you can find them at craft stores. If you really, really don't want to buy one, rig one up yourself like Alton Brown did in Season 6 Episode 15 of Good Eats.
- Non-Slip Pad
- Slip one of these under your cake on the turntable and you will thank me, I promise.
- Rubber Spatula
- I never leave the house without one!
- Additional Bowl
- You will use this for collecting crumby frosting.
- A filled and stacked cake on a stand or cardboard round
- Yeah, yeah - I know this and the next point are obvious, but I'm just covering my bases. You've got to frost something, right? (P.S. I got this cake stand at Home Goods)
- Use whichever kind you like - this technique is universal. Feel free to head over to my tutorials for Swiss Meringue and Italian Meringue, if you'd like some help with those, too!
I don't have a photo for the first step, but it's important, so listen up! Before you begin, you'll want to "deflate" your frosting a little to remove what may become obnoxious air bubbles. To do this, beat you frosting on the lowest speed possible of your stand/hand mixer for about five minutes, then proceed.
Starting with a stacked cake, drop on a small amount of frosting for your crumb coat. I used 2 scoops from a 1 1/3 oz disher. You don't need too much; this first layer of frosting will be very thin because it just there to hold in crumbs and prevent them from getting in the final coat.
Press the mound of frosting down and out with your offset spatula, spreading from the center to the edge. You can drag the offset along the top of the cake, but don't scrape it so hard that it tears.
This whole task is easiest to do if you use a swiveling motion with your wrist; tilting it gently left and right as you spread to more easily maneuver the frosting. This technique might not make much sense when you read it, but I think it's a natural movement. Truthfully though, the most important thing is to make sure that you're comfortable. Do what works for you!
Continue spreading the frosting outward from the top so that it hangs over like this. This is how you will crumb coat the sides.
Using the same swiveling motion, begin spreading the frosting around the sides of the cake. Don't be alarmed if working at this angle feels awkward - it always feels kind of strange. Also, don't worry if dabs of frosting fall off the cake. Just scoop any stray bits up and keep working with them. However, whatever you do, DO NOT use your offset spatula, which is surely covered in crumbs, to scoop additional frosting out of its container. If you need more frosting for your crumb coat, use the disher/spoon to put more on top. Once you get crumbs in your frosting, they can be very difficult to get out, so be careful.
Also, if you'd like to scrape the built-up frosting on the back of the spatula off, don't be tempted to do so on the cake's corners (the 90 degree angle consisting of the top and the side). Scrape the spatula on a separate empty bowl, then scoop up the residual frosting to add back to the crumb coat, if needed.
Continue working the frosting around the sides of the cake until every inch - from the top to the bottom - is covered.
Now it's time to thin the frosting, which helps really seal in the crumbs. Start with the top, using your offset to pull frosting from the edge of the cake, over the center and sweep the excess off. Run the underside of your spatula over the edge of a separate bowl (mentioned in step 4), then sweep across the top repeatedly until most of the frosting has been removed.
Use your bench scraper, held at about a 45 degree angle to the cake, to scrape off additional frosting by spinning the turntable toward it. Don't press too hard, which could cut the cake, but press firmly enough that it scrapes some frosting off. Transfer frosting to your designated bowl and set aside.
Congratulations - you've got yourself a crumb-coated cake! Most of the frosting has been removed, leaving you with a nice, thin coat to seal in crumbs and prevent them from bugging you in the next few steps.
Using your disher, scoop on a pile of frosting. Some people put on what they estimate to be enough to frost the top and bottom of the cake at this stage, but I don't like to do it that way. Seeing that much frosting all at once freaks me out and I always have a problem with it falling off the cake before I've finished applying it. However, that method does work for some people, so I advise you to do whatever makes you comfortable!
I put on 3 scoops, which I thought would be enough to cover the top of the 6" cake and a little bit over the edges. However, this amount won't be enough for every size of cake, so be sure to adjust accordingly. One thing to learn from the alternate method is that more is better for this job, so don't be frightened about piling it on!
Using the same method that you used when you filled the layers of the cake, flatten out the mound of frosting with your offset spatula and work it out just over the edge (like in step 3), maintaining an even layer of frosting. It can be as thick or thin as you like; just make sure that you can't see the cake beneath it. Turn the turntable while you work, and spread in circular motions to even things out. Don't worry about getting it too perfect at this point because we'll come back to it later.
Before applying more frosting to the sides, flatten out the overhang.
After that's done, use a clean rubber spatula to scoop more frosting out of the bowl and transfer it to your offset spatula. You can simply scoop with the offset, if you like, but doing so increases the risk that you will get crumbs into your batch of frosting. Gently touch the loaded spatula to the side of the cake and begin spreading, being careful not to sweep your offset outside of the available frosting, which could introduce crumbs.
I worry about crumbs a lot. Have you noticed?
Continue spreading the frosting around the cake, applying excess frosting around the top rim of the cake which we will be using later to smooth out the top. Begin on the high side of the edge and work your way...
...to the bottom. It doesn't need to be too smooth for now, just try to make sure the coat is fairly even without too many low spots. Also, note the raised edge that I mentioned in the previous step. Make sure that you have this, or it will be difficult to smooth out the top later. If you've forgotten, add it at any time by applying small dabs of frosting to the top edge.
Ok, you're in the home stretch! The cake doesn't need to be any smoother than this at this point, and it would be just fine if it was messier. The next few steps will even everything else out.
This is the trick to a smooth cake: the humble bench scraper! You'll use it just as you did before (by holding it still at about a 45 degree angle and turning the turntable toward it), but this time you have to be very much in control of the pressure you're applying so you don't leave marks. Keep your hand very steady and still, and remember that you aren't necessarily trying to remove the frosting, you just want to even it out. Be sure that the bench scraper is perpendicular to the stand so that your cake isn't at all conical.
This step takes practice, but don't be discouraged. Keep at it! After two or three sweeps all the way around, move on to the next step.
Ok, so you've probably noticed that there are some uneven spots on your cake. Don't worry - you haven't done anything wrong! Use a CLEAN, DRY offset spatula to apply small amounts of frosting to the low spots, then use a CLEAN, DRY bench scraper to re-smooth.
After you are satisfied with the edges of your cake, move on to the task of smoothing the top. Use a longer spatula, if you like, but this 8" one is what I was comfortable with for a cake this size. Place your spatula just beyond the side furthest from you at about a 45 degree angle, aligning the bottom edge with what you estimate to be the height of the inner layer of frosting...
... And scrape the frosting toward you, sweeping off when you get to the center of the cake. Clean your offset spatula.
Repeat this technique around all sides of the cake, cleaning the spatula each time, sweeping the last raised edge into the center, just as before.
Professionals would probably tell you to stop there. However, sometimes I'll add a little more frosting on top and spread it thinly over any imperfections, being very careful not to sweep it over the edges. But really, if there are a few marks on the top (or sides) it's not a huge deal!
Guess what? YOU'RE DONE! Continue decorating the cake any way you like or just leave it as is.
Don't stress yourself out over getting the frosting just so. If you start getting frustrated with it, stop and remind yourself that you're doing this for fun. Who cares if it's perfect? It's a cake. You're just going to eat it, anyway!