How To Ice A Cake?

Have you ever seen a finished birthday or wedding cake on a cake carrier and got caught in admiration for its beauty? That’s the effect of a beautifully frosted cake. Would you like to produce a cake like that? We bet you do! When it comes to making cakes, baking is just half of the job. The other half, however, is what we’d like to show you. Icing a cake is essential if you want it to have a memorable look.

We’d love to show you the materials you’ll need for the job, the process of frosting cakes, how to frost a cupcake, how to select the right frosting for your cake, and how you can prevent some common frosting problems on your cake. Ready to get into it? Let’s make magic!

What You Need To Ice Your Cake?

If you want to frost a cake properly, it’s essential you have the tools for the job. You’ll need the following;

  • Cake board – For holding the cakes, making them presentable, and easing their transportation.
  • Offset spatula – for cake decorating.
  • Cake scraper – It’s also known as a butter knife. It’s used to apply frost on a cake at the top and sides.
  • Serrated knife – It’s used to layer cakes.
  • Cake turntable – It’s a rotating surface where you’ll place the naked cake and turn it while you smoothen the buttercream or whipped cream frosting on the cake.
  • Bench scraper – For checking the alignment of the cake layers, smoothening the frosting on the side of the layer cake and getting rid of the excess frosting.
  • Straight baking spatula – Used to spread frosting on the sides of the cake.


The Step-By-Step Process Of Frosting Your Cake

The entire process is a bit lengthy, so we’ll break the steps into phases.

Phase 1: Level The Cake Layers

  • After baking the cake layers, you should bring them out of the oven to cool down. This is very important because when you try to frost a warm cake, it will cause the cake layers to crumble, and the entire process is ruined.
  • Once the cake is at room temperature, use your serrated knife to level the surface of the cake layers. The purpose of this is to even the cake layers and make it easier to spread frosting on the cake. Without leveling the top of the cake layer, the frosting will bulge on the cake, and there may be air bubbles getting trapped between the cake layers.

Phase 2: Chilling The Cake Layers

  • We can tell that you’re wondering if it isn’t the same as letting the cake layers cool down. It’s not. To chill the cake layer(s), put them in plastic wrap and place the in the freezer for about 20 minutes before putting the layers together.
  • This builds on what you’ve done in the first phase and makes the cake easier to handle. Chilling the cake layers will ensure that they won’t slide around when you apply frosting. The buttercream in the cake will become stiffer, adding stability to your cake once you assemble the cake layers.
  • After 20 minutes, take the cake layers out and unwrap them. They’re ready to be transformed into frosted cakes.

Phase 3: Assembling The Cake Layers

  • Apply a tablespoon of buttercream on the center of the cake plate or cake stand. This will be like a bonding agent and secure the bottom cake layer while you stack the cake layers.
  • Now, use your offset spatula to apply a thick but even spread of buttercream frosting on top of each cake layer.
  • After applying the frosting on the top of the cake layer, stack another one on it and ensure it’s straight and aligned. You can verify this using a bench scraper and pressing it to the side of the layer cake.
  • Once you’ve verified the alignment, gently press the top of the cake layer with both hands. This will eliminate any air trapped inside the cake layer. It also prepares the layer for the application of crumb coat. The trick to this step is to press the layer cake hard enough to make it slightly compressed but not hard enough to make the frosting come out between the layers.


Phase 4: Apply The Crumb Coat And Smoothen It

  • The crumb coat is the first layer of frosting on the entire body of the cake. It’s a very thin layer of frosting that covers the crumbs on the cake, making the second layer result in a beautifully frosted cake.
  • Use your offset spatula to spread a thin layer of the frosting on top of the assembled cake and an additional amount on the sides.
  • Then, take your bench scraper and smoothen the sides of your crumb-coated cake. Use slight pressure while doing this. If you apply too much pressure, you’ll end up tearing the cake layers.
  • After using the bench scraper on the sides of the cake on each pass, there will be excess buttercream on the tool. Put this in a bowl nearby. It should be separate from your main frosting bowl so you don’t mix pure frosting with the one that has crumbs.
  • Repeat the process of smoothening the layer cake until the sides are smooth. The smoother the cake is, the easier it will be to smoothen the final layer of frosting.
  • Use a smaller offset spatula to bring the overhanging frosting at the top edges to the center and spread it till you have a perfectly flat surface. If this is your first time frosting a cake, the process may be a bit awkward for you, but you’ll get the hang of it as you keep doing it.
  • After smoothening the crumb coat, chill it by putting it in the freezer for 5 minutes or in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. This is enough time for the frosting to be firm.

Phase 5: Apply The Second Layer Of Frosting

  • Take your cake out of the freezer. Then, stir the buttercream frosting in your bowl again to remove any air that got inside during the period you were chilling the crumb coat on your cake.
  • We advise that you stir the frosting for about 2 minutes with a rubber spatula to restore its consistency. You can even add coloring to it to make it more aesthetic.
  • Just like the first coat, grab your icing spatula to slather on that final layer of frosting on top of the cake, and don’t forget to spread some love on the sides too. This second coat should be thick enough to hide those cake layers. If you can still see them peeking through, it means your frosting game needs a boost!
  • It’s time to smooth things out with your trusty bench scraper. Unlike the first layer, you’re not scraping away the excess here but rather giving it a smooth ride all around the cake. And hey, don’t worry if there’s a tad bit of extra buttercream along for the ride – it’s just adding to the fun!

Phase 6: Cover The Gaps In The Frosting

  • This is where you’ll add the finishing touches to your frosting application. Simply inspect the sides of the layered cakes for small holes or gaps. If you see any, add very little buttercream to cover it up, and then use the bench scraper to smoothen the sides again. Continue this step until there are no holes or gaps on the sides of the cake.

Phase 7: Give Your Frosting A Shiny Look

This phase is optional, but if you want to give your frosted cake the best look, follow through.

  • Place your bench scraper under running hot water for several seconds and dry it.
  • Use the heated object to smoothen the sides of your cake. The heat will melt the frosting slightly and give it a shiny look.
  • There should be some frosting on the top edges of the cake. You’ll use this to create sharp edges on your cake.
  • Take the smaller icing spatula and use it to remove excess ice on top of the cake, just like you did with the first coat. Then, flatten the top layer of the cake.

How To Frost Your Cupcake?

This is quite different from frosting a cake because there’s no crumb coat, and you can apply your frosting with a butter knife. You can frost your cupcake with either a knife or a piping bag.

Frosting your cupcake with a knife:

  • Use the butter knife or a small offset spatula to spread frosting on top of your cupcake evenly.
  • Move the knife in a back-and-forth motion to create swirling patterns on the frosting. Alternatively, you can lift the frosting upwards to form spikes. We recommend fudge frosting for this because buttercream is too soft to give you those patterns.

Frosting your cupcake with a pastry bag:

  • Fill the piping with frosting and use it to apply the ice on your cupcake in a swirling motion.
  • Begin the application from the edges of the top of the cake and work your way to the center.
  • Add a topping of your choice. Some good examples include chocolate shavings, coconut flakes, and sprinkles.

Choosing The Right Frosting For Your Cake

Frosting for cakes comes in a variety. Usually, the one you use on your cake layers should be a matter of preference. However, there are specific rules that apply to choosing frosting for your cakes. If you’re baking a chiffon cake or a sponge cake, the ideal frosting will be a meringue. On the other hand, if you’re baking butter and pound cakes, any kind of frosting will do. It’s time we introduce you to the different types of frosting we use on cakes.


Cream Cheese Frosting

This type of frosting bears a lot of similarity to the buttercream but with the addition of a pleasant-tart and tangy flavor. It’s very easy to make. Cream cheese frosting is ideal for carrot cakes, but it can also be used on other types of cakes. To make the cream cheese frosting, ensure all the ingredients are completely cooled (at room temperature), and it can be prepared a week before you bake your cake.

To prepare this frosting, you’ll need:

  • An electric mixer
  • Softened unsalted butter
  • Softened cream cheese
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Grated lemon zest
  • Vanilla extract
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Milk

Buttercream Frosting

This is the most popular cake frosting, and it can go on any flour-based cake. This frosting can be prepared two weeks ahead of the day you want to bake your cake. Ensure the ingredients are completely cooled before using them to prevent making a curdled frosting.

You’ll need the following to make this frosting:

  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Egg whites
  • Electric mixer
  • Simmering water
  • Unsalted butter
  • A flavor of your choice (brandy, lemon juice, and vanilla extract)

Common Cake Icing Problems And What You Can Do To Prevent It

Lopsided Cakes

It can be frustrating to have a lopsided cake. It will appear like your efforts are in vain. What makes your cake like this is when you fail to level your cake layers before frosting them. To prevent this, always use the serrated knife to level the top of the cake layers before stacking the next cake layer on it/them. Once you stack the new layer, check the alignment to be sure that everything is level from the base cake layer to the top. We strongly advise that you pay attention to this because it’s essential, especially for a wedding cake.

Tearing Cakes While Frosting It

No baker wants to tear their cake layers in the process of frosting them. When it happens, it’s because the buttercream is too thick or the cake layers are too warm. Another reason (which is less common) is the cake recipes. If your recipe is not sturdy enough, the cake layers may tear. To prevent this issue from happening, make sure your buttercream is not too thick, ensure your cake layers are completely cooled, and finally, ensure you use a sturdier cake recipe.

Bulging Sides

When you don’t level your cake layers, it will likely develop bulging sides because air will be trapped between the layers. You already know what to do to prevent it. Also, ensure you gently but firmly press down on the cake layers to expel any trapped air. One more thing- bulging sides could occur if the buttercream is too thin. One rule regarding buttercream is that it shouldn’t be too thin or thick. This is why getting the right consistency cannot be overemphasized.

Sliding Cake Layers

This has to be the most frustrating of the cake-icing issues. It’s caused by three things – the inclusion of a soft filling like jam, if the buttercream is too thin, or the cake layers are too warm. For the filling, you don’t have to avoid using it. All you have to do is avoid using too much filling in your cake and use the piping bag to form a ring of pastry cream around the filling. For the cake layers, chill them in the freezer or fridge. Lastly, for the buttercream, ensure it’s thick and stable.

Sweating Or Condensed Frosting

This can happen if your kitchen or the cake layers are too warm. If the heat is from your kitchen temperature, switch on the fan or AC to make it cooler. If the heat is from your cake, chill it for some minutes in the fridge or freezer.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

How Do You Know When To Ice A Cake?

The best time to ice your naked cake is when it has attained room temperature. This should be 2-3 hours from when you take the cake pan out of the oven. Once it’s cool enough to ice, add your crumb coat and chill the cake for some minutes before adding the second and thicker layer of frosting to your taste.

Why Should I Ice My Cake?

We’ll give you three reasons to add frosting to your cake. Firstly, to improve its flavor. Secondly and most importantly, to seal in moisture and prevent the cake from getting dry. Lastly, to enhance its aesthetic appeal.

What’s The Best Temperature For My Cake Icing?

Room temperature is the best temperature for icing your cake without any of the above-mentioned issues occurring.

What Will Happen If I Ice My Cake Too Early?

If you frost a cake too early, you’ll be applying ice on a very warm cake. This will lead to sweating or condensed cake frosting, sliding cake layers, and the cake layers tearing while you are frosting them.

Can I Store My Cake In The Fridge After Refrigerating?

Yes. Simply use a plastic wrap to cover your cake and put it into the refrigerator till you’re ready to eat or serve it. The same applies to your leftover icing.


At this point, we’re confident that you can make professional-looking wedding or birthday cakes with perfectly smooth sides. We’ll admit that the process is quite detailed, but it’s pretty straightforward as well. When you want to ice your cake, take care to remember some important rules about frosting cakes. To recap, always level the layer cakes and make sure they’re aligned. Secondly, apply moderate pressure on the cake layers to remove any air trapped inside, and finally, chill your cake layers with the crumb coat so you don’t end up with a sweating frosting.

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