The thing about baking guides and recipes is they can sometimes be hard to follow. One of the most common guides is frosting a cake. Not to mention they will also tell you a lot of fluff before they start giving you some solid directions.
Frosting a cake is easy if you know how to do it. And that’s why we are here. Trust us; once you have the frosting part down, you won’t be able to stop yourself from baking.
So, here is how to frost a cake with buttercream. We will talk about what frosting is and also give you a step-by-step guide on how to do it. Whether you’re a beginner pastry chef or want to improve your baking skills, this guide will come in handy.
What Is Frosting?
Let’s go back to basics. Before we teach you to frost a cake with buttercream, what is frosting in the first place? No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the movie Frozen. Although that would have been pretty cool, we think!
Frosting, or icing as it’s sometimes called, is a sweet, creamy glaze and is used to decorate and coat cakes. Actually, all baked foods can be coated and decorated with frosting.
However, icing isn’t exactly the same as frosting. Icing is thinner and also has a bit of a glaze. It will harden once it’s cooled, and then you get a distinct shine. This thing is used on cookies and cakes too.
Frosting, on the other hand, has a buttery taste. It’s much thicker than icing and is also fluffier. The base of the frosting is different too. Where icing has a sugar base, the frosting has a cream base.
It will give you a stronger taste and can be shaped to decorate cakes. All the cool cake decorations you see on the internet are done with frosting to some extent. Don’t worry if you didn’t know the difference between these two, though.
There are different ways of making it. But the most common way is to mix sugar with milk or water. Then you can also add flavorings, cheese, butter, and egg whites to improve the flavor.
It goes without saying; every delicious cake should also have a delicious layer of frosting on it.
How to Frost a Cake with Buttercream?
Alright then, time for the main event. This is what you’re here for. Let’s get on with it.
What You Will Need
Here is a list of things you will need to get going first:
- Cake turntable
- Hot water
- Metal bench scraper
- Piping bag
- Cake layers
Get the Right Buttercream Consistency
We aren’t quite on the steps just yet, but we promise we will walk you through the steps right after this.
You will need to make sure the buttercream you’re going to use to frost the cake has the right consistency. It should be thin but not too thin. You still need to be able to mold and shape it.
So, a runny buttercream won’t do. You can follow any recipe to make it. But just keep consistency in mind. There is a good and foolproof way to test it if you have the right consistency.
Take a rubber spatula and dip it in. You should see peaks form, and those shouldn’t be too stiff. And when you rub your finger over it, you should get a nice and easy spread. If you get these, then you’re all set.
Here are The Steps:
The steps might look overwhelming at first. But when you get to it and follow the things we say, you will be surprised at how easy all of it is.
Step 1: Get the Tools and the Cake Ready
Once you have all the tools and your ingredients, get them ready. Check to see if the buttercream is okay, wash the tools, and make sure the cake is made as well.
Step 2: Create Perfectly Level Layers for Your Cake
You will need perfectly level cakes for this to work. Most cakes will have layers in them. All these layers need to be level to make the frosting process much easier. Plus, the filling’s height inside the cake should be level too.
One thing you can do is to let the cake sit for a bit; this will cause gravity to level it out further. This, of course, applies if you have the time.
Step 3: Stir the Buttercream
Air bubbles are your number one enemy. There is an effective way to deal with those pesky air bubbles. Stirring the buttercream with a rubber spatula and pressing it against the side of the bowl should do the trick.
This process will help to get rid of the bubbles slowly. Do a visual inspection to see how much of the air bubbles have gone away.
Step 4: Crumb Coat
To do a crumb coat or not to do a crumb coat? This one is a heated topic. But adding a crumb coat is a good idea since you get a much smoother final coat. The crumbs will settle on the first layer instead of the final one.
Take an offset spatula and apply a thin coat of buttercream all over the cake. Make sure to get in those cracks and fillings. Cover between the layers too. Then you will need to take the bench scraper and smoothen it out.
Step 5: Let the Cake Refrigerate Overnight
Once you have applied the crumb coat, chill it in the refrigerator to let the coat solidify. You actually don’t need to keep it all night. Twenty minutes should do just as well.
But overnight refrigerating is the best option. The main reason to do this is to have a firm first layer as a base. And since it was a thin layer, to begin with, having it frozen and firm will make it easier to apply the final layer.
Step 6: Adding the Final Layer
Now it’s time to finish up the layer. You should pipe the buttercream onto the cake and then use the bench scraper to smoothen it. Your cake turntable will come in handy here.
Place the cake on the turntable and prepare the piping bag with buttercream in it. Start piping from the bottom of the cake and keep rotating the cake as you move up. Make sure you do even lines when turning the cake.
When you reach the top, make a ring around the edge of the cake and just fill the center. Easy!
Step 7: Smooth the Buttercream Frosting
Time to whip out the metal bench scraper again. Start by smoothing out the top of the cake first. Then you need to tackle the side.
Every time you scrape, here is a thing to remember: get the excess frosting out of the scraper. Doing this will make your life much easier.
Perfecting the scraping technique is vital if you want to hide those ugly lines. Your scraper should be vertical and also tilted just about 45 degrees toward the side of the cake.
Nothing in life is seamless. Leveling the outer layer of the frosting also happens to have some troubles. They’re mostly in the form of gaps when smoothening the frosting.
If there are gaps, fill them in with more buttercream and smoothen them out. Do this as you go all around the cake.
More Accessories: Coconut Scraper Buying Guide.
Step 8: Smoothen the Top
You might be thinking, didn’t we already mention this step? Well, yes. But when scraping the sides of your cake, some of the buttercream frostings will also start to rise to the top and form a crown.
To fix that, use your angled spatula to smoothen in. Start from the edge and work towards the center of the cake. Keep scraping extra frosting and clean your tools each time.
Frost a Cake Tips & Tricks
Let’s finish off this guide with two small tips that you can use to make sure your frosting is picture-perfect.
Use a Heated Spatula
Run your spatula through boiling water and rinse it off with a towel. Now correct all the small mistakes on the frosting. It will become much easier, and you will see the frosting just listens to every command of the spatula.
Another cool thing you can do is put your cake in the refrigerator. Keeping it inside for at least an hour will harden the finish and make it much easier to work with.
Working with a firm foundation is much easier. So, it might take more time since you are refrigerating it for a solid hour. But if you want to do it absolutely perfectly, then it’s worth a try.
Remember, this is optional. If you aren’t facing any problems the first time, refrigerating isn’t necessary. Then you can carry on your merry way.
Time to wrap up this guide just like you wrapped the cake in the frosting. That analogy might be a bit of a stretch. Well, anyway, see what we meant, though. When you know what you’re doing, frosting a cake isn’t a big deal.
Hopefully, you now know how to frost a cake with buttercream. So, what are you waiting for? Gather the tools and get frosting. Your tastebuds await some delicious cake.
James is the owner of North. After working at Nick’s on Broadway, James moved to Red Fez and put his knowledge to the test with hot dog R&D. He assisted in the launch of Momofuku Ko in NYC In 2008. And a year later, James was part of Christina Tosi’s team for Momofuku Milk Bar as their bread baker.