Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef Camille Becerrais going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.
Today: Tips for smooth, stress-free cake frosting.
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Frosting can be a little intimidating, but if you heed a few basic tips you'll never have to serve a lopsided cake ever again. First off: it's good to work with frosting in a cool environment, as icing is most temperamental when it gets too warm. Also, it's best to bake your cakes early on, in the morning or the night before you plan on frosting, so they have time to cool completely. If you keep them in the fridge overnight, wrap them well in plastic wrap. The right equipment is also crucial: I use a long metal spatula, offset spatulas, a serrated knife, and a pastry brush.
The key to a beautiful cake is how straight it looks: You want the edges to be perfect 90° angles. With a serrated knife, cut off any excess mounds of cake that form on the top during the baking process so you're left with even height throughout. To keep your frosting process as tidy as possible, gently brush off any excess crumbs with a pastry brush.
More: You can also use a slicing kit for extra security.
Take some frosting and place it on a your cake base to prevent the cake from moving around while you frost.
Use parchment paper to line the edges of your cake stand or pedestal -- you'll remove this once everything is finished, and it helps secure a clean base. I make a circle and cut out the center, then cut it in half and carefully fit the two parts underneath the perimeter of the cake to catch those gloppy mounds of frosting that tend to drip.
Using a generous amount of frosting, spread evenly over the top of the first cake layer. Top that with your second cake. Press gently to ensure that the cake is straight on both sides and on top.
The first stage of icing is the crumb layer: You frost the cake with a thin layer of icing and then chill it so that any crumbs that could potentially damage your frosting job will stick to the first layer of frosting. Be sure to reserve a small bit of frosting for this process so you don't contaminate the entire batch with crumbs. Also, take care to fill in the center gap where the cakes meet. This is also the stage where you want to make sure your cake has a solid structure, so be sure your sides are straight and strong. When you are happy with the way your layer cake looks, chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Finishing your cake
For an easy and classic frosting finish, I make sure the cake is well frosted and I take my cake spatula and rest it lengthwise on the frosting; then, I pull it off so that the frosting forms peaks as it pulls away from the spatula.
Using a cake decorating wheel is very helpful for frosting, especially for achieving smooth finishes and spiral tops. Also, keeping a tall container of hot water to dip and clean your spatula constantly is key to a beautifully finished cake.
Leave your cake bare, or decorate it with balls, sparklers, or candles. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be icing your own cakes for every possible celebration.