How-To & Diy

How to Frost a Cake

October 21, 2013

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 Becerra is going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.

Today: Tips for smooth, stress-free cake frosting. 

Frosting a Cake on Food52

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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.

More: Here are 7 layer cake recipes to get you started.

How to Frost a Cake on Food52

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.

Frosting a Cake on Food52

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.

Frosting a Cake on Food52

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.

Frosting a Cake on Food52

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.

Frosting a Cake on Food52

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.  

Frosting a Cake on Food52

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.

Frosting a Cake on Food52

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.

Frosting a Cake on Food52

Photos by Camille Becerra

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rebecca Kurzendoerfer
    Rebecca Kurzendoerfer
  • Trinidad Peña
    Trinidad Peña
  • pamb
  • GoodLuckIceland
  • Sarah Balke
    Sarah Balke
Camille Becerra

Written by: Camille Becerra



Rebecca K. November 4, 2015
Feelin' kinda sad, seeing all those nearly inedible, tooth-breaking silver dragees all over the top of that chocolate cake.
Trinidad P. November 3, 2015
Yup, instructions on how to remove the parchment paper would really be helpful.
pamb November 3, 2015
I don't understand how you remove the parchment paper, especially if it's held in place by frosting underneath and cake on top.
GoodLuckIceland October 14, 2014
I feel like there is much to be desired from this article. While the author made some good points like using parchment paper and making a crumb layer there were certain small but important tips that were left out. Vital for the beginner froster is to put the top layer of the cake on upside down so that you have a nice crisp edge. This was evident in the photo, but not the text. Second would be the actual frosting of the cake itself. You want to put a large amount of frosting on the top center of the cake and then work the frosting to the sides and over the edge.
Sarah B. October 23, 2013
an alternative to wetting the offset to smooth the frosting (and avoid making the frosting too wet) is to quickly heat the offset over the flame of a gas stove. It slightly melts the frosting as it smooths and gives a very clean finish.
mcs3000 October 22, 2013
What @sarahjampel said.
Sarah J. October 21, 2013
I avoid making layer cakes for the sole reason that I'm terrified of frosting them. WIth this tutorial, I feel like I'm ready to take on the world.
bethan October 21, 2013
Great tutorial, I had never thought of securing the cake with frosting before!