How to Frost a Layered Cake

Rather than a recipe, today I am going to share with you a method – how to frost a layered cake. Anyone who has been within 5 feet of Pinterest in the last year has seen a million awesome layered cakes: ombre layers, rainbow layers, and everything in between. The idea of cutting into a big, beautiful layer cake when you’re celebrating someone’s birthday (or graduation, or anniversary, or survival of an exceptionally crappy week at work) feels kind of fancy, and extra special. Lucky for you, frosting a layer cake is pretty darn simple, and requires very few special tools.

Things you will need:

– Cake! At least two layers of the same size.
– Frosting. Lots and lots of frosting.
– An offset spatula (see photo below)
– A cake stand (or flat cake plate)
– Wax paper

If you have all those things, you’re ready to start! However, before you start, we need to make sure that two things are true about your cakes:

1.) You want to make sure that your cakes are 100% cool. If they aren’t, your frosting will get all melty and run off the sides of the cake, and I will cry. Also, you want your frosting to be on the cooler side (though not so cool as to be stiff) – so, if you started with butter or cream cheese that was a bit too warm, pop the frosting into the fridge for 10 or 15 minutes to let it cool off and firm up a bit.

2.) Your cakes should be fairly level on top. You’ve probably noticed that when you bake a cake, it often comes out slightly domed in the middle – if the doming is VERY slight, I just leave it alone and don’t worry about it. But, most of the time, a bit of leveling will help. Basically, this means using a serrated knife to level off the top part of the cake (you keep the cake flat on the table, hold the knife horizontally in your dominant hand, and hold the cake steady by gently but firmly pressing down with the palm of your non-dominant hand; then proceed to gently work your knife across the top of the cake, cutting off the rounded top, and effectively making yourself a snack. You can’t serve the ugly parts to guests, that would be totally embarrassing! Better eat ’em before someone sees.) (If my terribly explanation isn’t doing it for you, google “leveling cake layers”, and you’ll find lots of youtube videos and tutorials to help you out.)

NOW you are ready to start.

1.) Start by cutting 4 strips of wax paper – you want them to be about 4″ wide, by the width of the roll. Lay them out on the edges of your cake platter or plate, so that they create a square (the ends will overlap); you want the interior edge of the square to be SMALLER than your cake, so that when you place your cake onto the platter, no part of the cake plate is exposed around the edges of the cake.

2.) Now you’re going to place your first cake down onto the plate. Whether you are working with the cake that has a minimal dome on the top, or if you’ve leveled it, you want the bottom (the VERY flat side) to be UP, and the potentially slightly uneven side to be down. If you want some extra insurance against your cake sliding around the plate, put a small blob of frosting into the center of the plate, and put your cake on top of it, to sort of “glue” it to the plate.

3.) Once your cake is settled on the plate (and you’ve checked to make sure that your wax paper is covering the plate all the way around the cake), put a big pile of frosting right into the center of the cake. Using your offset spatula, you want to sort of systematically push the frosting from the center of the cake, toward the edges. You’ll get the feel for the spatula pretty quickly, and it’ll get easier as you go. Keep pushing the frosting outward until the frosting is spread into an even layer, and there’s about 1/4″ of exposed cake around the edges.

4.) Now you’re ready to place your second cake – for this one, you want the bottom (flat side) DOWN. This ensures that your cakes fit nicely together, and you won’t get any unsightly gaps between the layers. Once you’ve placed your cake, put a HUGE pile of frosting on top of the cake (I’d say 3x as much as you used in between the layers). You are going to use the same method here as you used in between the layers – pushing the frosting toward the edges of the cake – but this time, you are going to keep going past the edges of the cake, and also push the frosting down onto the sides of the cake. Just keep working the frosting our from the center of the top of the cake, toward the edges and down the sides, smoothing as you go. Make sure you’re working the frosting to the very bottom edge of the cake – the wax paper will keep your cake plate nice and clean. You can always add more frosting onto the top of the cake, if you need more to work with.

5.) Now, the frosting will never get completely smooth and flat – it will always be a little uneven and you’ll be able to see lines from the spatula – but it will still look pretty and taste delicious! Just keep spreading until you’re happy with how evenly the frosting is spread.

6.) Once you’ve got the entire outside of the cake frosted, gently pull the wax paper strips out from under the cake. All the errant drops and swipes and blobs of frosting will come off on the wax paper, and your cake plate will be clean and lovely!

7.) Now, stick some candles in that beautiful cake and celebrate!

Keep in mind, this is a super basic method of frosting a cake. There are many more complicated frosting patterns and methods you can use. As with most things I bake, I am always more concerned with taste than appearance. Sure, I want my baked goods to look lovely, but I would rather them look as though they were handmade with love, and TASTE fantastic, than be beautifully perfect and not delicious. There is no greater injustice in this world than a cake that looks like a million bucks, and tastes as though it was coated in plastic, am I right??

(See those little gaps between the cake and the cake plate? That is because I was too lazy to level my cakes. Be ye not as lazy as I!)

Of course, you can get fancy and use food coloring to make your layers different colors, or you can pipe patterns onto the finished cake, or you can press fresh berries or chocolate chips into the still-sticky frosting – the possibilities are endless (and quite tasty)! Have fun with it.

And now I want cake for breakfast,


One thought on “How to Frost a Layered Cake

  1. Pingback: Homemade Funfetti Cake « The Dough Will Rise Again

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