With a domed top, slumping posture, and patchy, uneven icing, a poorly frosted cake stands out a mile away. Luckily, if you follow our tips, a flat, smooth cake that looks like it came from a bakery is easy to produce at home and offers a good base for more advanced decorating.
HOW TO FROST A CAKE ON A PLATTER
Step #1: Remove the Dome
Cake layers with a domed top are difficult to stack and frost. If your cake layers crack and dome, you can simply slice the domed section off using a serrated knife. Gently slice back and forth using a sawing motion.
Step #2: Line the Platter
Frosting the cake right on the serving platter can be a messy enterprise. To keep the platter tidy, use strips of parchment paper to cover its edges; remove the parchment before serving the cake.
Step #3: Hold It Down
No one wants to frost a moving target. To keep the cake from sliding around, spoon a dollop of frosting in the center of the platter as “glue” and place one cake layer on top.
Step #4: Frost the Bottom
Spoon some of the frosting onto the center of the first layer and, using an icing spatula, push the frosting up to, but not over, the edge of the cake. Then stack the top layer carefully to make sure that the sides are aligned.
Step #5: Do the Top, Then Sides
Spread more frosting over the surface of the top layer, up to the sides of the cake. Then, using a small amount of frosting on the tip of an icing spatula, gently smear and press the frosting onto the sides of the cake.
Step #6: Make It Smooth
Holding the icing spatula at a slight angle, run the spatula around the cake to smooth the frosting. Where the sides and top of the frosting meet, pull the excess frosting toward the center of the cake.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
When it comes to frosting a cake, we rely on a large offset spatula. Its wide blade and crook shape allow for excellent control, and the offset handle keeps hands at a safe distance. A revolving cake stand allows us to rotate the cake with one hand while simultaneously smoothing it with a spatula. (A Lazy Susan can be used in a pinch to the same effect.) Finally, a large serrated knife ensures picture-perfect slices. Use a gentle sawing motion and wipe the blade clean between slices.
4 WAYS A GOOD CAKE CAN GO BAD
Culprit: Hot Cake. It might be tempting to start frosting soon after the cake has come out of the oven. But even a slightly warm cake can cause the frosting to melt and slide off. It pays to wait until the cake is completely cooled.
Culprit: Cold Frosting. Most frostings can be made ahead and refrigerated until they are ready to use. But if they’re not left to soften at room temperature, the frosting will be stiff and difficult to spread, and their application may gouge a chunk out of a tender cake.
Culprit: Domed Cake. Cake layers can dome in the oven, making them hard to stack. If you don’t trim the dome, you’ll need extra frosting to fill the space between the layers—meaning you won’t have enough for the top and sides. Even if you make extra frosting, the finished cake will be overly rich.
Culprit: Reckless Slicing. Even a beautifully frosted cake can turn ugly after the first slice. That’s because the slicing knife drags frosting and crumbs as it cuts. For a prettier presentation, clean the knife after each cut by dipping it in hot water, then drying it off between slices.