What’s the key to avoiding lumpy, crumby frosting or slanted layers? Filling and frosting your cake with an expert stack and crumb coat is really important before you go all Ace-of-Cakes on your creation!
Filling a cake is pretty simple, but I thought this guide might be helpful to people who are just learning to work with layer cakes. I originally shared this post over a year ago but I knew that this is so important that I must update it and re-share.
I updated the photos in this post, revised the information and create a How-To video that you can now view on YouTube or you can see it at the end of this post. I wanted to represent this to some of you because these steps and basic techniques are so important and this will help you gain confidence with cake decorating. All this means that you will be able to tackle any cake creation!
After filling and stacking it’s time for the crumb coat, the crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that’s designed to catch cake crumbs hence its name. It also helps to even out your frosting surface and corrects the slated cake layers. Think of it like the sanding and priming steps before painting a dresser.
The crumb coat is especially useful when frosting a chocolate cake because those seem to be more crumbly by nature. It is also how you can decorate “naked” cakes (they are so in right now too)!
Please keep in mind that there is a ton of ways to do this but this is just my way of doing it. So the more you practice you will become to get more comfortable with the process. You will also figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. This is just a start to your cake decorating journey, so just focus on practicing and having fun!
Let’s get some tools and recipes together before we begin!
What Tools You May Need:
- Cake layers – (Yeah, yeah – I know this and the next point are obvious, but I’m just covering my bases.) Always use chilled cake. I would advise against using frozen ones because they can be near impossible to cut, but definitely make sure that they’ve been in the refrigerator (covered in plastic wrap) for at least 3 or 4 hours. This will make them easier to handle because the cakes will be firmer and therefore less likely to crack and easier to halve (split). Here’s a foolproof vanilla cake that anyone can make and be successful with every time!
- Serrated knife or Cake leveler – These are the best tools for splitting cakes. I recommend a long, thin, sturdy blade serrated knife like this one. Or get a cake leveler has a wavy wire design works like a serrated knife for a cleaner cut. It is sometimes easier for someone to use who are nervous to work a knife. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but be aware that a flimsy knife will bend and make your cake slices convex/conical.
- Favorite buttercream – Use whichever kind you like – this technique works for all of them. Feel free to head over to my tutorial for Vanilla Buttercream for easy cake decorating, it’s a buttery and fluffy icing that it’s too sweet!
- Cardboard rounds – You need to eventually serve your cake on something, right? You can decorate right onto the cardboard. I feel this way is better than putting them right onto a cake stand or a plate, it’s way less fragile too!
- Turntable (aka rotating cake stand) – I always use a turntable to frost cakes. It’s an unnecessary investment if you don’t frost cakes with any regularity, but if you do, you’ll be so happy if you buy one. You can also use a lazy susan. I buy most of my stuff from Amazon because of convenience.
- Cake scraper or Bench scraper – use it for smoothly the buttercream out on cakes. I use the cake board as a reference point and turn the cake around to smooth out the buttercream. This is an easy way to clean the edges of the cake and get it ready for placing fondant over it or if you are not using fondant then, it’s nice and clean!
- Offset spatula – Spoons or knives may cut it when it comes to frosting cupcakes, but these are the way to go when it comes to frosting cakes. They’re available in a variety of sizes and shapes, but I think the best two to have in your arsenal are the 8″ model and the 10″ one.
- Non-slip pad– Slip one of these under your cake on the turntable and you will thank me, I promise.
Let’s Stat Decorating!
Prepare chilled cake layers by slicing off the domed tops with a serrated knife or a cake leveler. Place the cake layer onto the turntable and using your hand to slowly turn the cake. Carefully saw around the edge of the dome. Gently saw back and forth while turning the cake around. Be patient and go slow! (If you are using a serrated knife, keep the knife horizontal and watch your fingers.)
Note: for beginners try not to slice more than the dome off because you don’t want to make the cake fragile by slicing into it too much. But if you do don’t worry it’s an easy fix with buttercream.
Keep turning until you slice all the way through, then remove the dome and set aside. You can make cake pops like these with the tops of the cake or I’m sure you’ll find something to do with it.
Place a cake board on top of the turntable but first, use a non-slip pad underneath the cardboard. This will prevent the cake from sliding all over the place which you will thank me later for because otherwise, it is just impossible to frost.
Use your offset spatula to spread a small amount of buttercream on to the cake board. Spread to hold the cake layer to the cake board. Then place the first layer on top and press down to secure.
(The buttercream can be any color at this point, remember this is just the crumb coat so it will all be hidden anyway).
With a piping bag filled with buttercream, with slight pressure work it from the edges to the center of the cake layer. Then use your offset spatula to spread the buttercream out and make this layer even without passing over the edge of the cake. As long as you keep the length of your spatula within the mound of buttercream, no crumbs will find their way into it.
Also, whenever you need to remove your spatula from the cake, “sweep” it off by sliding it from one side of the buttercream to the other, then off, in a fluid motion. If you lift it straight up, you’ll risk tearing the cake and that’s what we are trying to avoid crumbs. Keep this in mind when we get to the top of the cake and for the final layer of buttercream to make it pretty.
Try to make the buttercream as smooth and level as possible so that your cake will be flat when stacked. After you’ve finished spreading the filling, carefully transfer another layer of cake, freshly cut side down onto of the buttercream and repeat the process with all but one layer of cake.
Place another cake layer cut side down over the top. Repeat process for another layer.
Straighten and flatten the layers so they are even.
After all, the cake is stacked and the final cake layer is on top (fresh cut side down), use a small amount of buttercream, frost the top of your cake with the offset spatula. Let’s be real it’s all right if you see some crumbs come loose and mix with the buttercream, that’s the purpose of the crumb coat!
If you are getting a ton of crumbs, scrape the frosting off on the side of another bowl that will keep your finishing frosting nice and crumb-free.
After the top of the cake has some buttercream on it. Begin to work on the sides. Holding your offset spatula parallel to the side of the cake begin to gently press the overflow of buttercream from the filling into the cake layer. Think of lit like patching up a wall, pressing (carefully) the buttercream into the cake layers to close any gaps. This really prevents crumbs from getting into your final buttercream layer.
Make sure you are using the turntable to your advantage; it’s there to help you and make it easier. Continue to turn the turntable as you are coating the cake layers. Then add more buttercream if needed, you can always take the frosting off if it’s too much but put it into the crumby buttercream bowl.
After the whole cake is covered, drag the bench scraper along the side of the cake while rotating the stand. This will create a thin and uniform layer. You should see some of the cake layers underneath the thin coat – otherwise, the frosting has been applied too thick.
Remove any excess frosting from the sides or top using the angled spatula and bench scraper. Place the cake in the freezer until the buttercream is chilled and set (about 30 minutes).
Then add a thicker layer of buttercream, starting from the top pipe a thick layer of buttercream on the top. Then use an offset spatula to flatten and smooth the top of the cake.
Next pipe buttercream on the sides of the cake starting from the bottom and working your way up to the top. The use your offset spatula to and smooth the sides. Fill in any gaps with more buttercream.
Then use a cake scraper to apply slight pressure to gently remove the excess buttercream. Continue turning the cake to smooth the buttercream.
Use the offset spatula or cake scraper to smooth the top edge of the buttercream. Start from the outside edge and pull back towards the center. Then wipe off the excess buttercream on the buttercream bowl and wipe clean on a damp kitchen towel. Repeat this step until the top is smooth.
Once you have fully completed this step, place the cake into the freezer for 20 minutes to set the buttercream.
You May Also Enjoy:
- Vanilla Buttercream For Cake Decorating (recipe)
- Common Baking Mistakes & How to Avoid Them (free ebook)
- Cake Planning Checklist (freebie)
- How to Decorate Your First Cake (free course)
- Cake Decorating for Beginners (online course)
- Cake Decorating Tool Kit (24-piece kit with free shipping)
Whether you have a smooth buttercream layer like this Rainbow Drip Cake or a fun texture technique like piping rosettes all over the cake seen in this Red, White & Blue Rosette Cake. Keep practicing, the more comfortable you’ll get that filling, stacking and crumb coating a cake becomes second nature.
Congratulations! You’ve got yourself a crumb-coated and fully frosted buttercream cake! Once you understand and practice these steps to get a fully crumb-coated cake you will begin to feel more confident in the kitchen and excited to create more cake creations!
Hey, if you liked this tutorial, you really should check out, Cake Decorating Creator Program, my online cake program. I coach you on everything I teach on these cake tutorials so that you can uplevel your baking and decorating skills. We 10x it so you get the results you want most. Like any new skill, it’s important to learn from the ground up to build a foundation, so you can take on any cake challenge. It is an investment your future self will thank you for. Check it out at XOKatieRosario.com/creator-program. I will see you there!
Watch The How-to Video Below:
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