10 Cake Fails
(and How to Fix Them!)
These are the 10 most common mistakes people make when they’re making cakes, from condensation to exploding piping bags and accidentally poking a finger into your cake. I’ll show you tricks to fix each one so it doesn’t ruin your cake!
If you prefer to watch a video of this tutorial, scroll to the bottom of the page.
#1 Cake layers fall apart
If your cake layers crumble when they came out of the pan, this is probably the simplest thing to fix so that you can still use crumble cake layers! I’ll show you how in a moment but for next time, leave cakes in the pan to cool for ten minutes before turning them out, which gives them a chance to firm up a bit.
Chill the damaged cake layers in the fridge for about an hour so that they firm up and then assemble your cake as normal. If you have any really damaged cake layers with large cracks, put them in the middle because they’ll threaten the stability of the cake if they’re at the bottom or on top.
Now frost the cake as normal and since the cake layers are cold, they won’t crumble as you spread on the frosting. As you spread, you’ll push the frosting into any cracks or holes in the cake and after smoothing the frosting, you’d never guess the cake layers weren’t perfect underneath the frosting.
#2 Buttercream pulls off cake
If your buttercream is too stiff, when you try to frost your cake you’ll find that your spatula sticks to to cake instead of gliding over it to spread the buttercream. When you use a frosting scraper you’ll probably pull the whole cake over with it!
Easy to fix – add more milk to the buttercream until you can stir it like peanut butter, leaving soft peaks behind and a smooth trail in the buttercream. Now your cake will be MUCH easier to frost!
#3 Cake shows through frosting
If you scrape off too much frosting you’ll expose the cake underneath, like here on the top of this cake where I applied too much pressure with my offset spatula.
Don’t panic – for the top of the cake, just spread more frosting over the entire top and smooth it again. You’ll push the frosting over the edges of the cake as you smooth so scrape around the sides fo the cake again with your frosting smoother.
Exposed cake is a common struggle with textured cake combs because the frosting needs to be thicker than the depth of the pattern on the cake comb, otherwise the grooves of the comb will go through the frosting and the crumb coat or the cake underneath will show through.
For the sides of the cake follow the same idea as for the top, spreading more frosting over the area where you can see the cake. You’ll also need to spread more frosting over the surrounding areas to make that frosting thicker too, otherwise you’ll scrape this fresh frosting straight off again.
When all of the frosting is a bit thicker, go around the cake again with your frosting smoother or textured cake comb and the frosting will be thick enough to cover up the cake.
#4 Cake condensation
Condensation is a pain, especially in hot countries. It happens with a drastic change in temperature, for example moving a cake from the freezer to a warm room. To avoid this, change the temperature gradually, moving the cake from the freezer to the fridge for a few hours, and then to room temperature.
Ideally, crank up the air conditioning to cool the room down to minimize the difference in temperature. If the frosting has set, you can dab any beads of condensation off the cake by pressing a paper towel gently against the cake to absorb it.
#5 Ugly borders
If you don’t like a border you’ve piped onto a cake, there are two ways to take it off. If the frosting on your cake has set, immediately after piping the border you can scrape the border off with an offset spatula or a frosting smoother.
The piped border will still be soft and sticky so it will be easy to scrape off. Since the frosting on the cake has set, you won’t damage it because it’s firm. Then you can pipe another border instead!
If the frosting hasn’t set, put the whole cake in the fridge for an hour or in the freezer for 15 minutes to set the frosting on the cake AND the border. Then use a sharp knife to cut the border off the top of the cake. You won’t damage the frosting on the cake by doing it this way but you would if you tried to scrape the border off while the frosting on the cake was still soft and sticky.
#6 Drip is too runny or thick
Until you get the hang of drip cakes, it’s easy to make your drip too runny so that the drips run all the way down to the bottom of the cake or too thick, when they don’t drip down at all! Cakes should be chilled in the fridge before applying a drip, which helps to stop the drips before they get down to the cake board but it’s also useful that the cake is cold for fixing a drip you don’t like!
Straight after you’ve applied the drip, scrape it off with an offset spatula or a frosting smoother. Since the frosting is cold and firm, you’ll be able to scrape off the top layer of frosting with the drip to remove the drip completely. Make sure you get all of it off the sides of the cake but don’t worry too much about the top because you’ll cover that up in a second.
Now apply the drip again, using your favourite method: pouring it and spreading it, dripping it with a spoon, or using a squeezy bottle. Avoid this problem next time by doing a test drip first, checking the consistency of the drip and seeing how it behaves on your cake, before applying the rest of the drip. Learn all about drips in my online course on 50 Easy Cake Decorating Techniques for ANY Skill Level!
#7 Piping tip explodes through piping bag
This one has happened to me more times than I can count! Exploding piping bags… where the piping tip pushes out through the end of the piping bag and frosting bursts out onto your cake.
This happens when the hole you’ve cut at the end of the piping bag is too big for the piping tip you’re using. When you squeeze the piping bag to apply pressure and push the buttercream out through the piping tip, that pressure pushes the piping tip out with it.
Only about half of the piping tip should stick out of a piping bag, so that when you apply pressure to the bag it will be snugly secured within the piping bag and unable to squeeze through the hole at the end.
This piping bag was cut to fit a 1M piping tip like in the photo above but for a smaller piping tip like this #3 tip, the hole is too big because almost all of the piping tip fits through the hole so it will be easily pushed out when I put buttercream in the piping bag.
To fix this, either put the piping tip in a bag with a smaller hole OR put a coupler into the piping bag. A coupler is wider than the piping tip so it will be secure within the piping bag. Place the piping tip on to the coupler on the outside of the piping bag and screw the ring on to attach it in place before piping as normal.
#8 Messy cake board
After frosting your cake you’ll have smudges of buttercream on the cake board around your cake. It’s not a mistake, it’s bound to happen, but it is easy to fix. Wrap your finger in a paper towel and wipe the smudges off the cake board.
I like to do this after chilling the cake in the fridge to set the frosting so that if I brush against the cake with the paper towel, I won’t damage the frosting since it’s firm. It does make the frosting smudges firmer through, so you’ll have to apply a bit of pressure to wipe them off.
#9 Damaged frosting
Poked your finger into a cake by mistake? It’s infuriating when it happens after you finish decorating a cake but it is possible to fix it. If the frosting has set, try wiping the indent gently with a paper towel to flatten it, or use an offset spatula.
This works for shallow indents but if it’s too deep, or if the frosting on the cake hasn’t set, spread some more frosting over that area and gently smooth it with an offset spatula or a frosting smoother.
#10 Clogged piping tips
If your frosting isn’t piping properly because the frosting is only coming through certain parts of the piping tip, for example some of the prongs of a star shaped tip, it’s because something is clogging the tip.
It could be lumps of sugar, which can happen when the butter isn’t at room temperature when you make buttercream, or it could be a chunky ingredient in the frosting like Oreo crumbs or a fruit puree like strawberry. To create a space big enough for the chunks to fit through, pry the prongs of the piping tip outwards using a knife or an offset spatula.
This will widen the gap that your frosting will come through. Although the piping tip itself won’t look as pretty, this will allow the frosting to pipe beautifully!
To prevent clogging, crush or blend your flavour ingredients before adding them to your frosting. For example, instead of crushing Oreo cookies by hand, blitz them in a food processor or blender to make very fine crumbs that will add flavour and colour to your frosting without creating chunks of texture that will block your piping tip.
Troubleshooting tips aren’t always the most beautiful thing to watch but I hope these are helpful! If you’ve had any cake fails that you didn’t understand or don’t want to repeat, tell me in the comments and I’ll try to help!
For more tips, techniques and cake designs, join my Club for access to ALL of my online classes as well as live online classes and Q&A sessions for members only!
Here’s the video version of this tutorial: