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How to Decorate a Cake

Layer your cake and fillings, cover everything in buttercream or any other frosting, add some decorations and tadaa! With the right tips and tricks it really can be this easy and in this tutorial I'll show you how to decorate a cake!

How to assemble a cake

Maybe the most important part is to pipe or spread a bit of buttercream onto the middle of your cake board. This will attach the cake so it doesn't slip and slide around while you frost and decorate it. Push your first layer of cake down onto this and it will will act like glue to hold it still. I'm using my Perfect Chocolate Cake and my 4 Minute Buttercream for this tutorial.

attach the cake to a cake board with buttercream

Now alternate between your cake layers and your filling. You can divide your cake layers in half to make twice as many layers, which means more filling in between. Your filling can be buttercream or you can use jam or lemon curd or Nutella or anything else you like. Filling adds flavour but it has two other purposes as well. It helps to level the cake so that it's flat for every layer you put on top. It also acts as glue to hold the next cake layer in place so that the cake is straight.

how to pipe filling onto a cake
how to spread filling onto a layer cake

You can pipe the filling on using a piping bag or you can spread it on. Using a piping bag is quicker and neater but both work.

how to layer a cake

How to crumb coat a cake

After you've assembled your cake it's time for the crumb coat. This is the first layer of frosting you're going to put onto your cake. Spread (or pipe and then spread) this all over the top of the cake and around the sides. The purpose of the crumb coat is to trap any crumbs that come off the cake so they get stuck in this layer of frosting. This means they won't go into the final layer of frosting, so you won't have visible crumbs on your cake.

spread frosting over the top of the cake
how to crumb coat a cake

Because this is going to be covered up with another layer of frosting, this doesn't need to be really neat. It does need to cover up all of the naked cake so those crumbs can't get into the final layer of frosting.

smooth the crumb coat by scraping around with a cake comb
how to make a neat crumb coat with an offset spatula and a cake comb

When you've finished your crumb coat, put the cake into the fridge or the freezer to chill it. It will need about 15 minutes in the freezer 30 minutes in the fridge. When the crumb coat gets cold it will set, which is necessary before the next step.

How to frost a cake

After chilling the crumb coat, your final layer of frosting will sit on top instead of blending together with it. This is what keeps the crumbs out of the final layer of frosting.

how to frost and decorate a cake

Spread your frosting all over the top and sides of your cake and then switch to a straight cake comb. This is the first reason for using a cake board: it provides a flat surface to rest your cake comb. Now you can line the comb up straight to create straight sides as you scrape around the cake. So push the base of your cake comb down on the cake board as you spin the turntable. Press very gently against the cake to scrape off the outer layer of frosting. If you press too hard you'll cause the buttercream to tear and create air bubbles. You might also take off too much frosting and expose the crumb coat underneath.

how to smooth the frosting on a cake

After scraping around the cake a few times, spread more frosting over any indents or air pockets and scrape again.

fill in gaps in frosting to make it smooth
How to Decorate a Cake with smooth frosting

When the frosting is smooth, tidy up the top edge by pushing sideways with your offset spatula. Make sure you don't push down because that will cause bulges around the sides of the cake.

how to make sharp angles of frosting when you deocrate a cake

How to decorate a cake

How to decorate a cake with sprinkles

The best time to add sprinkles to the cake is now, while the frosting is still soft and sticky. Lift your cake up and put it onto a tray, which will catch any falling sprinkles. This is the second reason for using a cake board: it makes it easy to move the cake around while you're decorating it or to transport or serve.

how to decorate a cake with a sprinkle border

I like to pick the big sprinkles out of a sprinkle mix and only push the smaller ones into the side of the cake. Press them into the bottom inch or so of the frosting. Then at the end, hand place the biggest sprinkles so that they're evenly spread around the cake.

When you finish, tap the cake board a few times so that the extra sprinkles fall off onto the tray. You can do this is because you've chilled the cake so it's set onto that dot of buttercream on the cake board. You don't need to worry about the cake falling over! Tilt the tray so that the sprinkles roll down to the bottom corner and then pour them back into the container.

How to decorate a cake with piped swirls

Before piping onto the top of the cake I really recommend chilling the cake briefly to set the frosting. 15 minutes in the freezer or 30 minutes in the fridge is enough time. While it's chilling, scoop up your leftover frosting and put it into a piping bag fitted with any star-shaped tip. I'm using a 1M tip.

Take your cake out and that short amount of time in the fridge or freezer will have firmed up the frosting. Now the weight of the swirls you pipe on top won't cause the frosting to sink or droop.

How to Decorate a Cake with piped swirls on top

You can pipe very tall swirls, like the ones you would pipe onto a cupcake, or just pipe a few rings. I'm piping two laps around for each of my swirls. Always pull away in the same direction so that the swirls look neat at the end.

How to Decorate a Cake with swirls

Add a few more sprinkles on top while the piping is still soft and sticky so that they attach easily. I recommend storing cakes in the fridge so that the frosting and decorations don't droop or slide off the cake.

How to Decorate a Cake for a birthday

How to serve a cake

Take the cake out of the fridge 2 to 4 hours before you serve the cake. This allows the cake and buttercream to warm up to room temperature and that's when they will taste the best!

How to Decorate a layer cake

I hope this tutorial has been useful! I can't wait for you to make your first cake. Visit my cake school to learn hundreds of ways to decorate cakes with my online courses and memberships.

how to store and serve a layer cake

You can also watch a video of this tutorial on how to decorate a cake:
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2 comments on “How to Decorate a Cake”

  1. Thanks for your positive and can-do attitude it gives me hope! Iā€™m hopeless with the smoothing frosting! OMG I try and try so now I just put sprinkles or frosting decorations to hide the imperfections and call it art! LOL

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