How to Frost a Layer Cake

A Beautiful Layer Cake, Step-By-Step

Layer Cake to Serve
Molly Watson
  • 01 of 09

    Icing on the Cake

    Cake to Frost
    Molly Watson

    Coating a layer cake may seem like a simple task, but if not done correctly you can end up with torn cake and cake crumbs mixed with the frosting, as well as an unattractive final result. Following a few steps, from how to apply the filing to spreading on a crumb coat, will allow you to create gorgeous results.

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  • 02 of 09

    What You Need

    To get started, you'll need at least 2 cake layers and a recipe for enough frosting (fluffy boiled frostingbasic buttercream frosting, or whatever you like) to cover however many layers of cake you're using. If using a separate filling between the layers, you'll need that too (here we just use more frosting). Make sure the frosting is room temperature; cold frosting will be difficult to spread.

    Ideally, you'll have baked the cake the day before you plan to frost it. In any case, let the cake layers cool completely before you start. You will also need a cake stand (one that spins is ideal) or other serving platter and an offset spatula or other long, thin implement with which to spread the frosting.

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  • 03 of 09

    Secure the Cake

    You want to make sure your cake will stay in place while you are frosting it. A good way to do this is to "glue" it down on the cake stand using some frosting. Dab a small blob of frosting (2 tablespoons is plenty) in the center of the cake plate and set one of the cake layers on top.

    For a nice presentation when all is said and done, put strips of parchment paper or wax paper under the edges of the cake; slide them under the edges so they'll be easy to pull away when you're finished frosting.

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  • 04 of 09

    Add the Filling

    Frosting a Cake
    Molly Watson

    To the top of the cake layer, spoon on the filling or about 1 cup of the frosting. Spread evenly over top but not quite to the edges.

    Set the second cake layer on top of the filling. Feel free to adjust to make sure it's evenly placed. If you have more than 2 layers, repeat this step for as many layers as you're using. If this second cake layer is the top of the cake, move on to the crumb coat.

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  • 05 of 09

    Begin the Crumb Coat

    Frosting a Cake
    Molly Watson

    A crumb coat isn't absolutely necessary, but it will yield the smoothest and prettiest results—plus, you get to practice spreading the frosting. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that will catch and trap any cake crumbs in it, letting you proceed with the final layer crumb-free. You add a crumb coat using the same method you will use to frost the cake.

    You can, of course, skip straight to frosting the cake, in which case you really want to make sure you've given the cake plenty of time to cool (fully cooled cakes allowed to sit are a lot less likely to "crumb" as you frost them).

    Add a generous cup of frosting on top of the cake and spread a very thin layer across the top, pushing as much of the frosting as you can to the edges. 

    Be sure to push the spatula through the icing. For the best results, always push the icing from the middle outwards, then lift the spatula and begin again in the middle, going out in each direction. Don't backtrack. Keep the spatula on the frosting and don't let it touch the unfrosted cake unless there's plenty of icing on the spatula, or you risk the spatula picking up bits of cake.

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  • 06 of 09

    Finish the Crumb Coat

    Frosting a Cake
    Molly Watson

    Spread the frosting at the edges of the top of the cake down and around the sides. Again, keep the frosting layer very thin at this point and always move the spatula through the frosting, pushing the frosting towards the unfrosted part of the cake.

    Ideally, chill the crumb-coated cake for 30 minutes, although even 10 minutes will be fine.

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  • 07 of 09

    Frost the Top of the Cake

    Adding Frosting to a Cake
    Molly Watson

    Repeat frosting the top in the same manner, as you did with the crumb coat, but with a lot more frosting. Push the frosting from the center to the edges, always moving from the new bit of frosting outward.

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  • 08 of 09

    Frost the Sides

    Frosting a Cake
    Molly Watson

    Because you used plenty of frosting on the top and moved it toward the edges, ideally you just need to use the spatula to push it down the sides and around, continuing spreading it down and around until the cake is covered all the way around.

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  • 09 of 09

    Add Swirls or Smooth It All Out

    Frosted Caked
    Molly Watson

    Once the cake is fully frosted, feel free to either add decorative swirls or to simply smooth the surface. Use confident, smooth strokes with the spatula.

    Add any decorations or candles you like and serve with pride!