How to Frost a Layer Cake

Layer Cake to Serve
Molly Watson
  • 01 of 07

    Prepare the Cake

    Cake to Frost
    Molly Watson

    Whether you call it icing a cake or frosting a cake, these step-by-step photos will show you how to create gorgeous results. To get started, you'll need (at least) 2 cake layers and a recipe for enough frosting (fluffy boiled frosting, basic buttercream frosting, or whatever you like!) to cover however many layers of cake you're using, along with a cake stand or other serving platter and an offset spatula or other long, thin implement with which to spread the frosting. If using a separate filling between the layers, you'll need that too (here we just use more frosting).

    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. 

    Dab a small blob of frosting (2 tablespoons is plenty) in the center of the plate and set one of the cake layers on top. The frosting will help hold the cake in place. For a nice presentation when all is said and done, put strips of parchment paper or wax paper under the edges of the cake—just set them under the edges so they'll be easy to pull away when you're done.

    Continue to 2 of 7 below.
  • 02 of 07

    Add the Filling

    Frosting a Cake
    Molly Watson

    Add the filling or about 1 cup of the frosting on top of the cake and spread evenly almost 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. Repeat this step for as many layers as you're using.

    Continue to 3 of 7 below.
  • 03 of 07

    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.


    Continue to 4 of 7 below.
  • 04 of 07

    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.

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

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Frost the Top of the Cake

    Adding Frosting to a Cake
    Molly Watson

    Repeat frosting the top, pushing the frosting from the center to the edges, always moving from frosting to unfrosted, as you did with the crumb coat, but with a lot more frosting.

    Continue to 6 of 7 below.
  • 06 of 07

    Frost the Sides

    Frosting a Cake
    Molly Watson

    With plenty of frosting from the top, let it go to the edges so you just need to use the spatula to push it down and around, down and around until it's covered all the way around.

    Continue to 7 of 7 below.
  • 07 of 07

    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 smooth the surface, as you like. Use confident, smooth strokes with the spatula.

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