How to Frost a Cake

How many times have you walked passed a bakery window and been wowed by an elegant cake that was impeccably frosted?

That happens to me all the time and that’s the big reason I was so eager to learn how to frost a cake so that it resulted in that ultra-smooth icing that I’ve admired for so long.

Well, I finally figured out how to duplicate the look and I thought you’d enjoy seeing the steps too.

yellow cake

It’s so much easier than I thought, I’m not sure why I didn’t figure it out before.

I recently ran across a 15-second video on Instagram (of all places) that made the frosting technique so much clearer to me… and there’s no stopping me now.

cake frosting tools

Let’s start with a few basic tools.  I’m still a novice so this advice is based on what works for me. Professional bakers may have other suggestions.

(1.)  6″ baking pans-I’m not sure I’ll ever make a 9-inch cake again. This is the perfect size because the cake layers stack up for an ideal height. This size also looks so much more elegant and fancy. Don’t forget to always grease AND lightly flour your pans before adding batter so the cake won’t stick to the pans.

(2.)  Plastic scraper-Use this at an angle to help smooth the icing across the top of the cake. You can find plastic scrapers at most kitchen and crafts stores in the baking aisle.

(3.)  Off-set spatula-Another tool used for smoothing the icing around the side and top of the cake.  They come in various lengths. It’s best to get one that is as long as your cake is tall. This way you’ll be able to make single swipes across the cake while smoothing.

(4.)  Cake leveler-This is so much easier to use that a long knife to separate cake layers. It has a thin wire that runs from one end to the other with an adjustable height so that all cake layers can be uniformly sliced in half.

(5.)  Piping tip and pastry bag-You’ll need a pretty wide piping tip. This is what you’ll use to actually apply the icing to the cake before smoothing.

You should be able to find all of the tools I just listed, at your local crafts store in the baking aisle. OK, let’s take a look at how I put everything to good use.

cake cutter tool

Most cakes bake up with a little dome on top.

After the cake cools, carefully slice that doom off of each layer to get a flat top.

Then use the leveling tool to cut the layers in half.

sliced cakes

The little wire that’s attached to the leveler cuts through the cake slices like butter.

There’s no way I could have cut such even layers in half using a regular knife.

Brush off any excess crumbs and baked pieces from each layer.

frozen cake layers

One way to help cut down on cake crumbs getting caught up in your frosting is to freeze the slices.

Wrap them loosely in plastic wrap and freeze overnight, if possible before adding the frosting.

lemon icing frosting

Whipped buttercream is light and airy and super easy to make. The recipe is below and requires only a handful of ingredients.

I decided to frost in-between the cake layers with the plain frosting and frost the outside of the cake with a tinted frosting.

After making the frosting, just separate half and add a drop of gel food coloring to get the shade you want for the outer coverage.

Buttercream Frosting
Prep Time
15 mins
Total Time
15 mins
Sweet, and delicious buttercream frosting with a handful of ingredients for a delicious result.
Course: Dessert
Servings: 3 -4 cups
Author: Lisa Tutman-Oglesby
  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 2-4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla
  • Gel coloring
  1. Mix softened butter, vanilla in stand mixer until soft and fluffy.
  2. Slowly add confectioner's sugar and continue mixing.
  3. Add 2-4 tablespoons of whipping cream as needed for desired consistency.
  4. Once all sugar has been added mix until light and fluffy.
  5. Add a small drop of gel coloring and mix. Repeat if necessary to achieve desired shade.

cake layers

Before frosting, do a test stack of the four cake layers to find the best fit and arrangement for the cake tower.

Add frosting between each layer, leaving the top layer blank, for now.

A swivel or even a cheese board with a turntable is helpful in turning the cake while you frost it.

I always used to scoop up a heaping amount of frosting with a spatula and start spreading it over the top of the cake and the sides and I could never understand why I couldn’t get the frosting to look as smooth as I had seen in various magazines and online.

piping icing

Instead of adding the frosting using a spatula… use a piping bag to pipe thick rows of icing onto the cake on all sides.

That makes so much more sense but it just never occurred to me before that this was a better way to get a uniform amount of icing on the cake.

Use a large opening metal tip if you can.

rows of piped icing

I ended up using a tip that causes ridges and if that’s all you have on hand, no big deal.

Don’t worry, these ridges will get smoothed over in the next step.

The main thing is that piping the frosting onto the cake gets a nice thick coat into place evenly.

smooth frosting

Use the off-set spatula to smooth over those ridged rows of icing.

It may help if you run the spatula under hot water and tap dry it.  The subtle heat from the blade will also slightly melt the buttercream as you’re smoothing it.

Once the sides are smooth, just drag the off-set spatula over the top of the cake to smooth the frosting.

When this frosted cake is refrigerated the butter in the buttercream solidifies giving the cake a firm outer shell which creates a clean surface which makes it easier to top with decorative elements or florals without getting messy.

cake side

When my twin sister, Paula saw this picture she said I definitely needed a second coat of icing.

I have spotted a trend in cakes like this lately with more rustic, uneven frosting coverage.

You could go either way and I’m personally, I’m not bothered by the slightly transparent frosted areas.

If you want thicker coverage, refrigerate the cake for about 30-minutes and then pipe additional rows of frosting and repeat the smoothing steps.

cake and tulips

I’m sure there area ton of techniques to apply frosting and professional bakers (and others) may have other ideas about how this should be done.

This is how I approached it and I’m thrilled with how this cake turned out.

It’s safe to say, I’m pretty hooked on frosting cakes right now… so, you’ll be seeing much more of these beautiful desserts around here.

sliced cake

You could easily serve this cake up at a baby shower, special dinner or some other special event.

From my perspective this cake looks almost as good as a pricey cake from an upscale bakery.

Now that I know how to frost a cake and make it look like this… I may never buy a store-bought cake again.

sliced cake

I can’t end this post without sharing a look at the inside of this strawberry-infused, quadruple layer cake looks like on the inside.

I’m so excited about this new technique, don’t be surprised to see a lot more cakes pop up around here as I perfect the process even more.

Really makes you want a slice, doesn’t it?

how to frost a cake

Thanks for stopping by.

See  you back here next time. 


  • Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker

    WOW! This was revelatory! I always end up with crumbs in my icing. My children are always laughing at me.

    I don’t like cake (unless it’s cheesecake) and always preferred pie as a child for my birthday, but several of my children have requested cake for their birthdays and I always struggle with frosting it. One of those children has a birthday next month. I don’t have all of the tools but I think I will have to get them and try again. Also, I have to remember to make the cake ahead of time.

    But I still have a problem with piping anything. For some reason I can’t get it to come out of the bag. It just won’t come out! I don’t know what I’m doing wrong there. I will have to overcome that first. Your peonies on another post are so beautiful that they make me want to try again. Reading that they sometimes ended up in your lap was encouraging; maybe I can finally figure this out!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks so much, Brandy!
      Getting the icing at the right consistency is the key to having it come out of the bag smoothly.
      Anyone who can successfully grow as many fruit trees and veggies that you do, will be able to get that hang of this for sure-lol
      I have definitely had quite a few peonies hit my lap.
      I’ll bet your kids would really enjoy making the peonies too.
      They’re a lot of fun, once you get started… even though making them now has addicted to piping tips-lol.

  • Deborah

    Your cake is so gorgeous! And your photos are so pretty.

    The piping tip is a great one. That never ever occurred to me either.

    I love your description about being a firm believer that you can never have too many interests. I agree!

    Taking pictures is one of my favorite things. I like to take pictures of pretty food and inanimate objects that catch my eye.

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      I appreciate that, Deborah. You and I are definitely on the same page when it comes to embracing lots of interests.

      Be careful when you start piping those cakes… it’s quite addictive-lol.

  • Martha Lovingood

    So pretty! Can’t wait to try! And that cake plate! Mind sharing where that is from?

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks so much Martha. Good luck frosting your next cake. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is.
      I picked up the pretty marble and wood pedestal cake stand from World Market for $25. It comes in multiple sizes and I think it’s an item they do keep in stock.
      I just added the link to the end of this post.

  • Sheila

    You make it look like I might be able to do this. I need a cake leveler/ slicer gadget! Beautiful photography! Cheers. Sheila

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks, Sheila. I love the way this turned out…. especially since it’s my first success at this. If I can make a cake like this… anyone can-lol.
      Good luck with yours and thanks for popping over for a visit.

  • [email protected] Designs

    Wow…what great tips and got to get some of those tools!…and your photography is just stunning as always!

  • Peggy

    This is beautiful. I have a son that always wants a white cake with white icing for his birthday. I can’t wait to try this. We may have to have a practice cake or two. 😉

  • Puja Darshan

    You are right this cake looks almost as good as a pricey cake from an upscale bakery.
    Lovely idea. Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Jenna

    Wow, I might even be able to manage this! Your cake is incredible and thanks for the secret tips!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Yes, you can definitely do this, Jenna. Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised to see how easy that frosting is to smooth out once it’s been piped on.
      Good luck and thanks for stopping by.

  • Jeanne

    Lisa – the cake is beautiful. Fragile with a touch of rustic – Absolutely stunning!

  • Marisa Franca @ All Our Way

    What great ideas!! I never thought about piping the frosting on and then smoothing it out. The only item I don’t have is the cake cutter — oh and the talent. 🙂 But I’d love to try making the cake. Absolutely beautiful cake and your shots of the cake are awesome. Have a great day!!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      That never occurred to me either, Marisa. That’s why I’m so thrilled about learning this new technique.
      You can find the cake cutter at Michael’s or Joanne’s for under $10 (with that coupon).
      Let me know when you make yours. I’d like to know how it turns out for you too.

  • Cindy

    Well you go girl! I really like that size of a cake! Question: when you use the 6″, are you using just 1 box cake? That’s so pretty, and thanks for those tips! I never thought to freeze the layers before! Have a great day, Lisa:)

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks, Cindy! I am a cake-making fool now. I just can’t stop-lol.
      Yes, one regular box of yellow (or whatever flavor) cake mix poured equally into the two 6-inch pans will cover you. You’ll get that additional cake height by cutting each one in half (giving you four layers) and then stacking the layers with icing between each one.
      I think this smaller cake diameter is so much more elegant for this technique. Do let me know how your cake turns out.

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