13 Cake Frosting Tips That Will Definitely Come in Handy

Our Test Kitchen's cake frosting tips will help you finish your favorite recipes like a pro. Check out the techniques that will take your bakes to the next level.

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Invest in an offset spatula

Without a doubt, an offset spatula is the most useful frosting tool you can have in your decorating kit. These flat spatulas are perfect for scooping, smoothing and swirling frosting onto cakes. This OXO Good Grips spatula set is perfect—it has one large and one small perfect for cakes of all sizes—yep, even mini cakes.

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Bump up buttercream flavor

When it comes to frosting, we tend to think either chocolate or vanilla. But you really don’t need to limit yourself! Adding flavor to a simple buttercream is easy. Peanut butter can be added in alongside butter. And berries can be pressed through a sieve and stirred right in like with this tasty blackberry buttercream.

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Keep your cake from scooting

When you’re stacking layer cakes, it’s crucial that the cake stays in place. To keep the cake planted where you put it, first put down a small dollop of frosting on your cake plate, then set down your first layer. The frosting here will act like glue to keep that cake still.

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Line your cake plate with waxed paper

We get it: You definitely don’t want to transfer your cake from one tray to another before serving. To prevent your serving plate or cake stand from looking messy after frosting, first line the edges with strips of waxed paper. When you’re done frosting, remove the strips and reveal a clean plate that’s ready to show off.

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Courtesy of Trina Harris

Chill cakes for easier frosting

First and foremost: Never frost a warm cake! The cake will melt the icing. Now, you can frost room temperature cakes, but chilled cakes are easier to frost. Cold cakes are firmer and hold their shape, meaning they won’t budge or break as you go to work.

If you’re working with frozen cakes, let the cake thaw halfway or so, then frost. No need to wait for it to come all the way to room temp.

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Adjust the frosting consistency

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our classic buttercreams turn out too stiff or too thin. If you find that your buttercream is just too stiff, add a bit of milk or cream—just a teaspoon at a time. Too thin? Add in confectioners’ sugar a quarter cup at a time until you get the right thickness. Also check out how to use a piping bag the right way.

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Get a perfect drip cake with ganache

Add an extra layer of decadence with a rich ganache dripping over your cake. Making ganache is simple—you just need chocolate and cream. When combined and cooled, spoon over the top of your cake and let it drip elegantly down the sides like with our favorite Special-Occasion Chocolate Cake.

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Give layer cakes a crumb coat

No one likes crumby frosting. To prevent crumbs from infiltrating your frosting layer, give the cake a crumb coat. To do this, give the cake a very, very thin coating of frosting using an offset spatula, then pop it in the fridge to set for about a half-hour. This will help trap any crumbs.

Once you remove it from the fridge, frost as normal, following our easy cake frosting guide.

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Sift cocoa powder

Looking to turn your vanilla buttercream into a chocolate buttercream? All you have to do is add a bit of baking cocoa. Before you mix this ingredient in, though, be sure to sift it. (Here’s how to sift without a sifter.) Cocoa has a tendency to clump and can clog your piping tips if not sifted.

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Keep meringue-, cream cheese- and whipped cream-based frostings cool

Basic American buttercream (that’s butter, confectioners’ sugar, milk and flavoring) can be kept at room temperature. Cakes frosted with meringue buttercream, cream cheese frosting or a whipped cream frosting should be kept refrigerated.

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Courtesy of Trina Harris

Use a bench scraper for smooth sides

If you want absolutely smooth sides on your cake, use a bench scraper to get that perfect look. The flat, dull blade will keep everything smooth. You can also use this tool for the crumb coating or making naked cakes.

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Give sheet cakes a pretty finish

Not baking a layer cake? No problem. You can still make cakes made in sheet pans and 13×9 pans look pretty. Grab your offset spatula and give the cake a coat of frosting. When you’re done, use the spatula and move it across the frosting in an S pattern. This will give you a pretty swirl. You can top it off with sprinkles, chocolate curls, crushed candies or any other tasty tidbit.

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Decorate the sides of the cake with sprinkles or nuts

If you don’t feel like piping but still want decoration, this is an easy method. Grab chopped, toasted nuts, cookie crumbles or sprinkles and press them into the side of the cake, just like with this majestic pecan cake. Be sure to line the cake plate with waxed paper strips. Pull them away and you’ll have a clean finish.

Learn how to decorate a cake like a pro!

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.