A pretty cake adds a bit of ceremony to an occasion, don’t you think? As far as birthdays and moments of congratulations go, I think flowers and cakes are the perfect thing for celebrating. I had a friend who used to make a pretty little cake for each friend on their birthday. So I thought I’d share with you a new little trick I learned in case you’d like to do the same: how to frost a smooth, level cake, with no crumbs in the frosting.


You’ll need:
—batter for one cake and pans of your choice (homemade cake is usually denser and holds up well under frosting, but cake mixes work too)
—parchment paper and a paper towel
—a pastry bag and tip, if possible, for laying the frosting on the cake (see the cake icer tip below)
—a recipe of buttercream frosting of a thinner consistency, about as thin and spreadable as butter at room temperature


Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of your pan. I do this by folding a piece in quarters and pressing it into the pan to get an idea of the size.


Grease the pan, lay down the parchment paper, then grease and flour over the parchment. Make sure to pat out excess flour. This step is so helpful for getting your cake out at the end.

Add batter so your pan is 2/3 full.

4-how-to-frost-a-cakeWhile your cake is baking, I like to prepare 4-6 strips of parchment to place around my cake platter. That way, if I frost the platter a bit, it will come off when I pull out the parchment paper.

Bake your cake until a toothpick comes out clean, with no big crumbs sticking to it.

5-how-to-make-a-level-cake6-how-to-make-a-level-cakeOnce the cake is cooled, level it using a cake leveler or serrated knife. Whenever possible, I like to level the cake right in the pan, then take it out and let it finish cooling.

7-how-to-make-a-level-cakeFlip cake so the bottom side is up, and peel off parchment paper from the top of the cake.

8-how-to-frost-a-cakeI was recently introduced to the cake icer tip, which I use with a 16-inch pastry bag. It is fantastic for laying frosting on the cake. If you don’t have one, you can improvise by piping your buttercream frosting out of a ziplock bag and using a knife to keep it on. The trick is to lay frosting on the cake, not rub it over the cake, which will pull crumbs up into your frosting.

9-how-to-frost-a-cakeIf you use the cake icer tip, the jagged edge faces towards the cake, the smooth edge away from the cake.

10-how-to-frost-a-cakeUse a spatula or knife to level the frosting. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just mostly level. Again, try to press the frosting against the cake, not rub it up from the cake.

If you put strips of parchment under the cake, carefully pull them out.

Let the cake sit for 15 minutes to let the frosting dry a bit on the outside.


This is the last step, the fun part. Use a piece of parchment paper or a paper towel and lay it right on the cake. Use your finger to press lightly over the cake and smooth the icing, then peel the paper away. Do the same for the sides. You can pull it  up and press it back on several times to get the cake as smooth as you like it.


13-how-to-frost-a-cakeIf you use a papertowel with an embossed pattern, you can have the pattern transfer to your cake. If this is the effect you’re going for, make sure you use the embossed side of the paper towel against the cake. And for this effect, you get only one shot of laying down the paper and peeling it away; you can’t re-lay the paper once you’ve peeled it away.


oooh. so smooth and crubless!

16-how-to-frost-a-cakeNow add something fun and deliver!

gifts-from-the-kitchen-icon-long-bannerclick here for more Gifts from the Kitchen

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Estelle May 28, 2009 at 8:56 am

Brilliant tutorial. I will be trying this technique soon. Thanks for sharing.


Shanti May 28, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Amber, it’s almost like you took a cake decorating class with all that knowledge! Love the tutorial. Very insightful, and of course the pics are wonderful. =)


AmberLee May 28, 2009 at 2:32 pm

ya…good thing I have friends who get me out of the house to actually try this stuff. so glad you checked….now that you have internet! yea. I was going to call and see what you thought of it.


Pumpkin Petunia May 29, 2009 at 5:55 am

The perfect tutorial! You don’t know how badly I needed to see this technique. Thank you!

Do you mind if I link to this and share the genius?


AmberLee May 29, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Hi there,
I’m glad you found it helpful! I’d love a link anytime. Thanks!!


Lori May 30, 2009 at 10:41 am

I took a Wilton class a few years ago and this was a trick they taught us. So easy and such a great result!


Emily M. September 13, 2009 at 8:06 pm

I have been making cakes for almost 8 years now, which is a long time considering I am only 19. I started with my grandmother, who has been doing it for 50 years, but now I do it mostly with friends and alone. I could not figure out how to get my cakes smooth and perfect. Thanks so much for the tip about the paper towel or parchment paper. No one I make cakes with knew about it and I would have never thought of it on my own. Even my grandmother had not heard of doing it that way. But it works GREAT! Thank you so much! You really helped me (guess I should say US) out! :)

~Emily M.


AmberLee September 14, 2009 at 8:46 am

thanks for the note, Emily! it sounds like you could teach me a thing or two about cake making. i love that you learned from your grandmother. i can’t think of a better way to spend time together.


Mandy Heintz October 14, 2009 at 9:15 am

I have been decorating cakes for 5 years now, and have used this technique. However, instead of using buttercream frosting, I much rather use a creamy frosting, (Wiltons). I never seem to get an intirely smooth cake surface. I have froze the cake and went from there, I have let it set at room temp and ice from that point, each giving me the same result. Any suggestions?


AmberLee October 17, 2009 at 5:56 am

Hi Mandy,
Thanks for your comment. For me the most important part has been to make sure I leave the right amount of time between spreading the frosting on the cake and then laying the parchment paper over it and smoothing it out. After I’ve spread the frosting on, I make sure to leave the cake alone until just the surface of the frosting has become dry enough so it isn’t tacky, but the icing under is still a bit soft. Once you’ve waited and smoothed the cake, you could try waiting another 10 minutes and then smoothing it again. Only this time lay parchment paper over the cake and smooth it using the back of a spoon dipped in hot water. I’ve also tried freezing the cake and then smoothing it with the back of a spoon dipped in hot water (directly on the icing, no need to use parchment paper when the icing has been frozen). I really hope this helps somehow. If you figure out a solution, I’d love to hear about it.


AmberLee October 19, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Hi Mandy,
I was just thinking about your comment and had one more thought. Have you played with the amount of sugar in your recipe? Maybe adding more powdered sugar would make the difference. Just an idea!


jen duncan February 3, 2010 at 7:52 am

Brilliant ideas Amber! I rarely make cakes (am afraid I’ll eat it all!) but I happened to last night. Wish I’d known to try this. Oh well, now I have a reason to make another one soon. :-) Thanks for the reminder today to come back and check this post.


Terri March 26, 2010 at 9:14 am

I loved all of your tips for your beautiful party you threw! The cake is stunning! I just love that big icer…just took a class and learned about it. The tea bags with the girls’ names on it are amazing. thanks for sharing such a wonderful party! Terri


Jessica April 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Wow! That is such a good idea! Thank you so much for sharing. I really want to try this now.

I’m actually in the mood for some red velvet cake and I really wanted to decorate the edges and this will help immensely to prepare the outside for decorating. I’d use fondant but I’m not a big fan of the taste so this is a much better alternative for me.


Jenny Lee Wentworth April 23, 2010 at 8:48 am

This is perfect, I’m making a wedding cake this weekend and I gonna try this out. Thank you so much for sharing!



Katey June 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Im making a cake for my son , this helps alot!


Tracy October 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm

THANK you! I’m so excited to find your tips of smooth icing! I hate they way fondant tastes and it makes such a mess when cutting. But I love the smooth look of it. I’m making my daughter’s birthday cake this weekend and I cannot wait to try this technique! I cannot say thank you enough!!!


admin October 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Thanks for the note, Tracy! I hope the cake and the party turn out great! Happy bday to your daughter!


Fiz December 26, 2010 at 9:11 pm

The parchment paper trick sounds (and looks) genius! I’m going to try that for the top of the cake I will bake this weekend for my little one’s party. Now I’m in a bit of a pickle….how do I ice a cake where I have cut the sides to shape…there are lots of crumbs. I don’t want to freeze the cake….but I also don’t want crumbs in the icing. Any tips….?


AmberLee December 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Hi Fiz,
Were you able to find something to make this work? I know some ppl will add a second layer to a cake, and call the first layer the crumb layer and the second layer is the pretty layer, but it does end up being a lot of frosting. Best of luck. If you find a great solution I’d love to hear.


Deanna March 26, 2011 at 5:45 am

Very helpful for those of us (me) who have difficulty with those crumbs!!!


Deanna March 26, 2011 at 6:08 am

That is brilliant!! Thank you for the tutorial. Each time I ice a cake, I get a little better, but this helps tremendously. I can’t wait to try it.


karie March 26, 2011 at 6:45 am

my grandma always used paper towels, it left the cake smooth with a nice pattern all over it. :)


karen March 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Thank you for sharing this great tip! I found your blog through Tip Junkie! I can’t wait to try it :)


Sofya May 29, 2011 at 9:07 am

Very nice! Best tutorial ever (I am hopeless at this).


Dianne July 8, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Thanks!!! Never frosted a cake for a party before and this was brilliant! I wish I would have used the parchment paper under the cake batter as I am about to flip the cake and hope it doesn’t fall apart, but I still have to bake another so I will do that.


AmberLee July 11, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Thanks for taking a moment to come and let me know, Dianne! I am so so happy this worked out for you. It was–almost–life changing for me. Okay, maybe not quite, but there is nothing like a pretty cake!


Stephanie September 22, 2011 at 11:40 am

Great tutorial! I am making my first special birthday cake for my son’s Star Wars themed birthday and wanted to smooth out the frosting so I could decorate it and I didn’t want to use fondant. Could you possibly share your buttercream frosting recipe? I know you mentioned it should be a thinner one and I wanted to make sure I made a good consistancy. I am on quite a time crunch and not much time for a whole lot of trial and error until the birthday party.

Also after the birthday party is done I am going to start a blog with homemade things/ things made at home. I am going to start the blog with a post about all the things done for the birthday party and wondered if I could post a link to your website when talking about how to make the cake?



Truelove Ejiofor September 29, 2011 at 1:07 am

How do one prepare the icing paste


Adelle December 15, 2011 at 4:17 am

Thank you sooooooo much for this! I’m gonna try i on my cake right away! :)


Patricia February 20, 2012 at 7:16 am

Hi and thank you for the tutorial I didn’t know about the paper towel tecnic, I want to know if you can use it with the wilton icing that has only shortening, not buttercream?


Jessa May 25, 2012 at 11:42 pm

This tutorial saved my life. Awesome. Thank you so much.


Holly sheldon September 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Thanks for the great tip. Can u ask which icing reciepe you use? My icing always seems to stay too wet.



Maria October 12, 2012 at 1:56 am

Hi, I also learned tho technique in a Wilton cake decorating class. However, my cake icing isn’t drying enough for me to do it? Any tips? Or ideas on why it isn’t drying?


Maria. :-)


AmberLee October 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Hi Maria!! I apologize I’ve taken so long to get back to you!! I have had this happen before. But I had pretty good luck letting the icing sit out for a few extra minutes and then patting it down. I wonder if you could up the powdered sugar in the recipe. If you find a solution, I’d love to hear!


Norani M Fathi October 23, 2012 at 10:59 pm

This is the most brilliant way to ice a cake. Thank you for sharing the tip.


Peony Deliza November 17, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Hi AmberLee! Thx so much for the tutorial. it’s really easy to understand. I’m kind of new in icing. i love baking cakes but i haven’t really tried icing yet. Do you know any recipes i can use to make the buttercream? I’d love to know… thx again!


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