How To Frost a Layer Cake

We've offered good tips before on how to frost a cake without too much mess, but we wanted to show you start to finish how we frost a cake. We're not experts at this, but we do love layer cake! Here's how we do it.

Disclaimer: The frosting used here is a fluffy marshmallow icing. It's not supposed to be thin, sleek, or smooth. It's supposed to look like, well, marshmallows. Also, it's delicious.

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• First, gather what you need. Here's what we brought to the icing station:

• Cake layers - Baked the previous day and fully cooled, then wrapped tightly in multiple layers of plastic wrap.
• Marshmallow icing - Color tip: Even though we normallu eschew Jell-O and fake coloring, all bets are off when it comes to small children's birthdays. In this case, we found that a tiny portion of strawberry Jell-O mix gave us the perfect pink tint, and just a hint of strawberry flavor.
• Cake plate
• Wax paper
• Offset spatula or broad knife
• Small mug of hot water
• Sprinkles, candy letters, and other birthday cake necessities

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• Spread a small dab of icing on the cake plate.

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• Cut narrow strips of wax paper and place them in a grid on the cake plate, leaving the center open. (This will help keep the plate clean.)

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• Center your first layer on the plate.

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• Stir the frosting smooth and smack several large globs onto the cake layer. Spread them with the spatula until even and smooth. Do make sure that the frosting is especially thick around the edges. Cakes are often a little thinner at the edges and domed in the center. Make sure there is a raised ridge of icing to help keep the cake layers even.

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• Place the second layer on top and repeat the previous step.

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• Place the third layer on top. Now apply a thin layer of icing all over the cake, spreading it evenly and thinly to "catch the crumbs." This should collect any loose crumbs and hold them firm, keeping them out of your final cake icing. Then apply a second layer, this time dipping the spatula in warm water between strokes to keep it warm and clean - this will help give a smoother finish. This works especially well with buttercream.

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• Apply sprinkles, candles, decorations - this a good point to have a small one help. The newly five-year-old birthday girl put on all her own decorations here. (Can you tell that all she wanted was a "pink cake"?)

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• When the cake is iced to your satisfaction, gently pull away the wax paper strips.

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• Ta-da! Frosted cake. It's not that difficult, and even when it looks like a fluffy pink marshmallow, it's still very impressive. All you need to say is "three-layer cake" and people will be lining up with forks in hand.

Any more tips for cake icing?

Related: Beat the Box: Is a Box Mix Really Faster?


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Republished article originally posted September 12, 2008.

(Images: Faith Hopler)