Frosting Cakes Is Easier with This $2 Household Staple

published Feb 15, 2023
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With the skills to transform flour, eggs, and butter into spectacular sweets, bakers are the people I most admire in the culinary world. An experienced baker learns everything from styles of buttercream to how to assemble a multi-tiered wedding cake. While acquiring these skills, however, they pick up lots of helpful baking tips and tricks.

Eager to earn my stripes, I enrolled in an introductory course on cake decorating. It was there, in the back of a cake supply store with other baking enthusiasts, where I learned that the secret to perfectly smooth cakes was already in my kitchen (and is most likely already in yours, too!).

While you can use tools like cake scrapers from a fancy baking store, you can also use a paper towel to help get the top and sides of your cake ultra smooth! Read more on how I learned to put this clever hack to use.

How to Frost a Cake with Paper Towels 

  1. Once the cake layers are stacked and a crumb coat is applied and chilled, generously coat in a layer of buttercream. Spread the icing as evenly as you can, but there is no need to aim for perfection yet.
  2. Set the cake aside for 15 to 30 minutes to allow the top layer of the frosting to dry slightly and develop a delicate crust. This crust not only allows decorations to be added without damaging the base layer, but it is also essential for the smoothing step.
  3. Remove a sheet of Viva paper towels from the roll and lay it flat on the cake. Then gently and evenly rub the cake to smooth the icing with your fingertips or a flexible bowl scraper. Work your way around the edge and top of the cake until the frosting is completely smooth and ready for extra embellishments. It’s important to use Viva paper towels for this technique, as they have no quilting or patterns embossed onto the sheets that can transfer to the cake.
Credit: Melissa Ryan

If You’re Trying This Technique, a Few Tips 

  • Only use Viva paper towels. Most paper towels are imprinted with a pattern or logo. Viva paper towels are design-free so you can be sure that no unwanted indentations are inadvertently imprinted onto your cake. 
  • Dust with powdered sugar if the paper towel sticks. Wait until the frosting develops a crust before you start smoothing. If you are impatient you can dust the paper towel with powdered sugar before smoothing. 
  • Non-crusting frostings may require a different smoothing technique. If you are working with a buttercream frosting that doesn’t crust after 30 minutes, it may contain too much moisture for this technique. Other smoothing techniques may be better-suited to that frosting, including using a cake scraper or a warm offset spatula.