How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro—No Special Tools Needed (2024)

Learn how to frost a cake that your friends and family will ooh and ahh over—no special tools required.

When it comes to desserts, is there anything more impressive and tempting than a beautifully frosted cake? While the cake recipe is absolutely key to these gorgeous desserts, it’s no secret that the frosting is what makes them so beautiful. But how do you frost a cake so perfectly?

What Is the Best Way to Frost a Cake?

When it comes to frosting a cake, especially for beginners, it’s best to go with a simple yet pretty finish. You won’t need a lot of fancy tools to frost a cake, so savethose pastry bags andpiping tipsfor another day (or for these cupcakes). Instead, gather up a few kitchen basics.

To Frost a Cake, You’ll Need:

  • Your favorite layer cake recipe
  • The frosting of your choice
  • Long, serrated knife
  • Offset spatula
  • Waxed paper
  • Serving plate or cake stand

Step 1: Level Your Cake

How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro—No Special Tools Needed (1)Taste of Home

For an extra stable and flat cake, it’s a good idea to level your cake before frosting. This allows your cakes to stack more easily, though if you like the domed appearance of a homemade cake, you don’t need to level off that top layer.

To level the cake, allow the layers to cool completely. A warm cake will crumble easily—plus, frosting warm cakes is bad news (you’ll end up with runny frosting). If you want, you can even refrigerate the cake before frosting and leveling. This will help the cake become a bit firmer and it’ll be easier to work with.

Now, to get even, level layers, place the cake on a flat surface. Then, using a long, serrated knife, cut off the dome of the cake. You can save the cake scraps to make a mini trifle or just eat them as a snack (that’s my preference).

Step 2: Stack the Cakes

How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro—No Special Tools Needed (2)Taste of Home

Next, you’ll stack up your cakes. Prep your serving dish or cake stand by lining it with strips of waxed paper. This will help give you a clean finish at the end.

Then, put your first layer in place. If you’d like, spread a small dollop of frosting onto your cake plate before laying down your first layer—it’ll help keep your cake from moving. Then, spread yourfilling on top with a spatula and top with your next layer. Continue with a third and fourth layer if you’ve got ’em.

Step 3: Give the Cake a Crumb Coat

How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro—No Special Tools Needed (3)Taste of Home

After your layers are stacked and looking nice and even, it’s time to give your cake a quick crumb coat. A crumb coat is simply a very thin layer of frosting that you spread over the whole cake. This helps trap and contain crumbs and serves as a nice base for your showstopping finish.

To crumb coat a cake, just spread a very thin layer of icing over the cake using an offset spatula—here’s our favorite plus a few more essential cooking tools.Try to make this coat as thin and even as possible. Once it’s finished, give your cake a quick chill in the refrigerator to help this base layer set. You can chill the cake overnight, but even a quick, ten-minute stay in the fridge will do wonders.

Step 4: Smooth It All Out

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After your crumb coat is set, you can start giving your cake the finishing touch. Start by using an offset spatula to frost the top of the cake, starting from the center. For exceptionally smooth frosting, dip the spatula into hot water, then dry it. The warm spatula will really help smooth the frosting out by melting any butter or shortening in your recipe.

You can then move onto the sides of the cake, using the same hot water method. To get a nice smooth finish, be sure to keep cleaning off the spatula as you go—a bench scraper also works well for the sides, too. With a little bit of effort, you’ll have a perfectly smooth, flat finish in no time. If you’re satisfied with the look of the cake, you can stop right here. Just remove those strips of waxed paper carefully and serve.

Step 5: Finish It Off with Some Swirls

How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro—No Special Tools Needed (5)Taste of Home

If you want to finish off your cake with a little bit of flair, you can go one step further and add swirls to your cake. Using a teaspoon—you can use the same hot water method as above—spread on swirls of frosting. Use the backside of the spoon. It’s what gives this chocolate cake such a pretty finish.When you’re all done, just remove the waxed paper to reveal a nice finish and a clean cake plate.

“Can I Frost a Cake the Day Before?” and Other FAQs

When it comes to baking and decorating cakes, there are a few questions that come up over and over again—I’ve certainly done my fair share of Googling during a bake. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked cake questions.

Q: Can I frost a cake the day before?

A: You sure can! An unsliced, frosted cake will be just as delicious the next day. The only exception would be a cake frosted with any fresh whipped cream frosting. That’s better fresh.

Q: Do you have to refrigerate cake?

A: It depends. Most frosted cakes are perfectly fine at room temperature for a day or two. If your cake contains fresh fruit or the frosting has whipped cream, cream cheese or mascarpone, you should keep it in the fridge.

Q: Should I refrigerate cake before frosting?

A: You don’t have to. Chilling cake in the fridge before frosting can make it easier to manipulate and level, but it’s not necessary. Just be sure your cake is cooled to room temperature before leveling or frosting.

Q: How do I transport a cake?

A: Your best bet for getting your cake from point A to point B in one piece is to invest in a cake carrier. You can get a good, basic one for just about $16 or opt for a vintage-style one for a bit more. Be sure to place this on a flat surface in your car, either in the trunk or on the floor. If you don’t have a carrier, try to find a box that fits your cake plate as snugly as possible and cover.

Bring a little extra frosting and decorations in case of any mishaps. You can easily fix any smudges when you get to your destination.

Love Frosting? Try These Cakes

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How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro—No Special Tools Needed (6)Taste of Home

Come-Home-to-Mama Chocolate CakeYou'll spend less than a half hour whipping up this cure-all cake that starts with a mix. Sour cream and chocolate pudding make it rich and moist, and chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate make it decadent comfort food at its finest. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGet Recipe

Pecan Cake with Cookie Butter FrostingMy mom and I bought a jar of cookie butter to try it out, and we fell in love with it. I knew the flavor would go well with maple syrup and pecans, so I came up with this cake. I like to make a pretty design on the top of the cake with pecan halves. —Natalie Larsen, Columbia, Maryland

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Nana's Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint FrostingEven though Nana is no longer with us, her treats bring me so much joy every time I bake them. For a more indulgent version, double the frosting and pile it on high! —Chekota Hunter, Cassville, Missouri

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Old-Fashioned Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese FrostingA pleasingly moist cake, this treat is the one I requested that my mom make each year for my birthday. It's dotted with sweet carrots and a hint of cinnamon. The fluffy buttery frosting is scrumptious with chopped walnuts stirred in. One piece of this carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is never enough—it's better than all the other carrot cakes I've tried! —Kim Orr, West Grove, Pennsylvania

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Frosted Chocolate CakeThis recipe is my mother's oldest and most popular chocolate cake recipe. I always thought it should have a fancier name, but this is what she called it. Mom would say a fancy name would not make it taste better. —Beth Bristow West Plains, Missouri

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Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Easy Vanilla Buttercream FrostingAfter trying a few buttercream frosting recipes, this easy vanilla buttercream frosting takes the cake with its unmatchable homemade taste. With a few simple variations, you can come up with different colors and flavors. —Diana Wilson, Denver, Colorado

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Mamaw Emily's Strawberry Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Mamaw Emily's Strawberry CakeMy husband loved his mamaw's strawberry cake recipe. He thought no one could duplicate it. I made it, and it’s just as scrumptious as he remembers. —Jennifer Bruce, Manitou, Kentucky

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Taste of Home

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese FrostingI discovered this wonderful pumpkin cupcake recipe and changed a bit to suit my taste. I love the flavor of pumpkin and the cinnamon makes ordinary cream cheese frosting extra special. When I made a batch for my husband to take to work, he said they disappeared in record time. —Debbie Wiggins, Longmont, Colorado

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Cranberry Coconut Cake with Marshmallow Cream FrostingFilled with a homemade cranberry curd and smothered with one of the fluffiest frostings you've ever had, this tall cake will make a memorable impression at any gathering. —Julie Merriman, Seattle, Washington

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Taste of Home

Chocolate Bavarian TorteWhenever I take this eye-catching torte to a potluck, I get so many requests for the recipe. —Edith Holmstrom, Madison, Wisconsin

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Maple Walnut CakeThis maple-flavored cake with candied walnuts honors beloved my grandpa, who made maple syrup when I was a child. It honors his memory and has proven to be a favorite with family and friends throughout the years. —Lori Fee, Middlesex, New York

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Cherry Cola CakeCherry cola and marshmallows make a zippy chocolate dessert that is scrumptious topped with vanilla ice cream. — Cheri Mason, Harmony, North Carolina

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Coffee-Chocolate Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Coffee-Chocolate CakeSay happy birthday with this dark, moist cake. The basic buttery frosting has an unmistakable homemade taste. With a few simple variations, you can come up with different colors and flavors. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen

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Marvelous Cannoli Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Marvelous Cannoli CakeA luscious, chocolate-studded cannoli filling separates the tender vanilla layers of this rich cake, which starts with a package mix. It’s best when served well chilled.—Antoinette Owens, Ridgefield, Connecticut

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Pink Lemonade Stand Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Pink Lemonade Stand CakeIf you love a moist and creamy cake, this one’s for you. The lemon juice and lemonade give the layers a tangy, citrusy touch, and the cream cheese frosting with sprinkles makes it extra pretty. —Lauren Knoelke, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Marvelous Marble CakePound cake and chocolate make the best marble cake. — Ellen Riley, Birmingham, Alabama

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Tropical Carrot CakeI look forward to August because our family reunion means fun and great food, like this classic cake with the special flair it gets from pineapple. My great-aunt gave me this recipe, and I always make it for the reunion.—Victoria Casey, Enterprise, Oregon

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Vanilla Bean Cake with White Chocolate GanacheFor a distinctive dessert with unforgettable flavor, I recommend this cake. Feel free to substitute your favorite jam and lend your own touch to this signature treat. —Lisa Bogar, Coventry, Vermont

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Rich Buttercream FrostingA few simple ingredients make a creamy frosting that finishes cakes, cupcakes and cookies. If you love making desserts, keep this buttercream frosting recipe handy. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen. Here are the different types of frosting that all the bakers need to know.

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Potluck German Apple Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Potluck German Apple CakeMy mother made this German apple cake for my brothers and me when we were kids. It's an excellent choice for a Christmas potluck or actually any time of year. —Edie DeSpain, Logan, Utah

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Ganache-Topped Chocolate CakeTo say this cake is elegant would be an understatement. It’s worthy of special occasions, but once you learn how to make chocolate ganache, it's so easy to whip together that you can enjoy it any day of the week. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen

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Taste of Home

Cupcake FrostingSimple vanilla frosting is a great topper for any cupcake. I frosted 300 cupcakes with this recipe for my wedding in lieu of a traditional cake. It made for a delicious bridal twist. — Annie Rundle, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Taste of Home

Minted Chocolate TorteOur family has enjoyed this remarkable layered cake for years. It's a favorite for many occasions. —Barbara Humiston, Tampa, Florida

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Coconut Cake with White Chocolate FrostingMy husband adores coconut but not so much cake. When I take this beauty to family potlucks, he gets his coconut, too. —Sharon Rehm, New Blaine, Arkansas

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Amaretto Butter Frosting Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Amaretto Butter FrostingPut the crowning touch on cupcakes with this rich and buttery Amaretto topper. —Anette Stevens, Olds, Alberta

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How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro—No Special Tools Needed (2024)
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