How to Crumb Coat and Frost a Cake: The Newbie Guide

Frosting a cake might seem like a daunting task for beginners, but with the right tools and techniques, you can achieve a professional-looking cake. Whether you prefer a rustic look or a smooth finish, this guide will walk you through the process step-by-step. 

The Tools You Need to Frost Cakes

To get started, you'll need a few key items that will make the job much easier. Here’s a list of essential tools:

- Turntable: A rotating cake stand to help you frost evenly.

- Cake Board, Plate, or Holder: To support your cake.

- Piping Bag (Optional): Useful for applying frosting.

- Large Round Piping Tip (Optional): For even frosting application.

- Offset Icing Spatula: For spreading frosting smoothly.

- Bench Scraper or Straight Icing Spatula: For smoothing the sides of the cake.

Crumb Coat

Before applying the final layer of frosting, you’ll need to apply a crumb coat. This thin layer of frosting traps any loose crumbs and provides a smooth surface for the final layer.

1. What is a Crumb Coat?

   - A thin layer of frosting is applied to the cake to trap crumbs and fill gaps between layers, ensuring a smooth final coat.

2. Quick Tips for Crumb Coating:

   - Work from a smaller bowl of buttercream to avoid contaminating your main batch with crumbs.

   - If your cake is warm, chill it until it's firm before applying the crumb coat to prevent shifting.

   - Don’t worry about getting the crumb coat perfect; just make sure all gaps are filled.

3. Set the Crumb Coat:

   - Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes, or until the frosting is firm to the touch. If using American buttercream, you can leave it at room temperature until it forms a crust (about 20 minutes).

Frosting the Cake

Now for the fun part—frosting your cake! There are two popular methods: a rustic style for a casual look and a smooth style for a more polished finish.

Option 1: Rustic Style

1. Apply Frosting to the Top:

   - Place a generous amount of frosting (about 1 cup for a 6" cake, 2 cups for an 8" cake, etc.) on top of the cake. Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting outwards, pushing it to the edges to create an overhang.

2. Spread Frosting on the Sides:

   - Use the offset spatula to spread a thick layer of frosting on the sides of the cake, smoothing as you turn the turntable. Pull the frosting from the top edge down to the sides to create peaks and valleys.

3. Clean the Top Edge:

   - Smooth the top edge by gently knocking down any excess frosting to create even edges. Aim for a rustic look, so don’t overwork it.

Option 2: Smooth Style

1. Apply Frosting Generously:

   - Spoon or pipe a thick layer of frosting onto the top of the cake. Use the offset spatula to spread it evenly, pushing it to the edges.

2. Smooth the Top:

   - Hold the spatula steady above the top of the cake and rotate the turntable to spread the frosting smoothly. Stop when the top is flat and smooth.

3. Frost the Sides:

   - Apply a thick layer of frosting to the sides of the cake using a spatula or a piping bag. Smooth it out by holding a bench scraper or icing spatula vertically against the cake and rotating the turntable. Scrape off excess frosting as you go.

4. Warm the Spatula:

   - Dip the spatula in warm water and wipe it dry. A warm spatula helps to smooth the buttercream more effectively.

Final Tips

- Refrigeration: If not using immediately, refrigerate the frosted cake. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving for the best texture.

- Consistency: Adjust the amount of powdered sugar in your buttercream to achieve the desired consistency—more sugar for a stiffer texture and less for a lighter one.

- Food Safety: Cream cheese frosting should not be left out for more than a couple of hours. Refrigerate if necessary, especially if you have health concerns.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to crumb coat and frost a cake like a pro. Whether you prefer a rustic or smooth finish, the key is to practice and find the technique that works best for you. Enjoy your beautifully frosted cake!