Beginner's Guide to Cake Decorating: Part Three, Buttercream

Updated: May 22

Friends! It's been a little while since we've had a decorating lesson so let's get right back to it! It's buttercream time! So we're at the point now where you have the tools you need, your board is covered and your cake is baked. Now we need to get it stacked up and prepped for icing.

So I guess, before we can do anything, we need some buttercream! Feel free to use your own recipe if you have a favourite one but my recipe looks like this:

1kg icing sugar 250g butter

2-3 tbsp milk

This should be enough to fill and crumb a 7 or 8-inch cake. Pop the icing sugar and butter into a mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of milk. Start mixing it together. It’s going to look a bit thick so if it doesn't come together, add a little more milk. You are looking for a consistency that is stiff but spreadable; too stiff and it’s going to tear apart your cake, too loose and it’s going to ooze out when you start piling up the cakes. Now for the cakes. Before you get started: - make sure your cakes are fully cooled. If possible make them the day before but don’t worry if that’s not possible - just make sure they are cool! It’s sometimes recommended to give the cakes a blast in the freezer to make them easier to work with but I’ve never tried this so can’t comment! - have your board prepped and ready to go. There’s a quick tutorial on how to cover your board here Everything ready? Here we go! 1. Level off your cakes. I swear by this cake leveller. You can adjust it to the height you need and it creates a straight top every time. If you are really clever, you can do this with a big serrated knife but straight lines have never been my forte! 2. Stick your first cake to the board by smudging a bit of buttercream in the centre and pressing your first cake firmly down. 3. Put a good dollop of buttercream in the centre of your cake.

4. Using a palette knife, start from the middle and begin smoothing and pushing the buttercream to the edges, Keeping the palette knife horizontally will help smooth things out evenly. Make sure you push the buttercream right to the edge. This will stop problems occurring once the cake is stacked; buttercream will naturally start to spread into any gaps causing air bubbles and an uneven surface... Don’t worry if the buttercream spills over the edge - this can be sorted out later. 5. Place your next cake on top and repeat steps 3 - 5. If you are using any fillings like jam or curd, spread this on to your next cake before you stack it jam-side down

Once all your cakes are piled up, we need to buttercream the sides. When we were spreading the buttercream throughout the layers, we had the palette knife horizontal. Now we are doing the sides, we’re going to have it vertical. This will help keep the sides straight. We’re going to start by just doing the sides. Covering the top at the stage can cause the cake to move about, resulting in a wonky finish. 6. Start by removing the excess from the sides. If your buttercream is really stiff, remove the excess by running the palette knife around the edge of the cake to effectively cut off any overhang. You could try and use this to start covering the sides but If it’s too stiff it might start destroying your cake! To make sure we keep our cakes in one piece, we can make the buttercream a little less firm. Add a little bit more milk; we still want it relatively thick but easy to smooth. 7. Scoop up a dollop of buttercream with your palette knife and apply it to the side of the cake. Keeping the palette knife vertical, gently smooth the buttercream back and forth. Continue this around the whole cake. 8. Once you have the whole cake covered, it’s time to check it’s straight! Place a ruler or any straight edge next to your cake. If there is a gap, it means your cake isn’t quite straight. Adjust it by gently pushing the cake into place using a cake smoother or clean hands.

9. Once it’s straight, use a scraper to smooth around the outside of your cake. Hold it straight and pull it around the cake, towards you in a smooth motion. It’s really helpful if you have a turntable as you can move the scraper round while you are turning the turntable. 10. Now to tidy the top a little. Hold your palette knife horizontal but slightly tilt it so you are using the edge. Gently move the knife from the edge into the middle, smoothing out the icing. Leave to chill. You’ll know when you are ready for the next step because the icing will have hardened to form a crust - this is your first crumb coat! 11. When you are ready for the next layer of buttercream, we’re going to start with the top this time. Using the same technique as when we were filling the cake, start with a dollop of buttercream and use the palette knife to push the icing to the edge of the cake.

12. Repeat steps 7 - 10. I used a different colour here as it was for a buttercream finished cake. If your next step is to cover with fondant, there's no need to colour it.

A couple of extra things to remember: - If the buttercream is uneven, your scraper may not smooth every part of the cake (see middle image above.) If this happens, add some extra buttercream to these areas and smooth again.

- You might also be able to see in the images above that there was a lot of air bubbles in this batch of buttercream - this happened because I overmixed. Reduce air bubbles by adding a little milk and mixing with a spatula or metal spoon. - If you are covering the cake with fondant, there is no need to buttercream it quite as thickly as I have done here. Just make sure you there are no loose crumbs and that you can hardly see the layers of cake under the buttercream, if they're too exposed you might be able to see them through the fondant layer. - If covering with fondant: I like to leave cakes to chill overnight before covering them so they are nice and firm. I do this at room temperature or slightly below. The cake can be chilled in the fridge but be careful - condensation can form once the cake is taken from the fridge and brought into room temperature. If you do this, give the cake time to acclimatise. If you cover too soon there's a chance your fondant might sweat. As always, if you have any questions just let me know. And if you give it a go, don't forget to share your works of art! I will see you next time when we move on to covering with fondant! My favourite!


You can find the next steps here: https://www.tallulahsbakery.com/post/cake-decorating-part-four-how-to-cover-a-cake-with-icing-fondant Happy Baking, Vicky xx


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