I wasn’t always able to make a pretty cake. I used to be way more “Betty Crackpot” than Betty Crocker. Thankfully, in my culinary journeys, I picked up some really helpful tools and techniques that helped me save face at dessert time and I am here to share them with you! Please note, these won’t turn you into the pastry version of DaVinci, but rather help you make a professional-looking base upon which you can create your very own Mona Lisa.
1. Have a cardboard cake circle ready
Before you begin, make sure you have a cardboard circle in the size of your cake. You can buy these pre-cut or make one on your own (though I always find it so hard to cut out a perfect circle!). This little piece of cardboard will help you move your cake from cutting board, to cake stand to platter without manhandling your masterpiece.
2. Level your cake
Once your cake is completely cool, it’s time to level it. Cakes don’t naturally turn out flat, they are typically a bit convex. If you want a professional looking flat top and you are making a layer cake, cut your cake into the amount of layers you want (as evenly as possible) and then place the top layer, with the rounded top, on the bottom (on top of your cardboard, naturally). Then frost it and repeat until the nicest, flattest layer ends up on top, but don’t frost the top just yet! More on that in tip #5.
3. Use a revolving cake stand
Does that whole, “cutting even layers” thing scare you as much as it scares me? It’s a whole lot easier with a revolving cake stand. It allows you to stand in one spot and using a serrated knife you can mark your cake where you want to cut it and then go deeper and deeper into your mark while rotating the cake, rather than you walking in circles. It’s also great for frosting, so once you have your layers ready, put your cardboard cut-out on the cake stand and go from there.
4. Use offset spatulas
Do yourself a favor and have two metal offset spatulas on hand: one larger one to lay down the frosting, and a smaller one to do the finesse work and smooth things out. My large one is almost 9”, while the smaller one is just over 4”. I can’t recommend these spatulas enough, unlike a knife or rubber spatula, they really give you the proper angle to make sure your frosting goes down as smoothly as possible.
5. Make a crumb coat
A crumb coat is basically a thin layer of frosting that comes into contact with the crumb of the cake. By making this layer, you can come back and frost on top of it while leaving the crumbs suspended in that first application of frosting. No crumbs in the frosting = a beautiful cake! To get the best coat, have your frosting at room temperature so it’s nice and spreadable. Then, using your offset spatulas, coat the top and sides of your cake as evenly as possible, while leaving enough frosting to do a thicker second coat. You’ll want the frosting to be completely dry to the touch before starting the second layer. Putting the cake into the refrigerator helps speed that along.
Follow the above steps and you should have a very professional-looking canvas for some final decorating magic, be it fondant roses, a smattering of curled chocolate, or a selfie made from sprinkles!