Cake Decorating Basics – Cooling, Leveling, Layering and Crumb Coating

”Great guide for cake decorating basics - Lots of great cake decorating lessons”

In this ‘Cake Decorating Basics’ section, I am going to share with you various tips I have learned on how to prepare cakes for decoration, i.e., things you need to do to your freshly baked cakes before you start to frost them with icing. Most of you will be familiar with these steps, but for those who are not, I hope the tips I have on this page will help you in improving your decorating skills.

Let’s start with the cooling phase of the cake.

Cake Decorating Basics- Cooling a Cake

  • Once your cake is baked and is out of the oven, you need to cool it at room temperature for at least 4 hours (for a 9 inch round cake). Larger cakes need a longer cooling period.
  • The best way to cool a cake is to place it on a wire rack. While cooling, make sure the cake is placed upright, and not upside down.
  • Never try to cover a cake with icing before it has cooled down completely or else your icing will start melting on the cake.

Cake Decorating Basics– Leveling and Patching a Cake

  • Once your cake has completely cooled down, level the surface of your cake with a serrated knife or a cake leveler. Leveling a cake refers to the act of making the top of the cake flat. Sometimes, cakes tend to rise higher is the middle when baked. You will need to cut off the cake top in order to get a level surfaced cake. This can be done with a serrated knife. Another easier way would be to use a cake leveler. With the cake leveler, you will get an even surface for your cakes.
  • Once the top has been leveled, turn the cake upside down onto your cake board. Now you will have the completely flat and even bottom of the cake as your new top. This way, you get to make use of the flat surface of the bottom of the cake to achieve a nice and level top for your cake once you frost it. If you had not leveled your cake earlier, it will not be sitting well on the cake board when you turn it over. Once placed upside down, you may notice some gap between the new cake bottom and the cake board.
  • If you have such gap, you will have to patch up this space or else the sides of your cake will start to slope slightly at the sides once you put icing on your cake, especially heavy icing like fondant.
  • To do the patchwork, take some of the cake top that has been leveled off earlier. Break it into crumbs. Next, take a little butter icing and mix with the crumbs to get a dough-like texture. Fill this mixture into the gaps between the cake bottom and the cake board.
  • Once the patchwork is done, your cake should have an even height and no gaps or space should be seen between the cake board and the cake.

Cake Decorating Basics - Cleaning Cake of Loose Crumbs and Crumb Coating

  • Loose crumbs, on your cake, if not cleaned before the cake is covered with icing, can really spoil your cake decoration. These crumbs will get mixed in your icing as you spread it on your cake and will end up giving your decorated cake a speckled and unprofessional appearance look. This is more so for spreadable icing like butter icing and royal icing.
  • To avoid such appearance, you will have to first apply one thin layer of icing onto your cake. This icing is known as the crumb coat. It is a very thin layer of icing, and you will still be able to see your cake after applying it. The purpose of this icing is to stick all tiny cake crumbs that are on and around the cake to the cake. Once the crumb coat has been applied, put your cake into the refrigerator for a few minutes until the crumb coat is slightly firm. Once firm, take the cake out, and apply the final coat of icing. This way, the cake crumbs will be sticking to the cake and not get mixed with your icing.

Cake Decorating Basics - Layered or Sandwiched Cakes

There are basically two ways of making layered or sandwiched cakes. You can either divide a cake batter between two cake tins and bake two separate but same sized cakes and sandwich them or bake one cake and layer it once it has cooled.
  • Cake Decorating Basics - If you are baking two separate cakes, this is what you have to do before cakes are sandwiched together:
    • Level off the top of the cakes with a cake leveler or a serrated knife if the centre of the cakes have risen considerably higher than the sides.
    • Place the first layer with the top facing up on a cake board. Spread the filling of your choice on the cake. Take the second cake and sandwich on the first, this time with the top of the cake facing down. At this point, both the top surfaces of your cakes should be sticking together with the cake filing.
    • Again, if you notice any gap or space between the 2 sandwiched cakes, patch up the gap as explained above.
    • Finally, continue with the crumb coat and final layer of icing.

  • Cake Decorating Basics - If, on the other hand, you bake one cake and layer it, this is what you need to do:
    • Level of the top of the cake with a cake leveler or a serrated knife if the centre of the cake has a peak.
    • Place the cake on a tray. Use a skewer to mark the layers on the sides of your cake. With a cake leveler, cut the cake into layers of equal height.
    • Transfer the top layer onto a cake board. Spread the filling of your choice on the cake layer. Place the second layer on top and continue until all layers of the cake are stacked. At this point the cake should be upside down with the bottom of the cake now being the new top to take advantage of the smooth surface of the cake bottom.
    • Finally, crumb coat the cake and cover it with icing of your choice.

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