Decorating a cake with buttercream. Tips for a beginner, please!

Joined Feb 8, 2005
Hello! I'm starting to get into decorating cakes for my kids and friends. The first time I tried with buttercream, I used the recipe from the stand mixer booklet, and I found it too sweet for my taste. Next time I'll do a thorough research before so maybe I can get a better buttercream...For some reason I rather make the buttercream with butter and not crisco, but this is not based in taste or texture...It's just I always have butter at home, but if I need to do the buttercream with crisco, then I'd have to get a can (my point is that sometimes my cakes are small, and the rest of the can goes to waste).

My question, though, is about the technique for frosting and filling. I cut the cake in half and filled it with the buttercream, chocolate chips and crushed walnuts. For the frosting, I dropped a big dollop of buttercream and started to smooth it over with a spatula (one of those thin ones, special for frosting) and it was a disaster!!! crumbs from the cake started coming off and mixing with the buttercream, and it ended being a pale green (I had colored the buttercream) with dots of brown from the (chocolate) cake /img/vbsmilies/smilies/frown.gif.

I don't know what to do next time so this doesn't there anything I'm missing that I should have done? I'm sorry if this is a stupid question...I've never been to baking class, and maybe there's some basic technique that I should be doing.

Also, a couple of hours after I finished frosting the cake, the frosting was hard and dry. My other question is about a technique I saw on the web about "ironing" the frosting with a paper towel and smoothing it with the hand, since the warmth of the hand would help melt a little bit of the frosting and then it would get smooth. Has anybody done this? Is it that easy or there's also another little basics that I should know about?

Thanks for any input!!!

Joined May 5, 2010
First off I have found a mixture of Crisco and butter 3:1 ratio with a small amount of milk , vanilla extract and powdered sugar makes a really good spreading frosting. The fact that you don't want it too sweet is impossible. You'll need a fair amount of powdered sugar to counteract the Crisco so that the frosting is not greasy.

Secondly the reason why your cake crumbs are coming off and mixing with the frosting is two-fold. The cake is room temperature and fresh and the frosting is too rigid and probably still cold.

Try this......after baking and cooling the cake split it into the layers then freeze them for an hour. The frosting should go much easier.

The frosting does harden after a while and this is normal.

To get that smooth finish, take your cake over to the sink and run the hot water. Rinse your frosting spatula under the hot water wipe dry quickly then run the spatula across the surface of the frosting. Rinse and repeat as many times as it takes to get your desired results.
Joined Dec 2, 2009
Both the Wilton and utube sites have lots of tutorials.

In fact, if you can take the Wilton cake decorating class # 1 (Hobby Lobby and Michael's both have them all the time), you will get some great basic info at the beginner level.
Joined Nov 4, 2005
i never ever use crisco. i think its gross. its unnecessary.

look up a recipe for Swiss buttercream, you are going to be heating up sugar and egg whites (2:1 ratio) over a double boiler. then you'd whip that in a mixer until its almost cool, and then you'd add butter and other flavorings. this has a great consistency for beginner cake decorators.

good luck!
Joined Mar 25, 2011
As far as the crumb problem goes, you might want to try the following: 1. After your layers are cooled, wrap them well and put them in the fridge for a while.2. Very important...give your cake a "crumb coat." This is a VERY thin layer of your icing which covers the entire cake. Don't slather it on, you're just looking to cover it thinly. Then put it BACK in the fridge for a while. This will "set" any crumbs into that thin layer, so when you're ready to do the REAL layer...VOILA! No crumbs in the finished cake!3. As the person above indicated, a Swiss (or French or Italian) buttercream is WAY more forgiving (and MUCH less sweet) than any frosting you'll make with powdered sugar. Definitely give this a try.4. "Cover up your mistakes." This the non-secret "secret" of all good bakers. Sloppy frosting job on the sides? Press some nuts or sprinkles into the frosting. Not a perfectly smooth job? Make swirls with the spatula all over and make it look intentional?Good luck and have fun!
Joined Aug 25, 2009
Sloppy frosting job on the sides?
I have been reading some threads and came across this.

There is no reason why Rocia (a pro by now) cannot make the cake smooth.  Put knife in hot water, wipe dry, smooth over. Take a large spatula or painter's scraper and smooth over. If you need to add more buttercream then do so ,spread again. There are techinuqes to fix problems like that without putting crushed nuts on it.
Not a perfectly smooth job?
Same thoughts.

Joined Sep 11, 2005
I have taken a few of the wilton classes..They do show you how to frost and do a crumb coating as mentioned.  I even took the class twice since i was having a hard time making the rose and flowers.  But I now plan to take the gum paste flowers class.  I finally made Swiss meringue buttercream for the first time.  I was worried at first since it curdled but I kept adding butter and whipping it.  then, it got fluffy and creamy.  I will never go back to those buttercream that uses all of those shortening or powder sugar.  However, I wanted to make this nutella buttercream frosting that calls for 1 jar of nutella and 2 lbs of powder sugar and some whipping cream.  Is there a way to cut back on the powder sugar or add nutella to the swiss meringue buttercream?
Joined Aug 25, 2009

Have you ever heard of Allan Dunn ? Try and get your hands one of his books, or take one of his classes (when he comes to your city), you will never regret it. Working with gumpaste is an easier medium to work with and some of the techniques are basic and you can hone your skills from that point.

You don't need to take Wilton classes .  There are some pretty  decent tutorials out there and with  alot of practice you will be teaching others.

I have put alot of money into decorating and I can honestly say that once you find that niche that your comfortable with, master it, then move on to another one you feel you can do.

As far as buttercreams go.......they teach 1/2 cup butter 1/2 crisco and then sugar powder, that is not real buttercream. (many will differ with me on this point, thats ok)

Mixing Nutella in swiss meringue ? I have never done it. Will it hold ? Try a test run.

Joined Jun 27, 2012
Once again late to the party.

I received an email from with this free offer (no, they don't require a credit card to join) with a buttercream recipe and application techniques.

Even tho I consider myself an expert on this topic, I joined and thoroughly enjoyed the tutorial.

Don't know if I can post a link yet so if it doesn't show up just PM me for the info.

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