Cake Decorating Blog

Smooth & Seamless: How to Ice a Wedding Cake With Buttercream

If learning how to ice a wedding cake with buttercream was a college course, it would be called Caking 101! Frosting, assembling and perfecting a tiered buttercream cake is a skill you’ll use over and over again, so it’s best to learn the right way to do it.

How to Ice a Wedding Cake with Buttercream | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

The technique for icing a buttercream-finished cake is essentially the same no matter which kind of buttercream you use. Here are a few fabulous buttercream recipes, sure to please any palate: 

Icing the individual tiers

Before we get to stacking, you’ll first need to prep each tier with a crumb coat and smooth layer of buttercream. We have a great tutorial for crumb coating a cake, and here’s an easy method how to achieve a smooth buttercream finish using simple tools. 

How to ice a wedding cake with buttercream

These principles remain the same whether you’re making a cake with two, four, six or even ten tiers! I didn’t have 100 of my closest friends to feed this week, so I stuck to a teeny little two-tier cake for this tutorial.

How to Ice a Wedding Cake with Buttercream | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

All images via Erin Bakes.com

Supplies:

Supplies for Icing a Wedding Cake With Buttercream | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Step 1:

Doweling the Wedding Cake | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Insert dowels into the bottom tier of cake where the second tier will sit.

Doweling the Wedding Cake | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Trim the dowels with scissors or a dowel cutter so that they are level with the surface of the cake.

Doweling the Wedding Cake | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Pipe a few small blobs of buttercream over the tops of the dowels and smooth them over with the offset spatula.

Step 2:

Placing on The Top Cake Tier | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Use an offset spatula to help pick up and steady the top tier of cake. Center the smaller cake over the doweled cake below. Gently drop the cake onto the buttercream-topped dowels, quickly pulling your fingers and spatula out of the way. Use the offset spatula to move the cake if it needs to be re-centered. 

Step 3:

Adding a Center Dowel | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Cut a dowel about ½” shorter than the entire height of the cake. Push that dowel down through the center of the top of the cake. Tap on the dowel so that it pierces the board supporting the top tier and runs down into the bottom tier.

Adding a Center Dowel | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Keep pushing the dowel until it reaches the base of the bottom tier.

Adding a Center Dowel | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Pipe a dollop of buttercream over the hole created by the dowel and smooth it over with an icing spatula. I typically only add a center dowel for cakes larger than three tiers, but decided to add one today so that you’d see at what point in the process it should be done. 

Step 4:

Filling in the Seam | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Unless you’ve got moves like Houdini, there are probably a few places where the buttercream was dinged by your fingers, as well as some space where the board supporting the top cake is exposed. To neaten up the seam where the cakes meet, pipe a line of buttercream all the way around the base of the top tier. 

Filling in the Seam | Erin Gardner | CraftsyFilling in the Seam | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Use your bench scraper to smooth the line over, filling in the dents and spaces.

Filling in the Seam | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Now you’ve got the perfect clean canvas to create the wedding cake of your (or your client’s) dreams!

Smooth Buttercream Wedding Cake | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

FREE Buttercream Decorating Ideas

craftsy buttercream guide

Get insider tricks & inspiration to make one-of-a-kind buttercream wedding cakes in this FREE PDF guide, available exclusively on Craftsy.Get My FREE Guide »

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and was updated in March 2018.

19 Comments

Foreverfarm11

Awesome, I was wondering how this was done, thanks!

Reply
Erin Gardner

So glad the post was helpful! Thanks 🙂

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Aisha

Thank you!! Now what about fondant cakes, is there a center dowel for them as well? If so, how is the “patch up” achieved after inserting the dowel? This is baring no topper will be used on the cake.

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Erin Gardner

Hi Aisha! That’s a great question. When doing fondant cakes I typically don’t add a center dowel unless the cake is over three tiers. If you do a center dowel in a fondant covered cake you can patch up the hole with something called gunge. It’s essentially a fondant paste that you can use like spackle. Craftsy instructor Erica O’Brien has a great post about it on her blog: http://ericaobrien.com/blog/gunge-its-a-miracle/#.VsTPQYTwH-0

Reply
Sarah

Thankyou so much for this information and the multitude of pictures that demonstrate it!

Reply
Willadale

Do you have a cake board under the top layer cake for support?? If so, wouldn’t it be difficult to push the dowel rod straight down to the bottom of the cake if you had three tiers and had used a cake board?

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Erin Gardner

Hi! Yes, I definitely have a cake board under there! It’s a standard round cardboard cake board. The dowels usually go through fairly easily with a little firm pressure. You could always cut a hole in the center in advance if that’s more comfortable for you. Thanks!

Reply
Veronica

Ive seen a decorator sharpen the dowel with a pencil sharpener to go through the board:)

Reply
patty

Using large straws is much easier than trying to cut dowels. This icing isn’t smooth enough for me. I have much better results.

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Erin Gardner

Congrats, Patty! Happy to hear you have very smooth buttercream.

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K.S.

Patty, what do you do to make it smoother… I can’t seem to get mine as smooth as I’d like. Thanks!

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lisa

viva paper towel will smooth butter cream almost like fondant. leaves no lint. I think it is on youtube.

Reply
Ola

Hi! I am home hobby baker. I use to make the cakes coverd with fondant, but many people now don’t like the fondant and they asking for creame frosted cake. I use to frost the cakes with Swiss meringue butter creme and I like to work with it. But last time I got a bad surprise. The butter frosting on the lower level had the CRACKS.
That I did
1. I frost both tier of the cake separate and put them in the fridge.
2. I put 6-8 sticks inside of lower tier for support.
3. I fixed both tiers together.

After 10 minutes the first crack appears. Then more and more.
Please help me to understand why it is happening and how to avoid it. That do I do wrong? Thank you

Reply
Erin G

Hi! I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having cracking problems. I have a few suggestions for things you might want to consider. Are you using a sturdy cake board? You want to use something completely solid as a base when you’re making a tiered cake covered in buttercream – wood, masonite, metal, ceramic, etc. Also, check your internal supports. Make sure all of the dowels are cut to the same height and check that they’re either as tall or a tiny bit taller than the base cake. Temperature may also be an issue. Be sure that the cakes are completely cooled before you fill and finish them. Are the cakes frozen, by any chance, before you finishing them in SMBC? That could also be an issue. Freezing and thawing causes things to contract and then expand. I hope all of this is helpful. Thanks!

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Rebecca Ray

Hi there, thanks for the information. I’m curious to know when you unstack the cakes if all of your buttercream sticks to the bottom of the top tier’s cakeboard? That is what happens to me and I’d love to know if there is a trick to avoid this. Thanks!

Reply
Erin Gardner

Hi! Unfortunately, that’s just what happens with tiered cakes. You can try to avoid it by sliding an offset spatula between the tiers all the way around before you lift the top tier off. Even then you’re bound to loose a little buttercream off the top. Hope this helps!

Reply
Sue Harper

You can find a very finely grated coconut in the candy making area of most cake supply store to use. You don’t have to use a lot to help with this problem.
I use my cardboard circle to trace an outline once the larger tier has been iced. Drop about 2-3 tbsp ( depending on the area of the circle drawn) of the coconut in the center. I lightly start spreading towards the outer line with my fingers. Kind of press the coconut into the icing after filling the circle, but having some loose coconut on top.
Just make sure that the bride is aware that you are using the coconut because of food allergies.
Try it on a sample cake at home so you can see the results of this method.
Remember it doesn’t have to be a super heavy coating.

Reply
Jessica

How many layers and what size are your two tiers?

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Erin Gardner

Hi! I wrote this a while ago, so I honestly forget how many layers each cake was. 🙂 I can tell you that the bottom tier was about 5 inches tall and the top tier was a tad shorter.

Reply

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