I feel like it’s becoming cliche for me to start a post with, “You don’t have to be an artist…” But! You really don’t have to be an artist to create a stunning, sophisticated, buttercream finished cake using a secret weapon — stencils!
All images via Erin Bakes
Stenciling buttercream is a very satisfying process.
Watching smears of buttercream turn into a gorgeous, semi-crisp pattern is a tasty kind of magic. It’s also a versatile process that can be applied to any kind of design in any kind of theme. Follow my lead and create an all-over stenciled pattern or go your own way and use the same directions to create a singular design.
Choosing the right stencil
Flexibility is key!
Stencils that are thin and bendy will easily form to the cake’s curves.
Choose reusable stencils made of plastic or thin foam.
You’ll be cleaning the stencil frequently and subjecting it to a lot of butter, so paper and cardboard stencils are out.
Pick the stencil that best matches up with your skill level.
If you’re just starting out, look for stencils with large openings and few details. As you feel more confident with your caking abilities, reach for more intricate stencils.
Skip the multi-step stencils.
I mistakenly purchased a set of butterfly stencils that required multiple layers of stenciling to achieve the image. That works great when stenciling with food coloring, but with buttercream it’s just asking for trouble. It’s by no means impossible, but working with a multi-layer stencil will require many trips back and forth to the fridge or freezer and leaves you open to more error.
Pick up stencils that you aren’t afraid to trim or customize.
It’s best to trim away any hard corners to prevent them from poking at the buttercream.
How to stencil buttercream
- Buttercream-iced cake, chilled solid (I’m using a 6″ round cake)
- Extra buttercream for stenciling (I used about a cup of each color)
- Gel food coloring
- Flexible stencil
- Waxed or parchment paper
- Tapered or regular offset spatula
- Food-safe paintbrush
- Piping bags (kind of optional)
- Small piping tips (optional)
Step 1: Prep the cake and stencil
I cannot stress how important it is to be patient and wait until your cake is chilled solid before beginning to stencil. Soft buttercream will smush and smear easily. Plus, if the cake isn’t chilled all the way through, you may dent it with all of the steadying and spreading.
If you like to rest your hand while you work, cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper before you begin. Grease one side of the paper with a light coating of shortening. Lay the paper shortening-side down on top of the cake to help protect the buttercream while you work.
If you plan on creating a pattern with your stencil or are working with a small cake, trim away the hard edges of the stencil. Lightly grease the side of the stencil that will be touching the cake with a thin coating of shortening. Use a paper towel to rub just enough on to make the stencil slick, but not so much that you see the shortening.
Step 2: Place the stencil and add the buttercream
As much as I’d love to say this is no-piping project, there is a teeny bit of piping involved to ensure the buttercream doesn’t seep out between the edges of the stencil. By piping the color on, you can be more precise.
When you just smear color onto a stencil, you run the risk of pushing buttercream under your stencil, possibly causing your stencil to move and smudge. For this project I filled piping bags with about 1 cup each of the colors I was using on the stencil.
Pipe the first color onto the stencil and use an offset spatula to spread the color across the opening of the stencil using an offset spatula. I prefer a tapered offset spatula, because I feel the pointed tip allows for more control in this situation.
Spread the buttercream from the middle of the opening out toward the edges. Lift the spatula away from the stencil to prevent buttercream from running over the edge onto the cake. Give a final swipe over the area to level the buttercream.
Step 3: Create a two-tone effect
Pipe two tones of the same shade over the openings of the stencil.
Carefully spread the buttercream across the stencil to smooth and blend the colors. I started with the lighter pink buttercream and spread toward the darker buttercream on the edges of the petals.
Step 4: Remove the stencil
The moment of truth! Carefully lift one edge of the stencil from the cake and peel it away in a smooth, confident motion.
If any buttercream has escaped the edges of the stencil, gently remove it using a paintbrush or the tip of a knife. If the buttercream has softened, pop it back in the fridge. The little buttercream smear will be easier to pop off or scrape away when the cake is firm.
Wipe your stencil clean before stenciling the next flower.
Step 5: Stenciling over the edges
To create a pattern that flows over the edges of the cake, you have two options:
- You can cut the stencil if you don’t plan on using it again and if you will be using the stencil along the edges the same way for the entire pattern.
- Another option is to set the cake on a pan that’s the same size as the cake. This provides stability to both the cake and the stencil while you work.
Step 6: Add finishing details
Give the stenciled pattern more dimension by piping on finishing details, like the centers of the flowers and pear border below. It’s also an opportunity to cover up any little “oopsies” that may have occurred along the way.