In the cake making process, you might be tempted to skip ahead to your final coating of frosting after you fill and stack your cake layers. If you’re a perfectionist though (like I am, to a fault), it’s so worth it to go the extra mile and crumb coat your cake. Not only will this prevent crumbs from getting into your final layer of frosting, it also helps to create a stable foundation for your final layer of frosting. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered how to get a super smooth buttercream finish, crumb coating is one of the essential steps.
If you’ve never heard of crumb coating a cake, it simply means frosting a thin layer of buttercream all over your cake after it’s been filled and stacked. Here’s a quick video I shot of the process before I walk you through the steps below:
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Why Crumb Coat?
There are two main reasons why you’d want to crumb coat your cake: 1) catching any loose crumbs that might want to make their way into your final layer of buttercream and 2) creating a smooth, even surface and ensuring your cake is level for your final layer.
But it’s not enough to simply crumb coat your cakes. Chilling your cake after crumb coating is what glues all those pesky crumbs down and helps the entire structure set into a firm, sturdy foundation. It’s a step I never miss when making cakes.
What Type of Frosting is Best for Crumb Coating?
You can use any type of frosting for crumb coating your cake – basically whatever you’re planning on using for your final layer of frosting. If you need some recommendations, my Basic Vanilla Buttercream is the perfect consistency for both crumb coating your cake and adding your final layer of frosting, so feel free to use that if you’re in need of a go-to vanilla buttercream recipe.
If you’re looking for more buttercream flavors to try, be sure to browse my Buttercream Recipe Collection – any of those will work great!
How to Crumb Coat Your Cake
To crumb coat your cake without getting any crumbs in your batch of frosting, you’ll want to start by adding about one cup of that frosting into a small bowl. This is what you’ll use to crumb coat instead of dipping your spatula in and out of the larger bowl of frosting. Place your filled and stacked cake on a turntable. This is the turntable I’m using – it has a built in anti-skid section under my cake board that makes it extra easy to frost a cake on!
Start by frosting a thin layer of frosting on the top of your cake and smoothing it down with an angled spatula.
Next, add a thin layer of frosting all around the sides of the cake and use an icing smoother to get the sides smooth and level. Basically hold the icing smoother at a 45 degree angle towards you while you rotate the turntable and scrape off the excess onto the edge of your bowl. Be sure to fill in any patchy areas with more buttercream and repeat the process of smoothing and scraping until you’ve got a thin, yet level crumb coat.
You’ll notice that a frosting “crown” has formed around the top edges of your cake, which is what you want to see. Using a clean angled spatula, swipe those edges toward the center of the cake to create sharp edges all around the top.
When your cake is looking level and covered in a nice, thin crumb coat, pop the whole thing (turntable and all) into the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Like I mentioned previously, chilling your cake will make the buttercream firm, essentially glueing down any crumbs within the crumb coat and creating a stable foundation for your next layer of frosting.
After refrigerating for at least 30 minutes, you’re ready to move on to your final layer of frosting. If you’re short on time though, it’s perfectly fine to refrigerate a crumb coated cake overnight. Even though the crumb coat layer of buttercream is thin, it helps preserve the cake layers beneath and keep everything moist and fresh.
Do keep in mind that the longer the amount of time between baking your cake layers, decorating them, and serving them, the less fresh your cake will be. A typical timeline for me looks like:
- Day 1: Bake cake layers + make buttercream
- Day 2: Fill, crumb coat, frost and decorate the cake
- Day 3: Photograph and serve the cake
It’s perfectly fine to split up “Day 2” into two separate days though: filling and crumb coating one day, frosting and decorating the next. This will split the timeline into four days between baking and serving, but the cake will remain fresh. I do have an upcoming Cake Basics post detailing all my best tips for making cakes ahead and planning things out so you avoid the pressure of baking, decorating, and serving on the same day, so stay tuned!
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