How to Crumb Coat Cakes (and Why it’s Important)

How to crumb coat cakes

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. 

how to crumb coat a cake

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.  

why crumb coat cakes

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.

Buttercream recipe for cakes crumb coat

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!

when to crumb coat a cake

Start by frosting a thin layer of frosting on the top of your cake and smoothing it down with an angled spatula

how to frost a cake
why crumb coat a cake

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. 

how to crumb coat cakes
crumb coating a cake
purpose of crumb coating a cake

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. 

crumb coating cake tutorial

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.

how to frost a cake crumb coat

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.

Next Steps

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. 

what is a crumb coat on cake

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!

Want more Cake Basics? Head here to see all of the posts and learn the methods of caking I’ve come to love over the years. I’m cheering you on every step of the way!

6 Comments

  1. Loving these posts, keep them up please, they are just so awesome!
    Just wondering though, doesn’t really apply to this post, but whenever I bake cakes I don’t have the problem of them sinking, I have the problem of them rising alot in the middle! And then when I go to level the cake, there is not a very high layer, as most of it is in the ‘hump’ that has been cut off! Any tips/tricks would be awesome please&thanks!

    • Hi Angel! That’s interesting that the cake is rising so much in the middle for you. I wonder about trying baking strips on your pans? I’ve never tried them myself but I hear they help your layers bake more evenly: https://amzn.to/3i9GSMm

  2. Really love your posts!

    I noticed that you make the buttercream on day 1 and decorate on day 2. Do you store the buttercream in the fridge from when it’s made to when it’s used? And if so, do you need to do anything to ‘defrost’ it before using it on day 2?

    • Hi Shannon! I always store the buttercream in the refrigerator in an airtight container overnight (or up to two weeks), then let it sit out for a few hours on the day I need it to bring it back to room temp. Then, I mix it on low in my stand mixer to bring it back to the right consistency for crumb coating/frosting.

  3. Theresa Breen

    Hi, I am loving your cake basics and have read them all!!

    I used your vanilla cake recipe, in 6in cake pans with bake even strips, both greasing spray and baking paper. I cooked them for about 8 minutes longer. They cracked at the top, one felt as if it was going to fall apart from the top as I took it out of the pan, and one broke off at the bottom.

    Do you have any idea what could have happened? They feel very moist.

    • Hi Theresa! I’ve never tried bake even strips.. I’m wondering if you baked the cakes for too long though? Eight extra minutes seems like a lot of extra time for this recipe, which would explain why the cake fell apart. Next time I would test at 32ish minutes by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake and making sure it comes out clean. That’s when it’s done. Then cool the cakes in the pan for about 5 minutes before turning them out to cool completely. Hope that helps!

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