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:

Want to see more Cake Basics videos like this one? Head to my YouTube Channel to see the growing collection. You’ll also find tons of cake recipes and decorating videos to inspire you and broaden your skill set – be sure to hit the subscribe button so you never miss a new one!

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!

27 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!

  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!

  4. Hi Whitney,
    Can I crumb coat with any other buttercream except vanilla buttercream

    • Hi Frances! You can crumb coat with any buttercream. I always use whatever I’m using as the final buttercream finish to crumb coat the cake.

    • Hi Cynthia! I never have a problem with my cakes sweating in the refrigerator, but then again I don’t live in a particularly humid environment.

  5. Hi Whitney my spongy cakes when ever I refrigerate them weather after crumb coat or after decorating them and store them in the fridge they dry out im not to sure if it’s because I put them longer in the fridge for crumb coat or storing pls advise me what am I doing wrong.

    • Hi Azanda! The only things I can think of are either 1) you’re storing the cakes in the refrigerator too long or 2) the cakes are too dry to begin with. I recommend only storing a crumb coated cake or fully decorated cake overnight for maximum freshness.

  6. Can you freeze a cake/tiers after you crumb coat it? If so, what’s the best way?

    • Hi Bri! I have never frozen a cake before, but I know other bakers do it all the time! You can certainly freeze a crumb coated cake but I’m not sure what the best method of wrapping/preserving it will be since I’ve never tried it before.

  7. hi! on day one what do you do with the cakes until day 2? do yo put them in the fridge? thank you!

    • Hi Moe! After baking the cakes and cooling them to room temperature I wrap them in plastic wrap and keep them at room temp until day 2. Hope that helps!

  8. Can I leave the crumb coated cake out overnight in a cake box? I don’t have room in my fridge. I want to crumb coat it today and add the rosettes tomorrow. Thanks!

    • Hi Jami! You can store it at room temperature overnight. I like to store mine in the refrigerator mostly because it preserves the shape of the cake and creates a firm surface for decorating. Hope that helps!

  9. Hi Whitney! Do I have to cover the crumb cake in the fridge if decorating overnight? Thank you!

    • Hi Lauren! You don’t have to cover the crumb coated cake, as even the little amount of buttercream coating the cake will lock in the moisture.

  10. Hey Whitney! I was wondering if you cover your crumb coated cake in plastic wrap before putting it back in to chill?

    • Hello fellow Whitney! I do not cover my crumb coated cake in the fridge. The crumb coat of buttercream acts as the perfect barrier to keep all the moisture inside the cake and keep it fresh.

  11. Hi!
    Very very novice baker here – your videos and blogs are so helpful – read them all!
    How soon after the cakes come out of the oven can you do the crumb coat?
    Also is there a good way to transfer the cake from the turntable to a serving plate?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Malia! So happy these videos and blogs have been helpful! You’ll need to wait until the cakes are fully cooled before adding a crumb coat, which can take 2-3 hours. A good way to tell if the layer is cooled (after a few hours) is to pick the layer up and place your hand on the bottom to test the temp. If there’s any warmth at all, the cake needs more time to cool. And to transfer the cake to a serving plate, I always chill the decorated cake for at least 30 minutes to ensure the buttercream is nice and firm, then run a warm metal spatula around the bottom to create a clean separation between the cake and the turntable. At that point you should be able to lift the cake with a spatula underneath and move it over to the serving plate. With the buttercream so cold, it shouldn’t mess up the finish if you touch the cake.

  12. Hey Whitney,

    Thanks for all your tips!! I’m still in the learning curve phase of trying to get smoothe edges and frost well.

    2 questions: when letting the crumb coat chill in the fridge or freezer for about 30 minutes, can you keep the buttercream out on the counter? Will it still be an ok temp, or should you chill it down a little bit before you work with it again to do the final frosting?

    And 2nd question – I was working with a cream cheese-based frosting the other day, and really having a hard time trying to get it as smooth and perfect looking as buttercream. Do you find that that’s the case? I’ve also heard from other cake-bakers that a lot of it does indeed have to do with the quality of the frosting you’re working with, and specifically using the right buttercream… (and I hadn’t found that much research on if cheese cream-based frostings are that great to work with and/or could be more problematic. )

    Thank you for your time, Whitney!!

    • Hi Matt! Excited for you to learn more about frosting cakes! To answer your questions: 1) Yes, you can keep the buttercream out on the counter covered with a paper towel or cloth 2) this depends on the temperature of your kitchen. If it’s above 73ºF it may end up too soft/runny as the butter starts to soften/melt. In this case you will want to place the buttercream back into the fridge for about 5-10 minutes before rewhipping it with your stand mixer and continuing on with the frosting process. 3) Yes, cream cheese buttercream is trickier to work with because it’s stickier than other buttercream. I do have a cream cheese buttercream recipe that I love for frosting cakes, so hopefully this one is easier to work with than what you’ve been working with: https://sugarandsparrow.com/lemon-cake-recipe/

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