How To Frost A Cake With Smooth Buttercream

how to get wrinkles out of buttercream

One of the most frequent questions I get as a cake decorator is how I get my buttercream cakes so smooth and sharp. To answer you, I’m going to be completely candid here and not pretend that my cakes are absolutely flawless every time. The truth is, with most of the cakes I design, there are plenty of opportunities to hide small flaws in the buttercream finish. A ganache drip over this crease, sprinkles around that bottom edge, and before you know it the cake appears flawless with all those problem areas covered up! Ok, maybe that’s just me being lazy creative. Despite that, I have developed some skills and learned some tips over the years that help me get pretty darn close to a flawless buttercream finish, and I’m excited to share them all with you!

I’m a visual person, having learned everything I know about cakes on YouTube. So if you’re like me, here’s a handy video tutorial on how I get those edges sharp and those sides smooth as can be. Read on after the video for my best tips to getting the look:  

Disclosure: this post does contain some affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you click them and purchase items I’ve recommended. Clicking these links won’t cost you any extra money, but they do help to keep Sugar & Sparrow up and running. Thank you for your support!  

You Will Need

  • Cake layers and filling
  • Thin consistency buttercream like this one
  • Piping bag(s)
  • Cake turntable
  • Metal bench scraper
  • Metal angled spatula
  • Hot water and towel

Step 1: Gather The Right Tools

The right tools make all the difference when you’re trying to achieve a smooth finish. You’ll notice that I’ve specified metal spatulas and scrapers in the list above. These materials allow you to heat up the tools when you’re smoothing, and just like ironing a shirt, a little heat will help smooth over any wrinkles and blemishes in the cake finish. I have used this 6-inch stainless steel bench scraper and Wilton’s 13-inch angled spatula since the beginning, and they’ve helped tremendously.

cake decorating tools

A good cake turntable is a must, and I have two of them that I love. The cheapest of the two is this one by Wilton, pictured above. It has a nice rubber circle built in to the top to prevent your cake from sliding around. I also have this Ateco turntable that comes with a rubber pad to prevent from slippage. The Ateco turntable is not only functional, it’s really pretty, and I use it to photograph my cakes on all the time.   

Step 2: Perfection Starts Inside The Cake

As they say, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. If you want a perfectly level cake, you’ve got to start with perfectly level layers. This means torting cakes that have a little too much rise in the center. My favorite tool for this is Wilton’s Cake Leveler. You can adjust the height of the leveler and slice off any extra cake in seconds, creating perfectly even layers for stacking.

how to bake cake that releases from pan

As you’re filling your cakes, make sure the height of the filling is level as well. It helps to get down to eye level and make sure it’s not slanted in any way.

how to fill a cake by sugar and sparrow

If you’ve got extra time on your hands, you can let the cakes settle at room temperature after you stack them, so gravity will do it’s thing before you start frosting. I almost never let my cakes settle because I keep them so cold all the time, plus I am a bit impatient, but I know this is a step that a lot of cake makers swear by.

Step 3: Mix Up The Right Buttercream Consistency

When you’re frosting a cake, you want the buttercream to be thin consistency, meaning that it’s easy to spread and holds its shape without being runny. This vanilla buttercream recipe is foolproof for this, but whatever recipe you use, test it before adding it onto the cake. A good way to test is dip a rubber spatula into the frosting. It should form peaks that aren’t too stiff, and easily spread when you move your finger over it.

If your frosting is too thick, it’ll be hard to get the sides smooth and will feel like you’re basically ripping through it. The end result can often look airbubbly and have a finish that looks like stucco. No bueno. To fix it, all you have to do is add more liquid (in most cases heavy whipping cream or whole milk) to thin it out to the perfect consistency.

Step 4: Stir The Buttercream To Reduce Air Bubbles

Air bubbles happen all the time. It usually starts with over-mixing the buttercream as the whisk or paddle attachment ends up whipping too much air into it. Sometimes it’s just a fact of life, and I still struggle with airbubbly buttercream at times, even when I’m sure not to over-mix.

In my experience with buttercream, one super helpful trick to greatly reducing air bubbles is this: before you add any buttercream to the cake, give it several stirs with your rubber spatula and press it against the sides of your mixing bowl. This will force out any unwanted air that might be trapped inside the buttercream due to your mixer. You’ll visibly see it becoming smoother and air pocket free as you stir it up.

Step 5: Apply A Crumb Coat

I know some bakers don’t believe all cakes need a crumb coat, but I do. This way, all of the crumbs end up in the first frosting layer (hence the term crumb coat) and never in the final layer. It’s just prettier that way.

how to crumb coat a cake by sugar and sparrow

To add a crumb coat, spread a thin layer over the entire cake with an offset spatula, filling in all the cracks and holes (like in between layers), and smooth it all with your bench scraper. When you’re done, it should look like a semi-naked cake that’s pretty close to level on all sides and the top. Stick it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (even overnight is a good idea!) to let it firm up a bit before adding your final layer. Starting the final layer with a sturdy foundation is a huge help when it comes to getting a smooth buttercream finish.

Step 6: Apply The Final Layer

After your crumb coat has set, you’re ready to make that perfect buttercream cake become a reality. I’ve learned that piping the buttercream around the cake instead of applying buttercream with a spatula is a huge game changer for me. It helps to keep the buttercream even over the entire cake and makes it way easier to smooth out.

Starting at the bottom of the cake and working your way to the top, pipe the buttercream in even lines as you rotate the turntable. When you reach the top, pipe a ring around the top edge and then fill in the center of the top with buttercream.

how to frost a cake by sugar and sparrow

First, smooth the top of the cake so that it’s perfectly level and smooth. 

how to frost a cake with buttercream

Next, use your bench scraper to smooth the sides, scraping the excess buttercream off of the scraper each and every time. Make sure that as you scrape, the scraper is vertically level, but also about a 45 degree angle toward the side of the cake (tighter angles help reduce those unsightly lines in the cake finish). Feel free to be slow and intentional with this process.

using a bench scraper to frost a cake

If you notice any gaps in your cake finish, simply fill them in with buttercream and keep scraping.

cake decorating tips for frosting a cake

cake decorating tips by sugar and sparrow

As you smooth the sides of your cake, the buttercream on the sides will begin to reach higher than the top of the cake like a crown. This is what you want. To get a clean, sharp edge, take your angled spatula and level off the top, smoothing the outsides of the buttercream crown toward the center of your cake. Remember to continue scraping off the excess buttercream and cleaning your tools before smoothing the cake.

smooth buttercream cake tutorial

how to get sharp edges buttercream cakes

Don’t be afraid to get down to eye level and make sure your top is level. Need to raise up one side of the top? Add more buttercream and smooth it down till all is level.

Step 7: Apply A Little Heat

Even if you still have some little flaws in your buttercream finish, here is the magical tip that I’ve discovered that will literally erase them: a hot spatula. Remember how I talked about needing a metal bench scraper and angled spatula? This is why.

buttercream techniques by sugar and sparrow

Run your metal scraper or offset spatula under super hot water and wipe it clean with a towel so that it’s dry but warm to the touch. Slowly smooth the sides and/or top with this heated device and you will be amazed at how smooth the buttercream becomes. Repeat heating your tools, drying them off, and smoothing the cake until you’ve got the smoothest buttercream you’ve ever seen.

Step 8: Extra Magic

If you’re finding that you’ve been at this process of smoothing for awhile and your cake is still looking a bit flawed, there’s another trick I’ve learned. Stop what you’re doing and put the cake in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The finish will harden and be much easier to work with after you’ve waited awhile.

When the buttercream is good and chilled, pick up where you left off. Apply a very thin layer of new buttercream to the entire cake and smooth it out. You will be amazed at how easy it is to smooth the buttercream when you’ve got a really firm foundation underneath to work with. This part does take a bit more time, and I don’t always do it unless I’m desperate for a smooth finish and the final design depends on it. But when I do, it’s smooth city.

how to frost a cake with smooth buttercream frosting

Smooth buttercream cakes don’t have to be intimidating. With enough practice and finding the techniques that work for you, you’ll be a pro at this in no time. If you found the video tutorial portion of this helpful, be sure to check out my other YouTube videos! I’m adding new ones all the time, so subscribe to keep up with them.  


  1. How do you get it off the turn table after that – and keep it looking flawless?

    • Ahh always a scary moment! The only way to keep it looking perfect during the process of removing it from the turntable is to chill it thoroughly before moving it. I usually let the cake chill overnight, then I heat up my angled spatula and slide it around the entire bottom edge to release it from the turntable, then carefully move it to a cake stand. If the cake is well chilled, it will get to the point where you can even grab it with your (gloved) hands and you won’t leave marks! I still get nervous every time though.

  2. Hola! Como puedo hacer para leer tu blog en castellano? Gracias! Saludos desde Argentina!

  3. Hi this is a great tutorial I’m still need more practice, sharping edges is my nightmare Do you have a tutorial how to torte a cake and level it!

  4. Hi
    I’m always scared my cakes wont be as soft n moist after putting them into fridge. But I’ve noticed everyone puts their cakes in the fridge to get the firm look. Any advice?

    • Hi Safa! No need to worry about storing cakes in the fridge. The buttercream acts as a barrier in the fridge to keep the cake inside perfectly moist. If you store an unfrosted cake in the fridge you definitely will experience some dryness, but if you store it in the fridge after applying buttercream the cake is totally protected!

      • ah, I’m so glad to read this, thank you! I’ve always heard refrigeration leads to a dry cake, but then I see so many bakers and bakeries do it – makes great sense now ; ) just discovered your site and really loving it – thank you for all of the great info! I’ve baked for years, but just getting back to doing more of it and finding so many great tips here.

        • Hi Lauren! That’s so great to hear! Glad you’re loving the tips and posts, that totally makes my day!

          • Hello! I’m just starting baking on my own. My birthday is next week and I want to bake & decorate a cake for myself but I don’t have some of the tools ( turn table & bench scraper),is there any other way to it. I first watched on YouTube your fault line cake(Btw,it’s gorgeous!!) & here I am super scared to try out baking on my own. Besides refrigerating,how else can I make my crumb coat and BC firm.

          • Happy early birthday, Livia! I’m excited for you to make a cake to celebrate! Unfortunately, the only way to get the buttercream this smooth is to use a turntable and icing smoother. I have heard of people making DIY versions of a turntable (Google it to see how!) but if you’re wanting smooth buttercream I would recommend ordering a bench scraper. Otherwise, you can always frost the cake with an angled spatula or butter knife in a more rustic way!

        • Chiming in…. when you put the cake in the fridge, do you cover it with plastic wrap or anything else?

          • Hi Heather! I don’t cover it with plastic wrap, I just keep the cake on its turntable and place it in the fridge. It stays fresh for up to two days like that and once it’s been frosted, it keeps the cake underneath moist as well. The buttercream acts as a barrier in the fridge to protect the cake from drying out.

          • I’ve always wondered about this, won’t water dripping in the fridge touch it?

          • Hi Livia, I don’t ever have water dripping in my fridge, but that’s probably due to the mild climate I live in. If you have water dripping in your fridge that you’re concerned about, I would put the cake in a box or cover it in such a way that the water would not touch it.

  5. I need help with my cake layers. I’m a young baker and this problems always seems to happen. When I stack my cake and ice it, about 15 minutes later the icing forms a “bulge” on the outside where my layers are. I thought it was because my cakes were too heavy but now I’m not sure.

    • Hi Harmony! It could be that your cakes are too heavy and/or the filling consistency is not stable enough. A few things you can do to troubleshoot this: 1) try piping a stiff buttercream dam around the edge of your cakes before filling them. This would mean taking about a cup of the buttercream, adding a little more powdered sugar to it until it’s stiff consistency, and using the stiffened buttercream to pipe a ring around the edge of the cake layer before filling the center in with your filling and placing the next cake layer on top. With a stiff buttercream dam, it’s easier to support the cake layers on top and prevent them from squishing the filling in between (which is why bulges are created). 2) Let your cake settle before frosting it. This would mean filling and stacking the cake layers, then allowing some time (20-30 minutes is probably fine) for the cake layers to do what they’re gonna do. This way you can catch the bulges and correct them before frosting the final layer. I hope that helps!

  6. Kristy

    I love this video tutorial! I am wondering if you have the recipe for the chocolate you put inside of each layer? I cant find it on your website.

    • So happy you found the video tutorial helpful, Kristy! The chocolate filling in the video is chocolate ganache (a 2:1 ratio). To make it, use these recipe directions as a guide, only use 1 Cup chocolate chips and 1/2 Cup heavy whipping cream:

      When your chocolate ganache is room temp, you can fill your cake layers with it. I like to pipe a ring of buttercream around the edge of each layer before filling the center in with chocolate ganache (as pictured in the video) just so the ganache doesn’t ooze out the sides when you place the next cake layer on top. Hope that helps!

  7. Hello, recently I subscribed to your channel and I am reading you, with your channel … congratulations from today I am your most faithful admirer, I am from Mexico and in this of the cakes I am a beginner and I do not speak English so I am using Google translator

  8. I am so glad I found you on Pinterest! I had no idea about the importance of icing consistency. Your video on icing, especially the chilling part, was a game changer! I confidently made a unicorn cake for my granddaughter’s 4 birthday last week! My sister thought the cake was covered in fondant, not buttercream!
    Thanks again!

    • Hi May! I’m SO happy to hear that these tips helped you create a flawlessly smooth cake for your granddaughter’s birthday! That totally makes my day 🙂

  9. Nikki Perera

    Thanks for this post!! I always have a problem with frosting my crumb coated cake after it has been in the fridge, the temperature of the buttercream never matches. I end up having to make a fresh batch, do you have any advice for this?

    • Hi Nikki! Whenever I have my cake chilling in the fridge, I keep the bowl of buttercream at room temp with a damp cloth over the top of it. This keeps the buttercream from drying out during the waiting process. If you’ve got the crumb coated cake chilling for a long period of time, I would recommend placing the buttercream in an airtight container and keeping it at room temp, then when you’re ready to continue frosting, re-whip with your stand mixer to bring it back to perfect frosting consistency.

  10. Nerry Lennon

    Hi Whitney, you are so wonderful in sharing all of your tips and trick with us. I am deeply grateful. I’m now getting back into baking and feel intimidated but hopeful now that I’ve found your website. Thank you so very much. Stay well!

  11. Hi,
    Thanks so much for the helpful tips. How do o deal with condensation after chilling the already frosted cake?

    • Hi Tosin, condensation hasn’t really been a problem for me, but I know that it can be if you live in a very warm climate. I usually keep the frosted cake in the refrigerator until about 1-2 hours before serving so it has a chance to come to room temperature, but condensation has never ruined the decor or finish in my experience.

  12. Melissa Reed

    What type of top do you use to pipe icing on the cake? Also if you wanted to do a multi color fade up the cake would you still do a base of white underneath? Thankyou. 🙂

    • Hi Melissa! It really depends on what look you’re going for when it comes to choosing the right piping tip. There are about a hundred different tips to choose from and they all are made for piping icing. Your best bet is to either find a tutorial for a cake you like on my blog and read the post, I always disclose which tips I’m using. Or you can Google “Wilton Icing Tip Chart” to see graphics of what each one does.

      To do an ombre finish, I usually do a white crumb coat underneath, but then use the colors as the base. Here’s a good example of how to do an ombre finish:

    • Hi Heather! It is. I use it all the time for frosting and decorating. If you like it more stiff consistency you can always mix in a little more powdered sugar for the decorating part.

  13. Will a 9inch cake make a good Barrel cake or does it need to be smaller round cake.Can edible glue be used on a buttercream cake . I need to make clouds for a baby shower cake. So can the glue be used ? Clouds may be in 3D form .

    • Hi Cathy! Any size cake can be made into a barrel cake, but I recommend following a tutorial like this one if you want it to be particularly tall: as far as gluing things to buttercream, it all depends on how heavy the clouds are and what they’re made of. If it’s a flat (non-3D) or super lightweight fondant cloud, you can use a little bit of edible glue or water to secure it to buttercream, as long as the buttercream is nice and cold (firm to the touch). For a 3D look on the side of a buttercream cake, I would recommend just piping on the cloud designs with white buttercream. It really depends on the material your clouds are made of and the weight of them.

  14. This is exactly what I’ve needed to read forever. Buttercream is my nemesis and I feel so much more prepared to tackle it now. I’m throwing a cactus themed baby shower and I was so excited to see your tutorial for the cactus cake. I’m so excited to try it this week! Thanks!!

    • Yay, Emily! So happy this tutorial is giving you confidence and I hope these tips help tremendously. And I’m excited for you to make my cactus cake design – it’s one of my all time faves!

  15. this literally just answered all my questions i have on buttercream. i think ill try this method for my birthday cake next week

  16. Payal Padhy

    Hi i am new in baking. I m from india . We rarely use buttercream frosting for cake as we easliy get whipped cream frosting it taste so good. But since lockdown going on i have to try buttercream. Can u tell me after cake is ready for birthday party. We should store at room temperature or in fridge. I doubt that if we keep in fridge as its butter the buttercream become hard. Pls suggest

    • Hi Payal! I always store my buttercream cakes in the fridge until about 2 hrs before serving, but you can certainly store them at room temperature as long as your environment isn’t hotter than 75 degrees (the melting point).

  17. Kristine

    Do you chill your undecorated cakes in the fridge or freezer and do you wrap them in wax paper.

    • Hi Kristine! I only store my cakes in the fridge when they’ve been either crumb coated or fully frosted. If I’m making the cake layers ahead of time, I wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in a ziploc bag in the freezer. They’ll keep for up to two months this way and when I’m ready to use them, I just leave them out on the counter until they’re fully thawed (a few hours). Hope that helps!

  18. Hi! I just wanted to say that ever since I came across your blog recently, I’ve been in love with all of your cake decorations! They all look so amazing, and professionally done! I’ve always been wondering how people get those perfectly looking sharp corners when frosting cakes, and how they’re able to magically get rid of those super pesky air bubbles in their frosting, and so I found your tutorial super helpful! I had a question about making the buttercream though. Whenever I make any American buttercream frosting, it almost always starts getting really melty after a while—sometimes, even right after I’ve made a batch it turns out like that! I’ve tried refrigerating it, but once I mix up that cold buttercream, the same problem still happens soon afterwards! I don’t think it’s because the butter I use (I use the Costco brand) is too warm, because I almost always use it a little colder than room temperature. I also don’t tend to add any milk/cream to it (even the amount the recipe says to add) because it’s thin enough already. And I’ve tried adding a lot of powdered sugar to it to make it stiffer (up to 3-4 extra cups sometimes!) but it doesn’t help much in terms of stiffening it up…it only gets much, much sweeter. I’m from the southern part of the U.S, and so I’m not entirely sure if the humidity down where I live is somehow affecting the consistency of my frosting. Would you happen to know if there’s something else I’m missing that I could be doing wrong? Thanks so much in advance! 🙂

    • Hi Anita! The only thing I can think of is the humidity/temperature of your kitchen environment. All-butter buttercream starts to get melty above 73 degrees, so unless your kitchen is air conditioned, it may not be the best kind of frosting to use in your cake decorating. However, you can try substituting half (or all!) of the butter in this recipe with vegetable shortening to make it more stable and heat resistant!

  19. Liliana

    I don’t have a spinner for the cake is there anything else I could use

    • Unfortunately, it’s really hard to get a smooth finish without a turntable. You’ll need to somehow rotate yourself around the cake as you smooth (as opposed to rotating the cake while you stay in one place). To save yourself the headache, I recommend either investing in a cake turntable or foregoing the smooth finish for a more rustic look.

    • Holley Ann Williams

      I am going to try my microwave plate and the circle thing with wheels underneath the plate.

  20. Ugie Sarah

    Please my challenge is how to scrap my buttercream neatly and smoothly

    • Hi Jennifer! If the temperature is 80 degrees or above and the cake is going to be out for awhile on display, I do recommend swapping at least half of the butter in the recipe for vegetable shortening to make it more heat resistant. It gets pretty hot in the summer here (in Oregon), and what I usually do is store the cake in the refrigerator until about an hour before serving to greatly decrease the chances of it heating up too fast and melting while on display.

  21. Hi! I always find that when I’m smoothing the sides of my cake I end up scraping it off and having to reapply it again because it gets too thin. What’s the best way to smooth the sides without removing the buttercream? Also how do you bake your cakes to get soft edges? Mine caramelise too much and need to be trimmed which is annoying. Thanks!

    • Hi Kayleigh! There are a couple ways to troubleshoot the frosting scraping issue: 1) make sure you start with a crumb coated cake that’s been chilled for at least 30 minutes before adding your final layer of frosting. The coldness of the crumb coat will make the final layer semi-set as you smooth it, which makes it a bit easier to work with and less likely that you’ll scrape too much off. Here’s a post I just made about the crumb coating process: and 2) If you’re finding that you’re removing too much of the buttercream because you’re unhappy with the smoothness of the finish, the best thing to do is get it kinda close to smooth and then pop the whole thing in the refrigerator for about 20 min before adding another thin coat of buttercream on top. It’s much easier to get a smooth finish that way. I’ve got more details on this post:

      And as far as the cake edges, I don’t really do anything special there besides letting them cool all the way to room temp before wrapping them in plastic wrap to store overnight. They’re always soft in the morning and easy to work with.

    • Hi Jennifer! I like to bake my cakes a couple days ahead and decorate the day before, but you could decorate up to two days before and be just fine. If you do so, be sure to make all your elements no more than three days ahead so everything is fresh and ready to go.

  22. This is so helpful! Thank you! My 17th birthday is tomorrow and I’m making a cake for myself (since I’d never trust any of my family in the kitchen LOL)! One question; is this frosting good for piping/decorating or should I use something else?

    • Yay, Natania! Happy birthday to you! Yes, this frosting is what I use all the time for piping and decorating in addition to frosting and filling cakes.

  23. D Fernandez

    New baker here, I really wanted to learn.
    Baking cake has been a trial and error to me. Ingredients are expensive here in my country so when I bake, and its a fail it really makes me sad.

    So sorry for this dumb question.
    When you pop the crumb coated cake into the fridge, what do you do with the remaining buttercream frosting while waiting?

    • Hi there! I just cover the frosting bowl with a clean kitchen towel while waiting for the crumb coat to set in the refrigerator. Hope that helps!

  24. Cassandra Cook

    Hi! How many cups of buttercream would you recommend to coat an 8 inch cake?

  25. Jocelyn


    Thanks for the tutorial!

    I have a question. What do you do with the buttercream while you’re waiting for the crumb coat to chill in the fridge? Should the rest of it be placed in the fridge as well or is it better to let it stay softer at room temp?

    I find every time I try to put on the 2nd layer on top of the crumb coat, the buttercream just scrapes right off the cake hahaha even if I chill the cake for at least 30min.

    • Hi Jocelyn! I leave the buttercream out at room temp and just cover it with a loose cloth. If your final layer of buttercream isn’t sticking to the crumb coat, try mixing in a little more (room temp) liquid to the buttercream so it’s easier to spread/more adhesive. It sounds like what you’re using for your final layer might be either too cold or too thick. Hope that helps!

  26. tnx so much ma but i want to ask after puttin the cake in the frige wont it melt while delivery

    • Hi there! As long as you’re delivering the cake in an air conditioned vehicle or the temperature inside the car isn’t warmer than 75 degrees or so, you should be totally fine. Hope that helps!

  27. Hi I’m reading this post for the first time and it’s so beautiful, I have a question – does freezing the cake not ruin the taste and texture of the cake,
    Thanks so much for the wonderful post!

    • Hi Hadar! Freezing the cake will not ruin the taste or texture so long as it’s properly wrapped before freezing. I’ve never tried freezing a decorated cake before, so you’ll have to research that a bit if you want to do that, but if you’re talking about freezing the cake layers I have a post on how to do that here:

  28. Cordelia Hogue

    I need help frosting a square cake. I cant seem to be able to get the corners square. Do u have any suggestions

    • Hi Cordelia! I’m no expert in square cakes but I bet there are tons of tutorials on YouTube that show how to get those corners square. That’s where I would start!

  29. I tried this buttercream icing with shortening and that’s all I could taste was the shortening. What did I do wrong?

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