If there’s one thing that always looks good semi-naked, it’s a cake. The barely-there buttercream is such a versatile look that works well for almost any kind of event. Whether you dress it with fresh flowers, drip it with ganache, or tint the buttercream, you can get pretty creative with this rustic or minimalist look. And the best part is, the semi-naked technique is extremely easy. You just need to know a few key things before attempting it to set yourself up for success.
If you’re more of a video-inclined learner, here’s a quick one I shot of the semi-naked technique. I’ll break everything down in the tutorial in the next section:
You Will Need:
- Thin Consistency Buttercream (this Vanilla Buttercream recipe is perfect)
- Baked Cake Layers
- Offset Spatula
- Bench Scraper
Step 1: Prep Your Cake Layers
If you haven’t already, start by torting your cake layers to an even, level height. In my opinion, this step should never be missed, no matter what kind of cake you’re creating. Torting helps to get rid of any domed cake tops, thus setting your entire cake up for being super level and sharp.
Once your layers are perfectly even and level, fill them and start stacking them. Tip: when you’re stacking your cake layers, it helps to very slightly offset the middle layer so that the edge sticks out a little further in some areas. The top and bottom layers should be completely parallel for evenly straight sides, but slightly offsetting the center layer (and I’m talking a centimeter or two) will help create more varying depth with your semi-naked finish.
Step 2: Frost And Smooth The Top Of The Cake
Start frosting the top of the cake by placing a bit of buttercream on the top and smoothing it with an offset spatula, turning the cake on your turntable as you smooth.
You should have enough frosting on the top of the cake that it extends about ¼ inch beyond the top edges.
Step 3: Frost And Smooth The Sides Of The Cake
Using that same offset spatula, apply buttercream to the sides of the cake, starting at the bottom and working your way up to the top. Since the semi-naked look involves buttercream that looks barely there, try to apply a pretty thin layer.
When you’ve got the sides covered, take your bench scraper and smooth the sides of the cake until they’re straight and you have some nice areas of cake peeking through. If you have areas that need more buttercream, simply apply more buttercream and keep smoothing until you like what you see.
Try not to press too hard when you’re smoothing the more “naked” areas, since you could puncture the cake layers and cause them to crumble. If this happens, just smooth it over with more buttercream.
Step 4: Smooth The Top Edges
Now that your sides are looking so rustic and beautiful, you’ll probably notice a little buttercream crown has formed around the top edge of your cake. This is a really good sign, because it means you’re going to have a nice, sharp top edge when you’re done smoothing it.
Using your offset spatula, smooth the buttercream crown inward, moving the buttercream toward the middle of the cake. The goal here is to create level, sharp edges by swiping through the buttercream crown and moving the excess buttercream across the top of the cake. Smooth the top of the cake until it’s level and you don’t have a dome in the middle from moving the buttercream crown inward.
Step 5: Decorate
Now that you’ve created your very own semi-naked cake, it’s time to dress it up a little! Some awesome next steps would be incorporating some fresh flowers (made food safe) to decorate, doing a ganache drip, or keeping the design rustic with some greenery like fresh herbs or eucalyptus! Here’s what I’ve done in the past:
Whether it’s your first semi-naked cake attempt or not, let me know if this tutorial was helpful and show me what you’ve created by tagging me on Instagram! I’d love to see your creations.
Hi! I wanted to try to make a semi-naked cake this weekend. Would you normally do a crumb layer with this too like you would normally frost a cake? I’m worried I might get too many crumbs in the frosting when trying to get the semi-naked look for my cake. Any tips??
Hi Vanessa! I don’t normally do a crumb coat when I do a semi-naked finish, but if you feel like you’ve got too many crumbs in your buttercream here’s what I would do: apply a very thin layer of buttercream to crumb coat, let it set/harden in the fridge for 20 min, then add your final coat of buttercream. In other words, just make sure the crumb coat is super thin so you can still get that semi-naked effect.
Elizabeth Gutierrez says
This is a great tutorial. Simple, to the point, made it very clear and easy! Thank You
Thank you so much, Elizabeth!
Piume Gunawardena says
These steps are so clear and useful. Thank you so much .
Hi , if I have a tall cake can I still use my normal scraper or am I better off buying a bigger one to scrape the cake all at once. Thankyou
Hi Robyn! It’s easier to get a smooth finish if your scraper is taller than the cake itself, but you can totally get by with a shorter scraper, especially for a semi-naked finish.
Hi, can i only use buttercream, or does ganache also work?
Hi Marielle! Although I’ve never only frosted the semi-naked design with buttercream, I hear that you can replicate the look with ganache as long as it’s frosting consistency.
Samantha Bohnacker says
How far in advance can I do this to a cake and t will last? I know normal cakes covered in buttercream can be done up to three days in advance but not sure about this cake.
Hi Samantha! You can definitely make this cake in advance. Even though the cakes are covered with a really thin layer of buttercream, it’s enough to keep the moisture inside the cake for a few days. I would make it no more than two days in advance since it’s a thinner layer of buttercream though.
Hi! I am planning to make this for my daughter’s cake smash photos tomorrow. I don’t have a scrapper on hand. What can I do if I don’t have one??
Hi Kaila, it’s really hard to get smooth sides without a scraper or something sturdy with a straight edge. What do you usually use to frost cakes?
you can use a ruler if you don’t have a scraper, it works just as well
That’s so creative, Jennie! I bet that totally works in a pinch!
I made a cake tonight and I didn’t have a scrapper so I used a paper plate! I cute the plate to have a 90* angle. It was a little flimsy so you could double the plates up if you need to. It wasn’t perfect but it worked well enough!
That’s genius, Jess! I’m so happy it worked out!
Hi, what size cake pan did you use for this cake? 6×2? 6×3?
Hi Brianna! I used a 6×2 pan for this cake 🙂
Hi, what is your cake recipe used here! Looks amazing!
Hi Philippa! I used my Funfetti Cake Recipe for this cake design. Here’s the recipe: https://sugarandsparrow.com/funfetti-cake-recipe/
This is amazing! I noticed you said the icing should be a thin consistency. Would a buttercream made with shortening work for this too? Also, to avoid doing a crumb coat, can you ice the cake when the layers are frozen, or would you recommend them to be thawed? Thank you!
Hi Erin! You can totally use a buttercream made with shortening. I like to use thin consistency buttercream, meaning it’s thinned down with a few tsp of whole milk, and you can totally achieve that same consistency with shortening based buttercream if you’re finding it to be too thick. I’ve never iced frozen layers of cake before, but I know some bakers who swear by that method, so feel free to try it and see what works for you!
What board is your cake sat on?
I’m making a semi naked three tiered cake for my wedding, have you any tips on doweling and keeping the structure secure!?
Hi Harriet! Congratulations on your wedding! I use these cake circles to place underneath each tier: https://amzn.to/2TEkpPJ and as far as dowelling goes, I have had success with both wooden dowels and boba straws. Here’s a guide to stacking a tiered cake and making it secure: https://www.wilton.com/stacked-tiered-cake-construction/WLTECH-423.html
Thanks so much!! Xx
Hi Whitney, do you think Swiss meringue buttercream would work? Or is that more for piping icing?
Hi Essie! Swiss Meringue Buttercream would work beautifully with this technique. Give it a try!
Oh this is perfect! I’m going to test this for my one year olds birthday this weekend
Yay, Jen! This design will be so sweet for your little one’s party!! Let me know how it goes!
Julia Mironova says
Going to try to make this today and wondering do you put buttercream between the layers too or different cream?
Hi Julia! Excited for you to make this cake! I put buttercream between the layers on the cake pictured, but you can use any filling you’d like. Here’s all my tips for filling and stacking cakes: https://sugarandsparrow.com/fill-and-stack-cake-layers/
What scraper would you recommend please?
Hi Tracy! I love this one by Norpro: https://amzn.to/2MG2NjA
Jodi Beauchamp says
Hi how do you make sure all your layers have the same darkness on the edges? Mine always seem to be different, lighter and darker and I think it looks funny. Is there any additional steps in the prep or baking? Thanks
Hi, Jodi. I’ve never heard of that happening! Here’s how I always bake my cake layers: https://sugarandsparrow.com/how-to-prepare-cake-pans/
Debbie Hutchinson says
Thank you for the wonder tutorial!☺️
May I ask where you purchased the beautiful cake stand in you pic? I absolutely love it.❤️
Hi Debbie! So happy you found the tutorial helpful. The cake stand pictured was a gift from my sister in law, and unfortunately it’s no longer available from Amazon. Here is a similar one though: https://amzn.to/2RAbU3S
hello! I want to make a red velvet cake and ice it with this technique. What would be a recommended recipe or strategy to prevent crumbs from getting into the buttercream?
Hi Jennifer! I would do a light crumb coat on the cake, then chill it for at least 30 minutes before continuing with another final coat of buttercream. This way, all of the loose crumbs will be caught in the crumb coat and the final (thin) layer of buttercream will cover them up.
to add one what type of cake recipe would you recommend, a chocolate cake recipe is preferred
I have an excellent chocolate cake recipe here that I’d love to recommend: https://sugarandsparrow.com/chocolate-cake-recipe/
Sarah Van Wychen says
I enjoyed reading all of your comments and your replies. I will be making a tiered semi naked cake for my sons wedding next month . You have some very good tips . I have decorated cakes at my job for many years but those were ice cream cakes , so this will be my first official cake cake . Thank you for all of the great information !
Thanks so much, Sarah! I’m happy the tips are helping and I’m so excited for you to make your first official cake. The semi-naked look is so pretty for weddings 🙂
Hi there could this work for a gluten free version? Could you substitute for gluten free flour? Thanks heaps
Hi Nikki! I’ve never made a gluten free cake before, but I’m sure there are all sorts of good flour substitution tips online! This cake tutorial will work for any kind of cake and buttercream once you find a good recipe 🙂
Hi – if it helps, I made a gluten and dairy free semi-naked cake, as an extra, at my son’s wedding. I used ‘Freee’ gluten free self-raising flour (available everywhere in the UK but not sure about US) and used the recipe on the back of their pack (victoria sponge) with a splash of vanilla essence added. I used Stork for the buttercream. The coeliac, and vegan guests were delighted 😉 xx
Hi. Can you cover the cake with cream instead of the buttercream icing?
Hi Shan! I’m not sure what you mean by cream. If you mean whipped cream, I would find a recipe for Stabilized Whipped Cream frosting because that will work, but just plain whipped cream won’t frost well.
This is so helpful! I am going to make the same size cake you made. If you are transporting a cake should you secure the layers? Or you think it will stay put?
Hi Angela! There’s no need to secure the layers when transporting a cake of this size. I always refrigerate the cake for at least an hour (or even overnight) before transporting though. That way the cake is way sturdier.
hi! just wondering where you got your cake pans from?
Hi Ann! I get my cake pans from Amazon and the ones I used for this cake are these Wilton 6″ cake pans: https://amzn.to/2JjvdvC
Hi there, could I still do this naked cakes effect with a cream cheese frosting?
Hi Gigi! You can certainly create a semi-naked design with cream cheese frosting!
Carolynn Hartridge says
Hi. I’m doing a 4 tier wedding cake semi naked and want to know if the cakes will hold fresh flowers on the edge of the middle layers or will they end up tearing the cake?
Hi Carolynn! Inserting flowers into the edges of the middle layers will be totally fine. Flowers don’t weigh enough to tear the cake. Be sure to properly prepare the stems before inserting them into the cake, I have a tutorial on that here if you need: https://sugarandsparrow.com/fresh-flowers-cake-decorating/
Hi! I’m making a super tall 8 inch layer cake for a birthday and I’d like to do a semi-naked frosting. I have some questions I was hoping you could help with:
If I’m doing a really tall cake, it’s been suggested that I support with a cake round in the middle and support w dowels, etc. Can this be done on a semi naked cake if I trim the board slightly so it doesn’t overhang? I also want to alternate chocolate and vanilla layers and possibly do an ombre icing to avoid this looking too much like a wedding cake with just white. Do you think the ombré look plus chocolate and vanilla layers is too much happening at once? Any tips to make it work? Thank you!!
Hi Olivia! To answer your questions: 1) yes, you can support the taller layers with a cake round and just trim it down so that it’s slightly smaller than the cake layer. 2) If you alternate the chocolate and vanilla layers it might end up looking striped underneath the semi-naked frosting, even if you do an ombre over the top. I think what I would do is have the chocolate cake layers toward the bottom of the cake so the darker color of the ombre could go over the top of those and then ombre into white for the vanilla layers. If a striped look think a semi naked ombre will look really cool!
Karen Lawson says
Thank you for for this tutorial! I am hoping to make a decorate a cake for my daughter’s baby shower. How do you safely put flowers on the cake? I will be using roses but I am not sure how to place them. Thank you!
Yay, Karen! So happy for you to try this technique and I think it will be so pretty for a baby shower. Here’s everything you need to know about using fresh flowers on your cake: https://sugarandsparrow.com/fresh-flowers-cake-decorating/
Chrystal Mcdonagh says
Thank you so much for all your above advice, it has been extremely helpful. I’ve baked a number of cakes, however I have been asked to make a large wedding cake for February. It will be a naked cake, and I understand needs to be dowelled due to its size, however for transportation would you recommend leaving each layer separate on its individual board and then assembling once there? There are 4 layers, 3 being naked. I plan to leave it to refrigerate the night before.
Also what frosting do you use please? I always struggle with this one as I know many use cream, however I was concerned that as a wedding cake it will be sitting out of the fridge. Other recipes I find are normal buttercream that then leaves the frosting yellow?
Any help would be so greatfully received.
Hi Chrystal! For a four-tiered cake, I would do the assembly at the venue instead of trying to transport it all built up (much safer that way!). I would dowel the individual tiers and bring extra frosting with you to the venue, then assemble and finish decorating it there. For my semi-naked cakes (and every style of cake I do), I always use this vanilla buttercream recipe: https://sugarandsparrow.com/vanilla-buttercream-recipe/
For an ultra-white buttercream, I always add a little Americolor Bright White at the end of the recipe. It whitens the buttercream without affecting taste/texture and you can find it here: https://amzn.to/39REqH0
Hi Whitney! This tutorial is so helpful but I’m curious as to whether I could use white chocolate ganache instead of butter cream for a naked cake? I’ve decorated with both and I just find ganache to be easier to work but I don’t want to try it if it won’t work nicely! Thankyou 🙂
Hi Kiahna, white chocolate ganache frosting will work just fine with this technique! When it’s whipped into frosting consistency, it behaves just like buttercream. You should totally try it if white chocolate ganache is your go-to for frosting cakes.
Hey I am looking to do a wedding cake in July and afraid that american buttercream wont be stable enough. I was considering using white chocolate ganache – if this is whipped, will it still provide stability as it stiffens and sets as it would unwhipped ganache?
Hi Suzie! I would recommend this buttercream recipe for hot weather: https://sugarandsparrow.com/buttercream-recipe-for-hot-weather/
Hi there, this tutorial was amazingly helpful. However I just wanted to know, I’m making a semi naked wedding cake but want my actual sponge to be a white sponge vanilla cake. Is that possible? Thank you
Hi Salimah, this technique will work with any cake or sponge, so a white sponge vanilla cake will be totally fine. The cake and buttercream colors should be different enough to show the semi-naked details.
Lori-ann Morse says
Hi everything looks fabulous,,, How exactly do I make the light blue ganache dripping??
Hi Lori-Ann! To make the light blue ganache, you’ll need to make white chocolate ganache and first tint it with white food color gel (all the details for that are in this post: https://sugarandsparrow.com/white-chocolate-ganache-drip-recipe/) then add the tiniest amount of blue food color gel
Your cake is beautiful! I plan on making it for my sisters baby shower. You made 3 layers? How many people would you say it feeds? Thanks!
Thank you, Rachel! Excited for you to make this! The cake pictured is a three layer 6-inch cake, which serves about 12-15 people depending on how big the slices are.
Hmmm, we might need a bigger cake (9″). How would the recipe change to make a 9″ cake? Or maybe you already have one…I’ll look around. Thanks!
Which recipe are you looking to make – one of my cake recipes or the vanilla buttercream recipe that’s linked to this tutorial? If it’s the buttercream recipe, I would double the recipe linked in this tutorial for filling and frosting three 9 inch layers. If you’re looking for a cake recipe to make three 9 inch layers, each of my recipes make different amounts and adjusting them will depend on the recipe. Feel free to comment on one of my cake recipes for suggestions on how to adjust.
Yes, I want to make the buttercream recipe in this link! I’ll double the recipe – thanks so much!
Shanice tay says
I was wondering how, with semi naked cakes, you avoid the bulging in between the layers of the cake into the exterior frosting. I keep my jam or filling an inch inwards to avoid spillage but the buttercream in the middle seems to bulge inbetween my layers..
Any tips would help
Hi Shanice! To make sure the filling doesn’t bulge in between cake layers, you’ll need to either:
1) use a stiffer consistency buttercream to make a ring around the edge of each cake layer, then place the filling inside of that ring, then place the next cake layer on top. Since the buttercream ring will be more stable, it is less likely for the layers above to smoosh the filling down and make bulges. To make the buttercream more stiff, you’ll just need to add a little more powdered sugar to the mixture that you’ll be creating the rings with.
2) Or if you don’t want to add extra powdered sugar to the buttercream, you can still use the buttercream ring method for filling the cake, but allow the cake to settle before you frost it. This means let it sit at room temp for about 20 min to see what gravity does. You can swipe away any buttercream bulges at that point. After that, I like to place the cake in the refrigerator to let the buttercream firm up before adding the semi-naked buttercream frosting.
Does that make sense? A tutorial and video on this very topic is coming soon!
Should this cake be refrigerated? I’m always so worried with anything that has milk in it. I wouldn’t want anyone to get sick from something so pretty!
Hi Jennifer! Because of the amount of sugar in the buttercream, the small amount of dairy ends up being preserved at room temp and can last for 4-5 days outside of the refrigerator. I usually refrigerate my cakes after decorating (mainly to preserve the decorating details) until about 2 hours before serving the cake. It always tastes best at room temp 🙂
Excellent tutorial- genius suggestion to stagger the layers! Thank you for sharing, made a cake for my MIL’s birthday and it looked fab.
Yay, Natasha! So happy this tutorial was helpful!
Hi! Could you please tell me what the names of the flowers are you used? Many thanks 🙂
Hi Elli! Which cake are you wondering about the flowers? There are three different cakes with flowers in this post – some with roses and fuschia and carnations.. let me know which one you were wondering about and I can try to figure out what I used.
Hi have you ever decorated a semi-naked cake with stabilized whipping cream instead of buttercream and if so how did it turn out?
Hi Roseann! Yes, I have used stabilized whipped cream as a cake finish for a semi-naked design, only once. It turned out great though!
Can I chill the cake over night for easier delivery and stacking on sight? 3 tier cake
Hi Ellen! Yes, totally. I refrigerate cakes overnight every single time and keep them in the fridge until the very last minute (like when I’m heading out the door for a delivery). Way easier to work with a cold cake when you’re delivering and stacking on site!!
Tammy Hughes says
For two 10-inch layers with two 8-inch layers on top, would you suggest adding dowels? Or do you think I can get by without it? I will be assembling it at the venue. Also, how much icing would you guestimate I would need? Thank you. Your cakes are beautiful, by the way!
Hi Tammy! I would definitely use dowels if you’re making a tiered cake. And as far as amount of buttercream, if you’re using it to fill and frost with a semi-naked finish I would make 2.5-3x the vanilla buttercream recipe. If you’re only using it as a semi-naked finish you should be able to get away with 1.5x the recipe.
Keo Villi says
I cant see if anyone else has asked this , but what is your preferred cake for a naked cake. Would a sponge work, or are you better off using a more dense cake??
Hi Keo! Either a sponge or a denser cake would totally work for a semi-naked cake. Any of my cake recipes will work with this technique: https://sugarandsparrow.com/category/recipes/cake/
hello! Would this work with a whipped cream frosting?
Hi Emma! It totally would.
Whenever I try doing sharp corners they end up looking rounded, what do you recommend?
Hi Freda! You’ll need to either 1) build up the buttercream “crown” high enough to create a sharper edge when you swipe or 2) troubleshoot this after the fact by refrigerating the cake with the rounded edges for 20 minutes, then doing another thin frosting layer over the top. It’s much easier to get a smooth/sharp cake when you have multiple frosting layers. Hope that helps!
Claire C says
This is great, thankyou! My cakes always seem to bulge which is so frustrating- any tips? 🙂
Hi Claire! That used to happen to me all the time too and I feel your frustration! It usually happens when the filling is too thin to uphold the cake layers. Here’s how I fill my cakes to prevent that: https://sugarandsparrow.com/fill-and-stack-cake-layers/
Wendy Dyer says
I’m making a two tier cake with for my daughter’s wedding in August. Would carrot cake with cream cheese frosting work? I’m already stressing …. but your tutorial has eased my mind a lot. Thanks
Hi Wendy! A carrot cake with cream cheese frosting should totally work for a semi-naked cake design. As long as you follow these steps it should come out beautiful.
Hello, for the ganache drip, can you tell me exactly what you used and how this look was achieved?
Hi Desirae! Here’s my post and recipe for chocolate ganache drip cakes: https://sugarandsparrow.com/ganache-drip-cake-tips/ you should find everything you need to know there!
I like to make a naked cake but i always use cake stripes so the edge is not caramelised at all and it doesn’t looks that good as I crumb coat it.
I m afraid not to use the stripes. Any ideas?? Thanks!!
Hi there! I never use cake strips and don’t end up with over-caramelized edges. Even so, this semi-naked cake tutorial should work just fine with a cake that doesn’t have caramelized edges (like the ones you’re describing where you use cake strips). Whether you use your favorite recipe or try one of mine without cake strips, this tutorial for a semi-naked finish should work great!
Martha Veenendaal says
I’m making a semi naked cake for my son’s wedding in September. Because of the timeline, I must ice it the day before the wedding. Should I use a simple syrup on it to prevent drying, or do you feel that it would be okay for that period of time?
Hi Martha! Simple syrup can’t hurt, but as long as the cake is frosted even with a thin layer of buttercream it should be protected against drying out, especially if you frost it the day before. Hope that helps!
Hi! Beautiful cakes! I want to use your tips to decorate a cake for my kid’s birthday, but I won’t have time to make home made frosting. Is it possible to make a store bought buttercream frosting into the right thin consistency by adding something to it? Thank you!
Hi Jean! I’ve never tried using store bought frosting so I’m not sure! But I did find this article from Wilton on how to decorate cakes with it: https://blog.wilton.com/store-bought-icing-hacks/