How To Frost A Flawless Semi-Naked Cake

how to frost semi naked buttercream cake

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
  • Turntable

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.

funfetti cake layers

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.

how to frost a semi naked cake

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.

tips for the perfect semi naked cake

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.

how to create a semi naked buttercream finish

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.

tips for smooth buttercream cake

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: 

how to decorate a semi naked cake

semi naked drip cake by sugar and sparrow

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.

77 Comments

  1. 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

      This is a great tutorial. Simple, to the point, made it very clear and easy! Thank You

  2. 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 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.

  3. Samantha Bohnacker

    Hello,

    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.

    Many thanks

    • 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.

  4. 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?

    • 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!

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  6. 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!

  7. Hi!
    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!?

  8. Hi Whitney, do you think Swiss meringue buttercream would work? Or is that more for piping icing?

  9. Oh this is perfect! I’m going to test this for my one year olds birthday this weekend

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  11. Jodi Beauchamp

    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

  12. Debbie Hutchinson

    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

  13. Jennifer

    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?

  14. Sarah Van Wychen

    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 🙂

  15. 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 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Hi there, could I still do this naked cakes effect with a cream cheese frosting?

  18. Carolynn Hartridge

    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?

  19. 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!

  20. Karen Lawson

    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!

  21. Chrystal Mcdonagh

    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.

    Thank you

    • 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

      Good luck!!

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. Lori-ann Morse

    Hi everything looks fabulous,,, How exactly do I make the light blue ganache dripping??

  25. Rachel

    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.

      • Rachel

        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.

          • Rachel

            Yes, I want to make the buttercream recipe in this link! I’ll double the recipe – thanks so much!

  26. Shanice tay

    Hi Whitney,
    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!

  27. Jennifer

    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 🙂

  28. Natasha

    Excellent tutorial- genius suggestion to stagger the layers! Thank you for sharing, made a cake for my MIL’s birthday and it looked fab.

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