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.


  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.

  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


    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?

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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:

  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 🙂

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