How to frost a cake like a pro (and a sour cream chocolate cake recipe)

I got into the culinary industry for one reason, and one reason only.  I love to eat.  Mostly cake.  Okay, I’ll eat anything I’m not allergic to, but my first job in the restaurant biz was at a bakery on purpose.   Through quick glances from the service counter of SusieCakes, I observed the professional way of crafting a layer cake for ultimate eating enjoyment.  And along my own path I’ve picked up a few more tricks of the cake trade… so here they are, in very particular order….

Chill the layers.  After you bake the cake, of course.  It makes the cakes easy to slice horizontally in half for multiple layers.  For a super sleek cake, trim the domes off the top.

Cake boards.  You can buy all different size cake boards for cheap at Michael’s, online, or any restaurant supply store.  I first place the cake on a board the exact same size, then put the finished masterpiece on a cake plate or a board slightly larger if it needs to travel.  The removable bottom from a tart or springform pan works great, too. Dollop frosting on the first board to keep the cake from sliding.

To keep the cake plate or larger board clean, place a few cuts of parchment paper underneath that can be gently wiggled out.

Simple syrup.  When building your cake, brush or spoon on simple syrup to each layer before spreading your frosting.  Bring 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water just to a boil, then cool.  You can add flavor by steeping the warm syrup with citrus zest or mint leaves for 10 to 15 minutes, or adding a splash of extract or the hard stuff if you want to get a little crazy.

Crumb coat. When frosting your cake, first apply a thin layer and chill the cake for at least a half hour.  Keep the frosting you use at this point separate from the rest (keeps the crumbs out).  Once the crumb coat has hardened, spreading on loads of buttercream will be as easy as pie.

Decorate with love.  Okay, this really isn’t an essential step, and comes without saying.  But unless you’ve set out to bake and decorate a fancy wedding cake with marzipan roses and complicated designs, all you need to add a little pizazz is a small spoon, an off-set spatula and some sprinkles.

Waves.  Load the top of the cake with frosting, and use a circular swooping motion with the tip of a teaspoon to create waves and peaks.  Alternate clockwise and counter-clockwise motions in concentric circles.  This one is easy to do over and over again until you are happy with the results. Keep the back of the spoon clean or things could get dicey!

Side Lines.  Even easier than waves and peaks.  Run the tip of a small offset spatula knife from the bottom of the cake to the top, and repeat until you’ve covered the whole round.  It leaves little peaks at the top, which I actually think are pretty cute.

Bottom Dweller Decorations.  To get sprinkles or garnish around the bottom of the cake, you must first have your cake on a board so you can pick it up.  Then supporting the cake in one hand, use the other to lightly press sprinkles into the frosting around the bottom of the cake.  I do this over the sink to minimize the mess.

Dots! Soooo easy.  But you do need a pastry bag or cone for this one, and a cake stand or slightly larger board. Once the cake is entirely frosted, place it on the stand and pipe the little dots as close as possible to the bottom of the cake by holding the pastry bag at a 45° angle.

If you happen to have fancy tips on hand… the same applies… and it’s all very quick.

As you might have noticed from the pictures, I recently baked two different cakes in two different kitchens.  Ah, the things I’ll do for a blog post.  Or some cake.  Happy decorating!


Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

makes 2 8- or 9-inch cakes for a 4-layer cake
  • Cake
  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 oz unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 Tbs Bourbon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks (save the whites for macarons)
  • Easy Buttercream
  • 1 lb unsalted butter, room temperature (four sticks)
  • 3-4 cups confectioner’s sugar (around 12 oz)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp half & half, heavy cream or milk
For Cake…
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Melt chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water and set aside. Grease cake pans with butter or shortening, line each with a parchment paper circle (trace and cut), and grease top of parchment.[img src= “” width=”300″ height=”200″]
  2. Cream butter and sugar by beating over medium-high speed until smooth and lightened in color.
  3. Beat in sour cream and vanilla extract. Beat in eggs and then egg yolks one at a time.
  4. In small additions, add dry ingredients, stopping often to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Beat in chocolate slowly. Divide batter evenly between pans.
  5. Bake until the tops of the cakes spring back when touched lightly, between 25 and 30 minutes depending on which size pan you choose. When cool enough to handle, remove cakes from pans and cool completely. Wrap in plastic and chill for up to two hours if decorating same day. Otherwise, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature.
For Buttercream…
  1. With a paddle attachment or hand mixer, beat butter for three minutes on high speed until lightened in color. Slowly beat in powdered sugar a little at a time on low speed (to prevent a sugar dust storm).
  2. Beat in salt, vanilla, and half and half, then raise speed to high for a final minute. Store chilled, use and serve at room temperature.

Equipment: A stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer

Sadie Mae’s Dogtography

Brother Copper got caught red-pawed licking up spilled frosting. He should learn how to eliminate all evidence!





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3 Responses to How to frost a cake like a pro (and a sour cream chocolate cake recipe)

  1. Joan W Aug 16th at #

    I can testify that the cake not only looked great, but tasted wonderful!

    • edibletimes Aug 17th at #

      🙂 🙂 🙂


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