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Make-a-Cake Series: Baking, Stacking, and Icing



Do you remember a few weeks back to my first post?
It was on covering a cake with fondant.
When talking about the cake supplies needed I said;

“You need a two layer, eight inch round cake. Spread a thin layer of buttercream (you really want to make buttercream, icing from a can is too soft) around the cake to give the fondant something

to stick to.”

Did you think…….. “That’s it? She isn’t going to tell us how to do all that?”
“She just skipped a bunch of steps.” 

I thought of that when I sped past those things.
I didn’t want to leave you high and dry so this post is to dedicated to baking a better cake, stacking your cake and icing the cake. 

So if you felt out in the cold…….this one is for you!

Baking A Better Cake
When I bake for my clients and my family I use a cake mix. I do that for a few reasons. They are cheap ($.88-$1.25), it saves me time (no measuring), they come in a ton of flavors, and I can add to them to make them better.
When I set out to improve on the standard cake mix I wanted to get a better cake without adding cost. Here are a few things I do to make the standard cake mix much better and easy to use for cake decorating.
  1. Add more oil. Most mixes say to use 1/3 cup oil. I always add 1/2 cup. This makes the cake more moist. (If the cake mix already uses 1/2 cup I do not add more).
  2. Eggs. Set your eggs out on the counter to get them room temperature. Or warm them up in dish of warm water (not hot) for 5 minuets before you mix them in. I also always crack my eggs in a separate dish. This way if you have a shell drop into the dish you can see it and get it out.
  3. Don’t over mix. When you mix all the ingredient together just mix to combine. The cake mix instructions tell you to mix for 2 minuets, this is not good advise. Use a whisk and stir until the wet and dry ingredient are combine. There should still be some small lumps, that’s OK. Why? The more you mix the tougher and drier your cake will be.
  4. Always grease and flour your pan. It’s important to do this and not use cooking spray. Using cooking spray leaves you with a surface that will crumble when you try to buttercream the cake. I use a thin layer of Crisco to coat the pan and then I lightly dust it with flour.
  5. Watch your baking time. When you put your cake into the preheated oven set your timer to the lowest time on the box. Example: If the box says 30-35 minuets set the timer to 30 minuets. Check it at 30 minutes and watch carefully until it’s done. I don’t use the toothpick method of checking the cake. I watch and see for when the center “sets.” When you touch a cake in the oven (with a oven mitt on) it will wiggle in the middle. When the cake is done it will not wiggle anymore, the middle will be firm. If you are more comfortable with the toothpick method it’s fine to use, this is just what I do. I also try to trust my nose. When the house has the wonderful baking cake smell, you are close to done.
  6. Freeze the cake. After you bake and cool the cake on a cooling rack, wrap it tight in Saran wrap. Put it in the freezer for 24 hours. Frozen cake is really easy to buttercream and stack. This does not affect the cakes taste, it even makes the cake taste more moist. Freezing cake can also save you time. You can bake the cakes ahead of time. I sometimes have frozen cakes up to a week with great results. I have read you can freeze cake up to a month but I want to make sure I have excellent product so I don’t push it more that. Just make sure your Saran wrap it tight.

    Stacking and Icing the Cake
    My cakes are 2-3 layers under the fondant. After you bake a cake it will have a bit of a dome on the top. You need to level the top in order for your cake to stack properly. I use a serrated bread knife and just eyeball it as I cut the top off. You can also buy a cake leveler at Michael’s, or another store with cake supplies.
    Level each of your cake layers.

Take a small amount of buttercream and and spread it in the middle of your cake plate to secure your cake. This will keep it from sliding when you move it.
The spatula in the picture is key. It’s an icing spatula and is an essential part to cake decorating.

Turn your cake over so the top (the cut side) is on the cake plate.
Distribute a layer of buttercream onto your cake and spread it evenly.

Turn over your second layer and place it on top of the first.
Take buttercream and spread it over the top of the cake.
Push some buttercream over the side to start icing.

Change the direction of the spatula and spread the buttercream over the sides.
Spin the cake stand around to get the whole cake.
Make sure to get it in the crack between the two layers.

Make the layer of buttercream thin. This is called the crumb coat. Let this sit for 10-20 minuets.

Then go back with more icing and put on a thicker layer.
Doing this keeps any crumb from being on the outside of the cake.
You do not see this when you cover with fondant but if you are just buttercreaming a cake, this step is helpful.

Spread the icing nice and smooth on top.

Now your cake is ready for fondant! 

I hope this information wasn’t too long.
I hope you received some tips that will make cake decorating fun for you!
Happy decorating!

Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
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  1. Sarah says:

    Do you use one box of cake mix for 2 layers of a 9″ round? Mine always comes out too thin. How much do you use for a thicker layer? Thanks for your help!

    1. Lily says:

      I only use 1 box of cake mix and put the full ingredients into it and mix it, once mixed I share it between to tins the same size and put it in the oven and it turns out thick. It could be a specific cake mix that your using. I recommend Betty Crocker.

    2. Lily says:

      *2 tins not to lol

  2. monaz says:

    thank you so much ,you are AMAZING just the way you are :)

  3. Brianne says:

    Hi. I’m just wondering if you put the fondant on the cake while it is still frozen or do you let it come to room temp? I will be making a cake for my dads bday but have finals the weekend of it. The party is the 14th of December. I planned to make the fondant and freeze the cake Wednesday and then fill and cover Thursday and keep in the fridge for two days. Would the cake be okay?

    1. Lacie says:

      I have the same question.. I always freeze my cakes because I swear they are so much more moist then just out of the oven cakes.. but when I buttercream the frozen cakes and then lay with fondant, the next day I will have a little buldge in the middle :( I didnt know if it was the weight of the cake settling while it defrosts inside the fondant or what.. makes me bonkers! Any suggestions??

  4. iron butterfly says:

    I understand to frost while frozen, but how much time before the party to avoid a frozen cake?

    1. Ashley says:

      It takes about an hour or two to thaw a cake at room temperature depending on size. I would give it two hours, just to be safe.

  5. Vicki says:

    Awesome tutorials! I just discovered this only last night. I’ve always wondered…. you say you use boxed cake mixes but do you use one box per layer? You’re layers seem to be higher than us “casual baker’s” layers. For example, for a 9″, double layer cake, do you use two boxed mixes?

  6. Shannon says:

    Thank you for posting this. It helped me make my sons birthday cake and it was so yummy! You had some great tips and the pics really help explain the process. Thanks

  7. Maureen says:

    What do you do when you have iced a stacked cake and then later it starts to have icing stick out around where you stacked it and had supported wtth dowel rods?

  8. Monica says:

    OMG! You are correct!!! I did it the way you explained and my cakes came out perfect, thank you so much for the advice. Finally a website that gives good tips!!!! :D

  9. Anonymous says:

    Can you make a tutorial for how to make buttercream

  10. Brittany M says:

    Couple questions maybe someone can answer for me, after you decorate with fondant the day before how do you store your cake? In the refridgerator?
    And if you are doing a pearl border how far in advance can you make the pearls and how do you keep them, can you keep them out on the cabinet or in an air tight container or do they have to be refridgerated as well?

  11. Terry says:

    Great advice…thanks so much for doing this!!! Just wanted to add…I butter my pans and then put parchment paper or was paper on the bottom and sides. Trace bottom of pan and cut out the shape and stick in the bottom. Comes out great every time. Also about the mess on the plate after frosting…I put was paper or parchment paper under edges of cake and when I’m done just slide it out.

  12. Rose says:

    My sister just told me about your site. I have made wedding cakes, also. I took a cake decorating class and the instructor gave me a great tip about prepping the pans. Instead of greasing & flouring the pans, you mix equal parts oil, shortening, and flour and lightly grease your pans with that. They never fail to come out. I even forgot that I had a cake still in the pan after 25 min. It came out like it had been only 10! Great stuff.

  13. Brittany says:

    I totally understand that frustration! I have stayed away from buttercream cakes because of frustrations like this. The only thing I can think of is that your buttercream might be too thin. Try it will a thicker batch and see if it holds up better. Good Luck!

  14. lauren says:

    Sagging icing is driving me crazy! I have crumb coated my layers, then iced them with buttercream. After about 20-30 minutes, I notice a bulge around the bottom of the cake, like gravity is pulling the icing downward. Is it because my crumb coat is too dry?

  15. Sharon says:

    On your frozen cakes – does the icing slide off if you ice it frozen?? I always thought frozen cakes would thaw under the icing and the condensation would cause the icing to "sag" (for lack of a better description).

  16. MammaDucky says:

    I find that the Viva paper towel method works best with faux fondant buttercream recipes. Mmmm-yummy and smoothes out so nicely. Looks like fondant but tastes like buttercream!
    To prevent the dome action on my cakes, I cut up old bathtowels into strips equal to the height of my cake pans. I soak them in water then pin them around my cake pans before baking. Voila! No domed cakes! Works every time. Love your tutorials!!

  17. SuperJenn says:

    Brittany these are AMAZING tutorials! I'm thrilled!!

    I'm not sure you still check comments this far past the post date BUT…I do have a question: It looks like you are using a taller cake? Is that an 8×3? I saw those tonight but thought that stacking two would be too heavy…then contemplated splitting and filling each one..but then I would have FOUR layers..yikes. Thoughts?

  18. Tasha says:

    Thanks for these great tips! I am making my daughter's bday cake today and am using fondant for the first time. I also made my own MM fondant – it was messy but it tastes much better than regular.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Wow…I was searching and searching for someone to do the basic layering. I wanted my cake to look like a hatbox! And they never seem to. I cut the rounded part off, but I am not sure I always have the BOTTOM of the cake upward. So for BOTH layers, it is bottoms up! And I have never frozen the layers. Thanks so much. I am a family cake baker…..try to do special things and the family loves me so they LET me and love me even if the cakes don't look perfect. :)


  20. Beth Ann says:

    Brittany – That was another concern I had. Talking with the guest of honor tonight, hopefully we can figure something out that is still tasty, gorgeous and won't have to stay refrigerated! Thanks for the speedy response!

  21. Brittany says:

    Jolayne- I love that tip! I am going to try that tonight!!

    Beth Ann- I have not tried this but here are my thoughts on the subject. I think if you applies a thick whipped icing it would hold up the buttercream. You would just need to watch for the whipped icing melting. I know it needs to be kept in the fridge and fondant isn't supposed to be in the fridge. So after you covered the cake it could not go back in the fridge. I am not sure the whipped frosting would hold. It's a risk.
    I hope that helps! I wasn't a really good answer. Sorry.

  22. Beth Ann says:

    Thank you so much for making this series! It has been a huge help so far! I do have a question though: Do you have to use buttercream icing or can I use a whipped icing if I'm covering in fondant? I only ask because I will be filling one tier of cake with Cool Whip and fresh strawberries and another tier with chocolate mousse and I worry that buttercream AND fondant will end up being too much for the cake in terms of flavors. Thanks again!

  23. Jolayne says:

    I read a great tip somewhere online (I wish I could remember where). It's to avoid the rounded top on the cakes after they're baked. After you fill your pan with the cake batter, give it a couple of spins. It seems that this pushes the batter out to (and up) the sides, and as the cake rises, it doesn't get hung up on the sides of the pan. I've used it on about half a dozen cakes since I read it, and I've never had to level any of them. Just thought I'd share!

  24. Brittany says:

    Sanelli– I use the Wilton recipe for buttercream. You can find it at I really like their recipe!

  25. Sanelli says:


    Thanks so much for posting all these amazing tips!! I was wondering, do you have a good buttercream recipe? I've been on the lookout for one I could use on its own w/o fondant. Thanks for everything!


  26. Brittany says:

    The Leonards- When I get to 12 inch cakes and above I use a heating core. you can buy them at Micheal's. It a metal piece you put in the middle of that cake pan to get the cake to cook faster. I hope that helps and good luck!!

  27. The Leonards says:

    I love all of the tips! I plan on making my brothers wedding cake and I am very excited but nervous. One question that I have is how do you cook larger cakes (12 or 14 inch cakes)? I am worried about it not cooking all of the way in the middle.

    1. Linda says:

      I just made 11×15 half sheet cakes took 45 minutes at 325 degree oven. These pans are only 1 inch deep. I bake them at a lower temp to keep them from browning too much!

  28. Tracy says:

    Man I wish I had seen this before I baked cupcakes for my daughter's bday party yesterday!! I would have tried a cake! Thanks for the tips – I will try it for my son's upcoming Lego bday party!

  29. Brittany says:

    r_groll– I always pipe buttercream on top of my cupcakes. I cut a hole into my piping bag and starting in the middle make a swirl.
    As for fondant. You spread your buttercream with a bit of a dome in the middle and then use a circle cookie cutter that is the same size to cut out your fondat. Then just lay the fondant on top of the buttercream.
    I hope this helps!

  30. Amie says:

    Thanks for those awesome tips. Especially the one about not mixing for too long I always mix for ages…. not that my cakes don't work but it will be interesting to see the difference.
    Thanks again

  31. r_groll says:

    Great tips, thanks! What about tips on cupcakes? I have wondered what tips are best for frosting them. I have tried a few but nothing that I love yet. What do you recommend?

  32. Rebecca says:

    Love this!! I'm bookmarking it for my future birthday cake baking!

  33. Kimberly says:

    Great tips, thanks!

  34. Shayla says:

    Thanks for the tips!!
    I'll definitely put them to use.

  35. Brittany says:

    Bird–My cake plate does get a but of icing on it. I take a damp paper towel and wipe it off closest to the cake as possible without touching it.

    Julie–Thanks for the tip.
    Have you tried MM fondant? I agree that regular isn't the best tasting but MM is fine to me. Then you do have to make it from scratch. So pros and cons both ways. I thinks it's really cool you work in buttercream….that scares me!!

  36. Julie Shirley says:

    Brittany – no, it doesn't have to be a Viva paper towel, but most other paper towels have some kind of quilting or texture on them. And that texture will transfer to the cake. In some instances it's kind of fun to put a little quilting texture on your icing, but if you want it to look like fondant, better to go with Viva. :) I don't use fondant very often because of the taste, but boy it sure makes beautiful cakes. Yours looks amazing!!

  37. Bird says:

    Love it!!! Thank you!

    Just though of something that might sound totally stupid, but I can never get the cake plate clean, how do you clean the frosting around the base of the cake?

    Thanks again for an amazing tutorial!!!

  38. Brittany says:

    LaChelle- Isn't it funny how many different ways we all find to work? I love that about making cakes!

    I have not ever had a problem with condensation. By the time I am frosting, the cake isn't totally frozen and it's thawed by the time I cover it with fondant. This method works every time for me.

    Thanks for sharing what works for you!

  39. Ege'nin Annesi; says:

    such a nice cake, beautiful and also first time ıts look easy to me, thanks.

  40. Brittany says:

    Julie- I love that tip, thanks for sharing! I have a question…does it have to be a Viva paper towel? I like looking at how others decorate too!

    Carlie Sue–That would make me so frustrated!! I just wait 10 minuets like you did, then I take me cooling rack and place it on top of the cake. Then I use two hand and flip it over into the cooling rack.
    I think it works because of the grease and flour step before I put the mix in. Good Luck!

  41. Mandyland says:

    Thanks for the tips! Of course, my cakes – fully done – look very similar to your last photo. I may need to stay tuned and step up my cake game.

  42. Lori says:

    That is SO helpful! Thank you!

  43. LaChelle says:

    There's only one thing I'm feeling iffy about, and that's the step where you say to frost the cake while it's still frozen. Yikes! No!

    When you take something out of the freezer, moisture from the air condenses on it. It might depend on the climate where you live, but the condensation will make a COMPLETE mess of your frosting, and make your colors run. It's not a pretty sight. So yeah, just a word of caution, let the cake thaw first :)

  44. ellie g says:

    I just had to take a second to say….G-E-N-U-I-S! Thank you, thank you. That crumb layer thing is what I've been missing. I've tried several times to do some kind decorating, and I knew to freeze the cakes, but they always had cake bits in the frosting. I got so frustrated, I gave up. I may just have to suck it up and try again. Thanks again!

    (oh, and PS…I don't think there is such a thing as too many instructions. But I also read entire instructions booklets and kind of enjoy it! It's a sickness. :)

  45. Carlie Sue says:

    Brittany- This is so helpful! I have one very HUGE problem when I'm making cakes- when do I take the cake out of the pan? I've tried freezing the cake in the pan, it was a disaster, I've tried taking it out 10 min after I took it out of the oven, it fell apart, anytime I try the cake just falls apart! When do I take the cake out of the pan so ti stays in one piece?

  46. Canopy Kits says:

    Excellent advice! Thank you! I always struggle with baking a good cake. Hopefully my luck will start to improve.

  47. Susan says:

    So I totally want to go bake a cake RIGHT NOW! Yum!

  48. Jana says:

    I seriously need cake help! Thanks!!

  49. Jessica :) says:

    This post makes me so excited! I desperately needed to know how to do the basics. I've always wanted to make cute cakes for celebrations and the like, but never new how. Hopefully this series will help me make fun cakes for birthdays and everything! Actually, it makes me want to have a party! Also, I appreciate the "make the cake better" part – I'm looking forward to using these tips! Thanks so much!

  50. Mary says:

    I am always getting inspired by your blog! i gave you an award! go check it out at

  51. Julie Shirley says:

    Hey Ladies – Brittany, I think you are doing a great job instructing us on how to decorate cakes. I decorate cakes as well and have really enjoyed reading your posts to see how someone else does things. I just wanted to add one tip that is kind of fun. Once you have buttercream on your cake, let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then you can take a Viva paper towel and lay it on the cake and lightly rub the other side with your hand. This will make your buttercream icing very smooth — it will almost look like fondant when you are finished. Just a thought!!

  52. Lori says:

    I love the photography and simpleness of the task. I call it a task because I suck at making cakes. I'll visit often and become inspired every day- thank you!

  53. Michelle says:

    This is a great post! My family doesn't like the taste of fondont as much as frosting, so I need to learn to frost with forsting only.

  54. Tiffany says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. I heart baking tips!

  55. Ginger says:

    What an excitingly helpful post!! About flouring and greasing the pan, I've made a cake using an oreo cookie pan from William Sonoma in which you only ice between the two cake layers (gives the oreo look) and since it's a chocolate cake mix, they recommend using cocoa powder to flower with so you keep that perfectly brown color to the cake. I know this is about covering the cakes but it makes for a great (and tasty) alternative :)

  56. alaskafam says:

    Thanks so much for the "basics" post. I love to watch cake decorating shows on TV so I was thrilled when Ashley told us you would be posting on her blog. I actually went to Wal-Mart yesterday and bought some fondant (yup they do have it) and I am going to try out your cake for my son's birthday (minus the pink)!

  57. Brittany says:

    Beth-A-mama-Be- I use homemade buttercream. I put the link to the recipe in one of my earlier comments. Thanks for the suggestion, I'm glad it was something you were interested in!

    Sarah– Your comment made me smile! Just the other day I ran out of flour to dust my pan and used a bit of the cake mix. It worked great!
    I have heard that about the hot water too but i have not tried it. I will have to…. it's a good idea.

    Mike and Shayla– First I put a few table spoons of flour into the bottom of my greased cake pan. Tilt the pan so the flour slides over all inside surfaces. (going close to vertical) Turn the pan over and tap vigourously to remove extra flour. This gives you the light dusting.
    (put a dish or baking sheet under where you are working to catch the extra flour)
    Good question!

  58. Rika's Crafts says:

    Great tips! Thank you!

  59. Mike and Shayla says:

    This was very clear and helpful, thank you! I just have one question. When you say "lightly dust" the pan with flour, how do you do it? I have never been able to figure out how people get thin coating of flour on a greased pan.

  60. mariah says:

    you've just chNGED MY LIFE……….ok you've changed my fear of layered cakes….thank you!!!

  61. Heather says:

    I am so excited about the tip to spread a thin layer of buttercream and then let it sit for ten minutes before you buttercream it up again. I'm always frustrated with my crumbs spreading to the top of my finished product!

  62. Sarah says:

    Since you are talking about a fondant cake, i dont know if this is applicable, but my mom always kept a tall glass of really hot water to dip the spatula in to get a really smooth surface.

    Another tip that I heard in the past was to use a tiny bit of the mix instead of flour when flouring up your pans – that way you dont get the white powder all over the surface of your cake.

    great tutorial – makes me want to make a cake now!

  63. jeanine says:

    This was so helpful! I always wondered how to keep the crumbs from being on the outside! Now I know!

  64. * Nancy * says:

    Thank you so much for the tips! Can't wait to make my own AMAZING cake. :)

  65. Beth- the mama bee says:

    Is this a store bought butter cream or a homemade one?

    Thanks for the starting cake advice today- I was one of the people who asked you to go back and share this part too. Thanks!

  66. christinaea says:

    This was so very helpful! Thank you so much for sharing!!!!!

  67. Brittany says:

    Melanie Beth– I use the Wilton recipe for buttercream. You can find it here:

    Steph– I level may cake while it is still mostly frozen. I get it out of the freezer and by the time I get all my other supplies out and ready it's thawed enough to cut. Then I stack and ice as fast as possible. I find it easiest to do all of this while the cake is frozen.

    Gillian– It's not a silly question! Feel free to ask anything no matter the skill level. Do everything while it's still frozen, it's much easier to use buttercream on a hard surface of cake instead of a soft one.
    I would use the two step process no matter what kind of icing you use. When you ice a cake it's easy to pick up crumbs into the icing, so by doing it twice you create a surface without crumbs.

  68. leardonsbelle says:

    Thanks for the steps to make a better cake. I love this series!

  69. Gillian says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I don't normally bake cakes but I'm actually thinking of baking my wedding cake, so freezing a cake would be very useful.

    Do you suggest butterfrosting while the cake is frozen or when it has defrosted?

    Silly question, if I'm not icing and only want to use buttercream do I still only do two layers of buttercream?

  70. Sarah says:

    Wow, those are great tips!!!! I want to go bake a cake right now! =)

  71. Tasha says:

    Fantastic! My hubby's birthday is this Thursday and since our budget doesn't allow for gifts I figured I'd go all out and make a really great cake. These tips couldn't have come at a better time! Thanks for sharing!

  72. Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage says:

    This is n excellent tutorial. I'm going to link to it.

  73. Steph says:

    Thanks for the tips.
    So do you level your cake before or after freezing? And do you let your cake thaw at all before icing?

  74. Crafty Batches says:

    I had no idea you could freeze a cake, SO CLEVER! Thank you so much for the tips! ~Sam

  75. Melanie Beth says:

    what recipe do you use for the buttercream?

  76. B. Anastasia says:

    I love this cake series!! Thanks so much for posting so much info. I am making a b-day cake for my daughters 1st birthday and I definitely need advice!! Keep it coming!

  77. Lori says:

    great post – so helpful!!

  78. Mirian Santos says:

    very good………

  79. Micah says:

    I'm hungry :)

    Thanks for the tips! This was VERY helpful!

  80. Jill says:

    Thanks for the tips! I can't wait to try them…especially the tips for baking a better cake!

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