Sometimes learning and perfecting the basics is the best way to get ahead in this world! A well done crumb coat can change the final look of a decorated cake, bringing its overall effect from “neat” to “WOW!” So, what is a crumb coat? A crumb coat is the base coat of icing on a cake. It is also referred to as dirty icing a cake. Generally there are at least two layers of buttercream icing spread on a cake; the first is the crumb coat, which seals in the crumbs.
That way no crumbs can get into the second layer of icing and make your cake look dirty or rough. You can then add an additional second coat to give it a nice uniform look. When you're learning how to properly ice a cake, the crumb coat is the first place that you start.
Now let's begin! Here's how to crumb coat a cake.
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- Your cake (it should be well chilled)
- A leveler, or a long serrated knife
- Offset spatula
- Buttercream of your choice
- A clean, empty bowl or extra cake pan
Before you begin, make sure your icing is stiff; you should be able to scoop it up with your spatula and turn it upside down over the bowl without it falling or sliding back into the bowl. The icing should hold its shape perfectly. The first thing you need to do is level your cake. All cakes need to be level or you will get cracked cakes that will not hold their shape. For smaller cakes I use a leveler which can be found at a craft store. If you do not have one you can use a long serrated knife to very carefully cut the top off your cake.
Once you have topped all of your cakes, you are ready to start stacking!
Start by spreading a thin layer of icing on your cake board. This way your cake will stick to the bottom of your cake.
Place your first layer on the board and plop a big dollop of icing right in the middle. Spread the icing carefully. Always add more icing than you think you need. It is much easier and cleaner to remove icing then add it.
Once your icing is nice and flat, you can stack the second cake. If you only have two cakes, turn the cake over so the bottom of the second cake is now the top of the cake. This will greatly reduce the amount of crumbs you encounter.
As you can see, I repeated everything for the second cake and flipped my top cake so that it is upside down.
Once you have filled your cake, use your offset spatula to smooth your excess icing into the cake. This is where you fill any gaps on the sides, if there are any, and make sure your layers are stacked properly. Now is also the time to get out that extra bowl.
One of my tricks to getting a really nice crumb coat is to have an extra bowl. Anytime I get crumbs on my spatula, I wipe the icing into my extra bowl. I always make sure to keep my real bowl full of icing “crumb free,” this way. It is the best way to reduce crumbs.
Now that we have spread the excess icing around and off the cake, we can begin spreading on the crumb coat. Again, always start with more than you need. I like to spread icing on the sides of the cake, then the top. Turn your turntable with one hand while you hold your spatula at 90 degrees. If there are gaps or holes, fix them and keep going.
If you find your cakes are sliding around and won’t stay stacked properly, get them stacked as best you can and then place them in the fridge to harden the buttercream. After about 20 minutes, they should stay put and you can continue crumb coating your cake. Once you have a nice thick coat of icing, use your scraper and hold it flat on the turntable so it is against the side of your cake. Then turn the turntable and the scraper to make a nice, smooth coat of icing.
After finishing the edges of the cake, you will have peaks on the top edges of the cake. Just use your scraper or spatula to draw the peaks into the center of the cake; then smooth again. You now have a nice crumb coat! But let’s not stop there. I find that putting fondant on a cake is like wearing spandex pants, it’s just not going to hide the blemishes no matter how much you want it to!
So what do we do? We make a really beautiful second coat of buttercream. It doesn’t need to be thick, it just needs to even out the blemishes that are always part of a cake. Start by refrigerating your crumb coated cake. You want it nice and chilled. Leave it in the fridge for atleast 20-30 minutes to get the buttercream nice and firm. This will help the cake hold its shape when adding the second layer of buttercream. Once your cake is chilled, pull it out and cover it with buttercream.
Cover it evenly with buttercream using the offset spatula and then use the bench scraper to smooth the edges.
You now have a beautifully smooth crumb coated cake!
Place it in the fridge to chill. I always let mine chill for about 20 minutes so that the buttercream hardens. Then I wrap it in at least two layers of plastic wrap and place it back in the fridge to chill completely overnight, before covering it with fondant. You are now ready to create all sorts of amazing cakes!
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Check out this one on how to frost a cake four ways from cake designer and instructor Joshua John Russell.
See more on Craftsy's YouTube Cake Decorating Channel.