Cake Decorating with Buttercream Frosting

Piping borders with buttercream

Cake decorating with buttercream frosting is fun!

The Versatility of Buttercream

There's no doubt about it. Buttercream frosting is one of the most versatile frostings of all. The sweet buttery taste, light texture and ability to hold shape when piped make this the frosting of choice for most professional bakers. You can color it and adjust the consistency to fit your nearly all of your decorating needs.

Getting Started

Basic Tools Needed

There's almost no limit to the number of tools used for decorating with buttercream, but here's a list of the basics.

  • Icing spatulas of various sizes - have one offset spatula for smoothing
  • Pastry bags - Reusable and disposable bags
  • Couplers for pastry bags to connect your tips (Not completely necessary, but this is more stable than simply inserting your tip in the end of the bag.)
  • A variety of metal cake decorating tips - There are hundreds of tips in various sizes, but a basic tip assortment should include:
    • Round tips - For writing and piping strings/vines and balls
    • Star tips - Creates stars of various sizes
    • Drop flower tips - Creates a set of petals with an open center
    • Petal tips - Used to create roses
    • Leaf tips - For adding leaves to your flowers
  • Flower nail - Typically used for creating roses

Choose the Right Frosting Consistency for the Job

For most purposes, a medium consistency frosting usually works quite well for both covering cakes and piping designs. There are a couple of exceptions where you'll need a slightly different consistency:

  • Upright flowers and characters like clowns need a stiffer buttercream to hold their shape.
  • Writing and some string work is easier if you thin your buttercream slightly by whipping in a few drops of corn syrup with the frosting.

Coloring Frosting

Common liquid food colors will thin your buttercream too much. It's better to use paste coloring to achieve great color and still maintain the consistency of your frosting.

Basics of Cake Decorating with Buttercream Frosting

Anchoring Your Cake

Begin by placing a dollop of icing on your covered cake board. Place your bottom cake layer on top, and this will keep it from slipping around on the board.


Although there are many fillings you can use between the layers of your cakes, buttercream does make a delicious filling. You can use vanilla flavored frosting for the job, but you can also add cocoa powder, maple or other flavorings to your filling for a tasty surprise.

For a simple filling, add a moderately thick layer of frosting to the top of the bottom layer of cake, and stack the next layer on top of it. Alternatively, you can pipe a ring of buttercream around the outside of the cake top to create a wall to hold your favorite fruit filling. Place the next cake layer on top of the first, and continue until all your layers are added.

Crumb Coating

Crumb coating stops those pesky little bits of cake from showing up in your outer frosting layer. Once you've added your filling between your cake layers, simply apply a thin layer of buttercream on the entire outside of the cake to seal in the crumbs and allow the frosting to dry.

Top Coating

Once your crumb coat has dried, you can add a second thick layer of buttercream on top. You can smooth it out with a spatula, or let the frosting dry slightly and then lay a paper towel over it so you can smooth the surface with without leaving marks. Viva paper towels often work best because they are the smoothest textured brand. However, if you want an even layer of icing that still has some texture, use a quilted brand instead.


Once you have frosted your cake and smoothed it as desired, it's time to begin decorating. This is the time to unleash your creativity.

  • Add flowers, characters, messages and other embellishments using a variety of decorating tips and techniques.
  • Add decorative boarders around the base and top layers of your cake.

Additional Tips

  • Keep a damp towel over your buttercream container to keep the top layer of icing from drying.
  • If you're working in a particularly warm area, keep the unused portion of your frosting in the refrigerator and pull it out as needed to replenish your pastry bag.
  • Practice with your tips by piping decorations on wax paper or a practice board before piping on your cake.

This is just a basic outline for cake decorating with buttercream frosting, but it does provide the essential steps. It's up to you to use your own creativity and talent to design cakes that not only taste good but also look great.

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Cake Decorating with Buttercream Frosting