How To Ice and Decorate A Cake {Like A Pro!}

Have you ever wanted to learn to decorate cakes like the pros do? I will show you how to ice and decorate a cake!

How to ice and decorate a cake like a pro graphic.

 Let me start by saying I’m not a pro.

I’ve just practiced a lot to make a simple decorated cake that looks like a pro did it. For my kids’ birthday cakes, I like a smooth cake surface to decorate on so my delicious cakes are always round, square or rectangle.

I have some easy tips to show you how you can do it with everyday tools from home. 

You can do it! It’s not that hard!

I usually use my best ever carrot cake recipe for birthday cakes so that is the cake you’ll see in the photos below.

One cake recipe will get you two layers (two round cake pans) or you can make it into three thinner layers (three round cake pans). For my son’s Safari cake, I used two cake recipes to get two yummy layers (two rectangle cake pans).

Once your lovely cakes are done and cooled on cooling racks, cover a cookie sheet, pizza pan (like photo below) or something similar in aluminium foil. Add a dab of icing to the pan and add your first cake layer (this prevents the cake from sliding off the pan.

Then add a generous amount of icing on top of that first cake layer.

A baked cake with icing spread on one of the cakes on the counter.

 When cakes rise, they rise a bit more in the middle. Depending on your oven, sometimes they rise more on one side. You can either cut the ‘bump’ off with a serrated knife or a special cake cutting tool OR you can fill in the gaps with icing.

When I plop the second layer on top, you’ll notice there are big gaps between layers.

The trick is to fill it in with more icing.

And you want to make sure your icing is cool, not warm. After beating the icing, chill it for a bit. You also don’t want it runny, you’ll want it on the thicker side. To achieve that, you just keep adding more icing sugar while beating it (by hand or with a mixer).

So when I fill in those areas with icing, they will stay because the icing will be cool and thick.

Putting the top layer on the cake with the icing in the middle.

Once you have your layer filled, you’ll need to dirty ice your cake. ‘Dirty ice’ or ‘crumb coat’ just means to cover the cake with an initial layer of icing. There are usually a lot of crumbs that get mixed in with it hence the name. So because of this you’ll want to add some icing to another bowl and ice from that one so you don’t get crumbs back in the majority of your icing.

You can use a spatula, regular table knife or cake spatula for icing the cake.

Icing in a mixing bowl.

 To ice the cake, plop little mounds of icing on top of the cake and push the icing to the edges then down the sides. Move the spatula/knife back and forth in fluid motions until you cover all the gaps.

I also try to even out the top ‘hump’ by adding more icing near the edges and a thin amount in the very center of the cake.

Don’t worry about covering the whole cake at this point. It’s just about getting a smooth icing base!

If you look at the two images below, they look pretty similar but there is a key difference.

After you dirty ice the cake, the icing starts to get warm with room temperature.

You’ll notice the first photo is starting to look a bit runny.

This is when you need to chill it in the refrigerator!

Putting the first rough layer of icing on the cake.

 Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

This is the no. 1 tip that will make or break your cake. Now you can truly begin to ice your cake because the cake will be firm and easy to swirl the next batch of icing onto it.

If you were to try to ice it immediately after the dirty ice, the crumbs will mix in and sometimes the top layer will even try to slide to one side or slip right off.

By chilling it, you are keeping everything in place. It’s a simple step that you might feel like skipping when you read that part in any recipe but it’s the KEY!

The cake after being in the fridge for the icing to harden up.

Now when you go to ice, ice your cake (ice, ice baby)…

it will be easy to get a smooth surface.

Keep moving your knife or spatula back and forth in a fluid motion until you get the smooth look that you want.

Remember, we’re not using special tools here. I know there are special cake tools that you can smooth along your cake to make it look perfect. I want a smooth cake but I also like it to look a little homemade so leaving some of those lines or ridges is fine in my books.

{And, yes, that tool is an actual cake spatula but I often use a table knife and it works the same!}

Smoothing another layer of the icing onto the cake with a table knife.

You’ll notice that my cake isn’t perfect. There are a few spots of carrot cake that I can see showing through but my goal was to get a smooth surface to decorate on and I’m super happy that the large gaps between the layers are filled! Goal achieved.

Once you’re happy with the results you can begin to decorate it! 

Depending on your time, you might want to chill your cake again.

The iced cake on the kitchen counter.
The cake plus chocolate cupcakes beside it on cooling racks.

For my son’s birthday party this year, we went with a strong Superhero theme. Sometimes I draw my design on a piece of paper and put it next to the cake to copy. This year I decided to copy right from a Superman costume so I placed the costume on the floor near my cake. Then I hopped on a stool because 1) I’m short and 2) I like to be directly above my cake.

A stool in the kitchen to use when icing the cake.

I love making my own icing but trying to color white icing to black or red is difficult. It usually just turns pink or grey. This year I opted for Wilton’s pre-made icing to draw out the cake design. They have plastic tips you can buy that screw right on to the top of the icing. Genius.

I only used two tips. A small round to make the lines and a star to fill in.

Using remade icing with fine tips drawing the superhero look on the top of the cake.

With the star tip, you basically make 100s of drops to fill in your design.

It makes for a clean, finished look. Like a pro 😉

Filling in the design with red icing stars.

I used the round tip to draw all the 5s and used the star tip to add a star dot in between each 5 on the side of the cake.

I also decided to make 4 dozen cupcakes for the party as well because I’m crazy like that.

The superhero design on the cake with Super James on it too.

For the yellow color, I just used yellow sugar sprinkles, store-bought.

The finished decorated cakes with cupcakes beside it with the number 5 on them.

I love how it turned out. It’s a simple design with great impact against the white icing. The icing is a cream cheese icing which is even more difficult to ice with but it still turned out great.

The cake on the food table ready for the Birthday party.

The cake is the highlight for my son (okay, and for me too). He was ecstatic to see his superhero cake all done!

The cake displayed with water bottles beside it.

I hope I’ve inspired you to make a birthday or special event cake.

Click here for carrot cake recipe & cream cheese icing

You might also like to see the following:

Pony Cake

A pink pony cake the table.

Safari Cake

Safari birthday cake with a giraffe and palm tree.

Sprinkles Cake

A spineless birthday cake.

Superhero Birthday Party

Superhero birthday party poster.


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  1. This is super helpful, Jamie! I’ve always made the mistake of doing the crumb coat and the official coat at the same time. So from now on, all my cakes will go in the fridge before getting a final coat. Thanks for the great tips! And your cakes are adorable!! You are definitely a pro!

    1. haha, thanks Emily. Definitely not a pro but I did the same thing as you before with the crumb cake. Makes a world of difference!

  2. I love it and such a great tutorial too. Thanks tons for linking to Inspire Me. Hugs, Marty

  3. I love this post! I can see now how important it is to chill it in the fridge after the dirty ice. I’ve always skipped that step before, but no more. 🙂 Thanks for your tips and now I’m totally craving carrot cake. 🙂

    1. Thanks Lisa. Yes, it’s totally a step you think you can step but it makes a world of difference 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

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