We've all been there. We're having a birthday party for our child and really want a professional-looking cake...without the professional price. You KNOW it can be done. Johnny's mom made his cake and it looked FANTASTIC! She's obviously a professional baker in her spare time. Except she's not. She just knows how to make cakes look GOOD!
How? With a few tricks and secrets.
The first rule of decorating a cake is to wait until the cake is completely cooled. You will destroy the cake if you don't. I usually cover mine & let it cool for a couple of hours. Whether you're using home-made or store-bought icing, you want to use it at room temperature.
Once your cake and frosting are ready, you'll frost your cake. This first layer of frosting is called "masking" or "crumb-coating" the cake. You'll put a very thin layer on (just enough to gather up all of the cake crumbs into this first layer of frosting). Then, you freeze or refrigerate the cake. You can see a fantastic example in the video below (because where else do we learn new things but on YouTube):
How long you freeze or refrigerate the cake (and which method you use) is up for debate. Some freeze it for 10 minutes, some for a couple of hours. Yet others say you only need to put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes to an hour. The point here is to get the masking layer of icing to fully harden before applying your top (and final) layer of icing. On the video, she says to put it in the fridge for 30minutes to an hour. I say find what works best for your area and fridge/freezer and go from there.
We live in Vegas where ice melts instantly upon contact with room temperature and eggs cook before you've even cracked them open into the pan. As a result, I freeze my cake for a full 2 hours before applying my final layer of frosting.
You'll also notice at the end of the video that she gives you tips on how to smooth the icing over the top edges. You should do this regardless of how you want the final product to look. It makes for a smoother, more even top layer. (You can also use that technique to smooth the edges when putting on your final layer of icing.)
The video below shows one of my favorite methods for smoothing a cake frosted with buttercream icing.
It is so smooth that it resembles the ultra-smooth fondant used on many wedding cakes but without the hassle, nasty taste, and extra cost. In the video, she shows you how to smooth the icing. You can use a plain sheet of copy paper, a paper towel (with or without a pattern...your choice), or wax paper. Each will produce a slightly different effect, but each is just as effective at smoothing a cake. In the video, she uses what's called a "fondant" smoother (which you can get at any craft store or in the craft section of Wal-Mart). If you don't have or don't want to get a fondant smoother, you can just use your hand.
You will amaze yourself at how good your next cake looks if you follow these methods.
Find more cake-decorating tips on YouTube! It's where I've learned all of my "magic"!