It is so satisfying to cook a dish you have learned by heart. A little know-how saves time, reduces stress, and frees you to be more creative. Whether you love to cook or just need to solve the dinner problem, this repertoire of how-tos gives you confidence to add personal style and hopefully makes life more tasty.
There are so many ways to prepare the same dish. These are recipes(Opens in a new window) for dishes and drinks you’ll make again and again, pared down to the essential ingredients and steps. They include tips to take out guesswork, choose the best tools, answer the most common questions we hear, and amp up the qualities that make us love each food in this series: to make crispier, faster chicken; creamier, tastier beans; fearless squash, more pro-looking layer cake; cocktails you can memorize; and eggs, precisely how you like them, every time.
Let’s get cooking.
You might not need to frost a nice layer cake, yet. But, it’s a skill that, like riding a bike, may someday come in handy. The best time to get good at it is today. Now is better than the day before a party where you are the one bringing cake because no one’s first cake is perfectly straight and smooth.
It might not even be that smooth the second time, but the good news is, this basic two-bowl recipe for Easy Deeply Chocolate Cake and Fluffy American Buttercream is bound to be delicious. And, making big sweeps with the offset spatula, watching the frosting mound up on the blade as you press and spin the cake will be fun. When you’re done, eat all of the evidence with friends and neighbors.
Smoothing a cake is a physical skill, once you get a feel for the texture of frosting, the spring of the spatula and the right amount of pressure to apply, a pretty cake gets easier to make.
Here are a few rules of thumb and pro tips to help make frosting pretty cakes simpler. Are you already good at frosting? Please share your own tips.
Tips for how to frost smoother cakes
Cool cakes completely
Warm cakes melt buttercream and then slide around on it. Cool cakes are firmer, and make a better frosting surface. They’re also easier to level (trim off the dome) and the temperature helps to set the buttercream as you spread it.
Clear a refrigerator shelf
Many a cake was dinged by crowded bottles and containers in stuffed refrigerator, but not yours.
Make extra frosting
Extra frosting makes it more relaxing to frost. You can use what’s left over for the next round, or make cake pops with it.
Level and center
Starting with a straight base makes for a straight final product. Make cakes level by trimming off the domes (eat the scraps) and getting the rounds centered on the boards and with each other, helps when adding a final frosting coat.
Have these tools, too, if you want
A cake turntable is nice to have. One or more cake smoothers(Opens in a new window) with different textures for striping your cake sides. Various other pastry tips are good for variety.
One 8-Inch Layer Cake
Have essential tools
Two 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans(Opens in a new window) with straight sides. An electric mixer for the frosting. A long offset spatula(Opens in a new window) to smooth the frosting on the cake. Cardboard cake rounds available at craft or baking supply stores stabilize the cake and allow you to move it. A pastry bag or decorating bottle kit(Opens in a new window).
Take off the pressure and make a swirly finish instead of a smooth one. Start with a thin crumb-coat and chill it for a bit to make the final swoopy, curvy frosting layer crumb-free.