Don’t you hate it when you spend hours in the kitchen trying to make a cake masterpiece, only to look at it and think, “Why doesn’t my cake look like the picture?”, or “Why can’t I just get this thing to look right?” It’s frustrating…believe me, I know. So, that’s why today I’m talking about common cake decorating problems and how to avoid them.
Alright, let’s get to ’em, shall we.
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Cake Decorating Problem #1:
Your cake crumbles on you when you’re icing it.
I think we’ve all pretty much encountered this problem. I’ve found that chocolate cakes are the worst at crumbling and I really don’t know why that is. My theory is that maybe they’re just more moist than other cakes, but I can’t really confirm that.
How to Avoid It:
There are a couple of solutions to this problem. Pick one of these to try, or do a combination of both depending on how crumbly your cake is.
Chill your cake (but only for a bit). Pop that puppy in the fridge for about 15 to 20 minutes, or in the freezer for maybe 5 to 10 minutes. You don’t want to chill it all the way through, or you’ll have problems with air pockets (see below). You only want the outside to firm up just a bit. Most of the time, this trick really helps.
Try just doing a crumb coat first with your icing thinned a bit. Just take a small amount of your buttercream and thin it just slightly with milk and do a very thin coat all over your cake. Now just pop it in the fridge for about 5 to 10 minutes max. Remember, you don’t want it to get too cold, because that’ll cause issues later. You just want the crumb coat to firm up, then you can do the outside coat of buttercream.
Cake Decorating Problem #2:
Blowouts in your Buttercream
See that big ‘ol bubble there close to the top? Reminds me of that old Alien movie where the alien is trying to bust out of their stomachs. Okay, that’s gross and it’s not an alien exploding out of your cake, but it might as well be, because it’s really screwing up the whole look of your cake, right?
How to Avoid It:
These air pockets, in my experience, form because of moisture. Now you want your cake moist, of course, so you don’t want to be making a dry cake, just because you don’t want any blowouts. That’s not the fix here. The issue is when moisture gets trapped between the cake and the buttercream. The fix? Well, I’ve found when you chill your cake completely and then ice it, it traps condensation between your cake and your buttercream.
So in the first problem we talked about (the crumbling cake) I mentioned to chill it for a bit. The trick is if you do chill it, chill it for the minimum amount of time you can get a way with. Now, if you’re using a perishable icing or buttercream, you won’t have much choice and you’ll have to keep it chilled fully.
I’ve found the problem occurs when it’s been chilled or kept in the fridge, then brought out to serve and it sits on the table for awhile. That’s when the blow-out occurs. Usually what happens is you decorate your cake, take tons of time smoothing the buttercream and getting it perfect, then you come back the next day to take it to the event and BAM! a huge blow out on the side.
I know what I’m saying is a little controversial and a lot of people disagree and love to decorate and keep their cakes chilled. Do what works best for you, but for me, it has always caused blowouts. It doesn’t hurt to try something new though, if you’re having trouble with those pesky air pockets.
Another thing to note is you want to make sure your cake layers are leveled, that the tops are flat and that the cake has had time to settle…which we’ll talk about below.
Cake Decorating Problem #3:
Icing Ridges Around the Cake
Ok, this is a pic I got off of Canva. It’s a beautifully taken picture, but this cake has settled and it’s caused an icing ridge around the middle and around the bottom. This icing ridge around the middle is caused by the filling squishing out once the cake has settled, or it’s come to room temperature.
This can happen for several reasons. It’s easy to over fill between the layers of cake. Your icing could be a little thin as well. But I’ve got some tips…
How to Avoid It:
Some people like to use what they call an icing dam. I personally have not had much luck with this method, but some people do. If you want to try it, you’ll just take a bit of icing, thicken it up with some confectioners sugar (if you’re using American Buttercream) and pipe a line around the cake layer. Next you’ll just fill in with your regular buttercream, then stack your cake layer on top. This hasn’t completely stopped the ridges for me, so I tend to do something a little different, but it takes a little more time.
What I like to do is layer my cakes like normal (I don’t normally use a dam), but I’m very careful not to over-fill between the layers. I’ll then add a thin layer of buttercream (like a crumb coat) over the entire cake. I loosely cover it with saran wrap or press-n-seal wrap and let it ‘settle’.
I don’t chill my cakes because that firms everything up and I want the cake to settle before I do all the decorating. Let it settle for at least an hour minimum…several hours is better, over night is even better. Once it’s settled, go back and scrape off any excess that has squeezed out of the sides. Then you can go ahead and coat the whole cake with buttercream and continue decorating. This is what works best for me.
Cake Decorating Problem #4:
Sliding Cake Layers and Leaning Cakes
Ok, I don’t have a picture of a leaning or sliding cake, but I’m sure you catch my drift, right?
How to Avoid It:
There are a couple of things that can cause this.
The cake layers need to be leveled. You either want to take a long knife or you can use a cake leveler (like this one: Wilton Cake Leveler) and even off the dome of the cake…even if it’s just a small dome. You want each cake layer to be completely flat. This will also help prevent bulges in your buttercream as well. Uneven cake layers will cause all kinds of problems and the whole cake could even move on you while you’re trying to ice it.
Also make sure your buttercream isn’t too thin. This one is probably fairly obvious, but if your buttercream isn’t thick enough, your cake layers are going to slide around on you.
Cake Decorating Problem #4:
You can’t get your buttercream smooth
Since smoothing buttercream seems to be a huge issue plus the fact that I’ve got a ton of tips to help with that, I wrote an entire blog post about it. You can find that here: How to Get Smooth Buttercream
Ok, there you have it! Common Cake Decorating Problems and How to Avoid Them. I hope these were helpful to you and if you think of any other problems you encounter, leave me a comment and let me know. I’d love to help!
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You might also want to check out these other blog posts for some additional tips:
And if you want to go even deeper with all my best tips and advice, along with instructional videos, you’ll want to check out my course: Cake Decorating Fundamentals: The Nitty-Gritty Basics of Buttercream Cakes
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