5 Ways to Frost a Cake for People Who Hate Frosting Cakes
I’m not a talented decorator, so any decorating that I do is usually covering up what I’ve previously screwed up. I’ve made countless cakes and people always seem surprisingly impressed, even though I know what little effort actually went into it. Here...
All photos by Sydney Kramer
I really, truly despise working with frosting.
I'm not a talented decorator. Any decorating that I do is generally the result of covering up what I've previously screwed up. I do not have the patience—nor the steady hands—to make beautiful cupcakes, breathtaking cakes, or professional-looking sugar cookies. I am a lazy baker, so most of the time, I make chocolate chip cookies or pies or something that looks a little "rustic" and doesn't need a lot of gussying up. People are happy to devour these less-than-perfect-looking treats. Don't be fooled: you don't need to be a master of the piping bag or a creative genius to make pastries that people want to eat.
Butter, sugar, and flour are the holy trinity as far as I'm concerned, so something that is a little flat or maybe a little more oval than circular doesn't say anything about its taste. As long as it isn't totally burned and as long as you didn't confuse the sugar for the salt, your labor of love is probably delicious. However, every once in a while, there arises such an occasion where you are obliged to make something look pretty, and as much as you want to run away from this challenge, rest assured, I'm here to help. I present to you five simple ways to make your shitty decorating skills seem anything but. Take it from me—I've made countless cakes and people always seem surprisingly impressed, even though I know what little effort actually went into making this seemingly impressive-looking cake.
Naked Cake This is my new favorite way to frost a three-layer cake. The "naked" cake is a relatively recent development in the world of cake decorating, and I love it. You still have to level off your cake, sure, and you still have to make three layers stick together, but after that, it's easy. Frost your cake lightly with a thin crumb coat layer, then stick that sucker in the fridge for 15 minutes or so. When you're ready, pull your cake out and slap the rest of your frosting all over the top and sides. Then, take a bench scraper (or some other similar-looking thing) and scrape the frosting right off of that damn cake. I like to have a bowl handy that I can put the discarded frosting into. You can either use the extra to make a cake parfait with leftover scraps or just eat the frosting with a spoon like the monster that you are. The trick is to scrape right down to the cake itself, making the sides as smooth as possible, then go up and scrape the top, too (though you can have a little extra frosting on top, if you like). Throw a few sprinkles on there and ta da: you've made a beautifully frosted cake without having to get the piping bag out.
Rustic Cake Ah yes, old faithful, as I like to call this style of cake. It's the easiest way to frost a three-layer cake, by far. The best part is that you don't even have to bother leveling the son-of-a-bitch. Throw down your first layer, scoop a ton of frosting on it, add the next layer, do the same, and then actually apply a little effort on the last frosting layer to make it look presentable. Again, sprinkles or powdered sugar or cocoa powder or something are optional here, but they're great for adding some extra flair while covering up lumpy frosting, if you have been so unfortunate (and I have, many times). People have told me that they "love how rustic this cake looks" and act like it was hard to make it look that way. Let them keep thinking that and I'll keep making these half-assed but pretty looking "rustic" cakes.
Drizzled Cake Admittedly, this is probably the most difficult of the five options, but only because you have to add an extra step: melting the chocolate. It's worth it, though, because the drizzle effect allows you to not freak out about making the cake look totally perfect or level, or whatever. Frost your cake as you normally would, chill it in the fridge for a bit, and then pull it out and drizzle melted chocolate all over the top. The goal here is to make it look a little messy, but as everyone knows, drips of milk chocolate always look delicious and tempting. You can do chocolate frosting and white chocolate here, too, if you're so bold, or switch out the chocolate for something like caramel sauce. Just make sure that you drizzle over parchment paper or something that will collect the mess you're about to create. Avoid trying to catch it all with your fingers because—as you'll learn—that stuff is hot and it will burn. Dust the end result with a little powdered sugar if you feel like walking in a winter wonderland.
Single Layer Frosted Cake Sometimes less is more, and if you don't necessarily need to make a cake for 20 people, why not make a simple, one-layer cake with a big, inviting dollop of buttercream on top? I learned a long time ago that a cake can be impressive even if it isn't a towering behemoth that took you hours to make. I like to use an 8-inch square pan to do these single layer cakes, but an 8-inch circle looks good, too. Just be sure to line the bottom of your pan with parchment paper for easy removal. I think that a dark, almost black chocolate cake looks best with stark white buttercream on top, or vice-versa: make a snow-white vanilla cake with luscious chocolate frosting on top. This is a case where I must insist upon the use of sprinkles—you're only making a one-layer cake, after all. It needs a little something extra.
Plain Ol' Powdered Sugar Hey, guess what? Sometimes you don't need frosting at all. I promise! If you make a moist, rich cake, a simple dusting of powdered sugar, and perhaps a little something for texture (see: crushed candy canes, sprinkles, crumbled graham crackers, etc.) is all that's standing between you and a beautifully decorated cake. If you're not going to be frosting your cake, I recommend using a 10-inch springform pan and using some extra batter for a taller, more profound cake that stands on its own, sans-frosting. Another great example of a cake that doesn't need frosting is a bundt cake. Don't stress about a bundt cake being old fashioned. Think about the last time you even had a bundt cake. It's been way too long! Bring a bundt cake to your next party and I promise people will fall in love with its nostalgic properties. Just be sure to give your totally cooled cake a dusting of powdered sugar before slicing.