How-to Video: Smoothly Buttercream a Cake (recipe included)

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

In the first two cake decorating videos I demonstrated how to cut, fill and crumb coat your cake. Now we are ready to put on the final coat of icing. I chose a very simple vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream to cover the cake. It is elegant, smooth and has a wonderfully rich flavor, but isn’t overly sweet. It can be left pure vanilla or you can easily add flavors to compliment your cake. This buttercream is wonderful for piping roses or doing basket weave as well. Before we get into the finishing touches we want to create a smooth surface, which will act as a canvas. If your cake is straight and smooth it will be stunning without any flourishes at all, but it will also show off your decorating prowess if you want to add some flowers or writing.

Also see my other How-to Cake Decorating Videos:

Part 1: Cut and Fill a Cake Like a Pro!

Part 2: Crumb Coat Your Cake

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

(This makes enough to cover one 8-inch cake, plus more for piping decorations)

1 cup egg whites (about 8 egg whites)

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Adding color or flavorings: When you are adding to the buttercream be sure that you are not changing the consistency of it too much. If you want to add a liqueur or other liquid, do it in small intervals until you have the taste you want. If you want a coffee flavor, it may be best to use a slightly diluted espresso powder.

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the egg whites and sugar. It will be very thick and grainy.

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

Put the bowl over a double boiler and stir it with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely melted. This can take several minutes. You want to brush the sides down with the spatula to make sure all the sugar is melted and no grains are clinging to the sides.

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

Feel the egg mixture between your fingers to check for graininess. Once it is completely smooth and has no grains left, put it on your stand mixer and beat with the whip attachment on medium high speed.

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

Beat it until it is light, fluffy, glossy and the bowl feels just about room temperature. If the whites are not cooled off sufficiently it will melt the butter when you add it.

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

Once the egg whites are whipped and cooled, add the butter to it, 2 tablespoons at a time on medium speed.

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

WARNING: After you have added about half of the butter, it may look curdled and runny, this is normal and you should continue adding the rest of the butter.

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

Once you have finished adding the butter and it has mixed on medium speed for about a minute the buttercream should be creamy and glossy looking again.* Add the salt, vanilla and any flavorings you choose.

*If the buttercream is still runny at this point, it may be that your butter or egg whites were too warm. Just place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 3 minutes and stir, then repeat in the refrigerator for another 3 minutes and stir. This will chill the butter, but the stirring will prevent it from solidifying too much. Repeat this until it is the right consistency.

Now you are ready to cover your cake:

Equipment I use in this video:

Revolving Cake Decorating Stand – Let it do the work for you. A must to get a perfectly smooth finish!

Spatula – make sure the blade is long enough to cover the entire cake. If it is too short you will have streaks in your icing. You can use a straight or off-set spatula, which ever feels more comfortable.

5-Quart Mixer for making buttercream – you can also do this with a hand held mixer, but this takes much longer. I like equipment that frees me up to be doing other things!

Check out my other videos in this cake decorating series:

How to Cut and Fill a Cake Like a Pro

How to Crumb Coat a Cake