How To Prepare A Cake For Cake Decorating: The Crumb Coat

Before you start covering a cake with modeling chocolate, modeling chocolate decorations, fondant, or decorative icing of any kind, you will need to prepare the cake for decorating.  If you properly prepare the cake then you should end up with a polished and professional looking decorated cake.  It is tempting to skip this step to save time, but don’t.  Start with a cake that is completely cool to the touch.  Do any leveling, splitting, filling, or shaping.  Now, you will add a thin layer of buttercream frosting to cover the crumbs — hence the name “crumb coat.”

You’ll Need

  • A completely cooled and leveled cake
  • Buttercream frosting (at room temperature)
  • OPTIONAL:  an icing spatula


As soon as your cake is cool you will apply a thin layer of butter cream frosting.

Step 1

Gently brush off any crumbs from the cake’s surface.

Step 2

Start by frosting the top of the cake.  Apply a thin layer of frosting.  As you apply the frosting try not to scrape up crumbs from the cake.  Don’t worry about how the frosting looks.  The goal here is to cover the cake, not make it look perfect.  Do make sure that you cover all corners and edges with frosting. 

Step 3

Load your spatula with frosting from the top to the bottom.  Now begin to frost the sides of the cake.  Again, make sure that you cover all exposed edges and corners.

Step 4

After the entire cake is covered in frosting, you will go over the frosted cake with your spatula to remove any unnecessary frosting.  Start with the sides of the cake.   Sweep your spatula from left to right collecting any unneeded frosting.  When you reach the end of that side, turn the cake and complete the next side.  Continue until you have smoothed all of the sides.  If you can see the cake through the icing then you’ve done a great job.

Step 5

Now you probably have a lip of frosting that has climbed up to the top of the cake.  Working on the top of the cake and using the spatula, smooth the frosting by moving from the outside top edges to the center of the cake.  Again, don’t worry if you can see the cake through the icing.  When you have finished smoothing and removing excess frosting, you’ve finished applying the crumb coat.

Step 6

Refrigerate the cake for 10-15 minutes to allow the crumb coat to firm up.


  • If you will not be decorating the cake right away, cover the cake in two layers of plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator.
  • Are you working on a cake so large that it won’t fit in your refrigerator?  Allow the butercream frosting to dry before continuing to decorate the cake.  The icing should be dry to the touch before you continue to decorate the cake.
  • If the buttercream frosting is too difficult to spread you can thin it with a few drops of water or milk.  Mix well before applying to the cake.
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Easy Recipe For Homemade Buttercream Frosting

Before you can cover a cake with modeling chocolate, fondant, or decorate it with your favorite icing, you first must apply a thin layer of buttercream frosting to the cake.  This is called the crumb coat.  Homemade buttercream frosting is a staple in the best bakeries and an essential tool for cake decorators.   It is ideal for piping, coloring, and creating.  Whipping up a batch of homemade icing is easy.  Not only can you design exquisite cakes and cupcakes with buttercream, but it tastes fantastic too.  Now that you know that you need to ice the cake first, you are probably in need of a good recipe for homemade buttercream frosting.  Here is the recipe.

You’ll Need

  • 4 sticks (1 lbs.) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • Optional: gel food coloring


Leave the butter at room temperature to soften.   Separate the eggs.  We will use only the egg whites for this recipe.

Step 1

Combine sugar, egg whites, and vanilla.  Mix with an electric mixer on low to combine. Increase the speed to high for 10 minutes.

Step 2

Slowly add the softened butter and continue to mix for an additional 10 minutes.

Step 3

If you would like the frosting to have a different flavor you can add a 1/2 teaspoon of another extract (in addition to the vanilla extract)

Step 4

Immediately frost your cake.

Optional Tools

For ease in applying the frosting use an icing spatula and a rotating cake stand.

If you want to color your frosting it is best to use gel food coloring.


  • Refrigerate unused frosting in an air-tight container. Buttercream is easiest to spread at room temperature so if you have extra and intend to use it later you will have to bring the frosting back to room temperature before attempting to decorate with it.
  • Making a big cake? The recipe is easily doubled: 8 sticks of butter, 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 4 large eggs, and 2 Tablespoons of vanilla extract.
  • Do not put Crisco or any other brand of shortening in your buttercream frosting. The reason it is called buttercream is that it is made with butter. You ruin the flavor of the frosting by using shortening and the addition of shortening changes the finish of the frosting and hence the finish of your cake.
  • Do not frost the cake until it has completely cooled.
  • If you are using the buttercream as a crumb coat allow the crumb coat to dry before you continue to decorate the cake.
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How To Cover A Cake With Modeling Chocolate

Would you like to cover your cake in modeling chocolate rather than fondant?  Yes, it can be done.  Here are a few tips to make your decorated cake successful.


First, start with a firm cake that can withstand the weight.  Modeling chocolate will be heavier than icing.

Second, you can use a rolling-pin to roll out the modeling chocolate, but the process will be much easier if you have a pasta machine.

Third, you will still need to frost your cake with a thin layer of butter cream frosting before applying the modeling chocolate coating.

Whimsical cake decorated with modeling chocolate


Step 1

Liberally dust your work area with corn starch to prevent sticking.

Step 2

Roll the modeling chocolate (already colored and kneaded) through a pasta machine or manually with a rolling-pin.  You are seeking an even thickness, not too thin because you will need to move the flat piece of modeling chocolate over to the cake.

Step 3

If you are using a rolling-pin, drape the rolled modeling chocolate over your rolling-pin to move it to the pre-iced cake.

Step 4

Smooth out the modeling chocolate so that  you have a sleek look.

Step 5

Trim any excess modeling chocolate with a sharp knife.

Step 6

Use your imagination and have fun.

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How To Get a Tie-Dye Effect With Modeling Chocolate

After you have prepared a batch of white modeling chocolate divide it into as many groups as you want colors in the finished product.  For example, if want four colors in your tie-dye then divide the modeling chocolate into four sections.  Store the modeling chocolate in a plastic zip lock bag so that it does not dry out too much as you are preparing your next color.

Step 1

Color 1/4 of the modeling chocolate at a time following the instructions for using food coloring with modeling chocolate.  For example, you could color 1/4 of the modeling chocolate pink, 1/4 purple, 1/4 blue, and then leave 1/4 of the modeling chocolate white.

Step 2

Roll each color of modeling chocolate into a snake.

Step 3

Take the four snake-shaped forms and holding them at one end, twist them together.

Step 4

Fold the twisted multicolored snake in half.

Step 5

Roll the modeling chocolate and use.


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Coloring Modeling Chocolate with Food Coloring

If you can find a chocolate that is just the color you need for your cake decorating project then you are in luck. Wilton and a few other manufacturers make colored chocolate wafers.  If you are looking for colored wafers you can find some among the featured products on the Modeling Chocolate Essentials page.

Most of the time, however, you’ll want a very specific color — a shade that you can’t find in a colored wafer.  Or perhaps you will want to use a premium white chocolate because you prefer its taste.  Either way, you will need to add food coloring to the basic modeling chocolate recipe.  With food coloring, you can create modeling chocolate in any color of the rainbow with two important caveats.

First, do NOT use liquid food coloring.  You must use either powder food coloring or gel food coloring.

Second, you will have to start with white chocolate to achieve any color other than a  brown or black.

A good quality white chocolate makes the best colored modeling chocolate.

Items You Will Need

  • A batch of white modeling chocolate
  • Powder food coloring or gel food coloring
  • Food-safe gloves

The amount of food coloring that you will need to add to the recipe will depend entirely on the look that you are seeking.  In general, you will need to use less gel coloring than if you are using a powder food coloring.  To get the right shades and colors you will simply have to use a bit of trial and error.



After the modeling chocolate has set (step 4 of the recipe), you will take a small chunk of the modeling chocolate to color.  Try to estimate the amount of chocolate that you will need in that color and then add bit so that you have a margin of error.  Make sure that the chunk you start with is not too large for you to be able to mix it well with your hands.  As you knead it, the chocolate will soften up.  If it gets overly sticky you can set it aside or chill it until it firms up again.  If you are in a hurry, you can add a small amount of cornstarch to your hands to prevent the modeling chocolate from sticking so much.


Add small amounts of food coloring at a time and knead them in well before adding more.  If you inadvertently add too much of a color, add more of the white modeling chocolate to tone it down.

This is a bit messy and likely will stain your hands.  To avoid some of the mess you can either put the modeling chocolate and the food coloring in a plastic zip lock bag and kneading the dough through the plastic bag.  A better option would be to wear food-safe gloves.


You will  knead the dough with your hands until the modeling chocolate is a  consistent color and the shade and color that you want.  If the color is too light add more food coloring and begin the kneading process again.

When you’ve finished coloring one chunk of modeling chocolate put it in a sealed container then repeat the above steps to create the next color that you need for your project.

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Make Two-Dimensional Decorations With Modeling Chocolate

There are lots of uses for modeling chocolate.  A very easy one, if you are a beginner, is to make two-dimensional decorations for cupcakes or other confections.

Things You’ll Need

  • A batch of modeling chocolate
  • cookie cutters
  • corn starch or cocoa powder

Optional:  powdered food coloring to color or paint the modeling chocolate


We are going to cut the modeling chocolate with cookie cutters to make dramatic 2D decorations for cupcakes, but first you will need to cook up a batch of modeling chocolate.  Prepare the modeling chocolate at least a day ahead of time.

Click on the link for the easy two-ingredient recipe for modeling chocolate.

Prepare the modeling chocolate several hours before you plan to use it.


Dust your working surface with ample amounts of cornstarch or cocoa powder. Keep the corn starch or cocoa powder on hand and continue to add it to ensure that the modeling clay does not stick to your work surface.


Take a lump of well-kneaded modeling chocolate. Pretend that the modeling chocolate is Play-Dough. Make a rope out of the modeling chocolate. Flatten the rope out with your hands. Use a rolling-pin and start rolling the modeling chocolate until it becomes a uniform flat sheet. When you start you will have to rock the rolling-pin back and forth.

Keep checking to make sure the chocolate has not stuck to the table. If it is getting sticky put more corn starch down. Continue to roll the modeling chocolate until it is uniformly thin and smooth. Put the modeling chocolate in the refrigerator if it gets too sticky.


If you’ve never used modeling chocolate before you’ll want to start by making something simple. Use small cookie cutters and cut the flattened modeling chocolate into shapes. Anything goes. You can cut modeling chocolate into flower or butterfly shapes, and then use textured objects (a piece of lace, a potato ricer, or any other object with an interesting texture to add texture of the shapes. You can also hand-score the chocolate to add intricate details or use another cookie cutter or a knife to cut out designs.

Here, a small circular cookie cutter was used to make a ladybug shape out of red modeling chocolate.  A knife was used to cut out the pie-shaped design.  Pipe a few dots of melted chocolate onto the modeling chocolate disk to add the tell-tale lady bug dots.


When you are happy with the final product put your modeling chocolate decorations in the refrigerator in a sealed container. They will store well for a month.


Use the modeling chocolate shapes to decorate frosted cupcakes and wait for the oohs and aahs.

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Melting Chocolate in the Microwave

There are two easy methods for melting the chocolate that you will use to make the modeling chocolate.  The first easy method is to melt the chocolate in the microwave.   Only use this method if you can figure out how to set your microwave on 50 percent power and you own a microwave-safe bowl.  Don’t forget to break the chocolate into small pieces before microwaving it.


Step 1

In a microwave safe bowl, heat the chocolate for two minutes on 50 percent power.   Do not let the mixture to get hotter than 100 degrees F.

Step 2

Stir until smooth.

If the chocolate is not melted you may heat it for a bit longer.   Heat in short increments so that you do not burn the chocolate.

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Melting Chocolate In A Double-Boiler

There are two easy methods for melting chocolate pieces.   One is to use your microwave.  The other is to use a double boiler.

A double boiler is a special type of pan that sits on top of a pan of water.   If you do not own a double boiler then use the microwave method to melt your chocolate.

It is critical that you use a real double boiler if you are going to use this method.  If you try to make do with any two pans — setting one inside the other —  you will end up with condensation in your chocolate, which will ruin the texture of the chocolate rendering it useless for decorating.   (The chocolate will still taste good, but its texture and appearance will be ruined).  Just a few drops of water in the chocolate will cause it to seize up.  Anytime you are working with chocolate make sure the pan and utensils that you are using are completely dry.

Use a real double boiler to melt the chocolate or try the microwave method.

If you own a double boiler then it is easy to use this method to melt chocolate.   This is the method that I use most often, even though I own a suitable microwave.  Here are the instructions.


Step 1

Place the chocolate pieces in the top of a double boiler.  For newbies to double boilers, the water goes in the bottom pan and the chocolate pieces go in the top pan.  Then you put the top pan on top of the pan with the water.  There should be a tight fit so that steam does not escape from the bottom pan.

Step 2

Melt the chocolate over low heat.

Step 3

Stir the chocolate frequently until it is completely melted and is of a smooth consistency.  Remove the pan containing the melted chocolate from the double boiler and keep it away from heat.

WARNING:   As mentioned above, be careful not to allow condensation from the water to get into the chocolate or the chocolate will seize up.  Also, careful that you do not burn yourself on the steam.

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The Basic Ingredients: Chocolate and Corn Syrup

You can use chocolate chips to make modeling chocolate

You can make modeling chocolate with two ingredients: chocolate and corn syrup.

You can use any kind of chocolate — white, milk, or dark chocolate.  You can even use unsweetened chocolate because the corn syrup will give the modeling chocolate some sweetness.  I would recommend, however, that you avoid unsweetened chocolate if you will be covering very large portions of a cake — it may be too strong and bitter for many people’s palates.

You also can use any brand of chocolate.   Yes, you can use chocolate chips, baking chocolate, chocolate melts or chocolate wafers, which come in white, milk, dark, and flavored and colored versions. Using an inexpensive chocolate, like chocolate chips or chocolate melts or wafers, is a good way to practice before you graduate to the more expensive chocolates.

The quality of the chocolate that you use will effect the amount of corn syrup that you need in the recipe. Here is the basic ratio of corn syrup to chocolate that you will use:

  • 10 ounces of chocolate (milk, dark, or white chocolate) broken into pieces
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup




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