02/06/2013 09:06 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tips on Icing a Cake, Sort Of...

I have always been a horrible cake icer. Horrible. My kids have said my cakes look like a dog vomited on them (although they eat them with glee and joy). Well, it took me about 20 years to learn that you need to let a cake COOL before you ice it. WHY DON'T THEY TEACH THIS IN SCHOOL? The other week when I was making my own damn birthday banana cake, it happened to be the Monday of Martin Luther King Day, so not only were my babysitter and cleaning lady in the house, but we were all watching the inauguration in the kitchen, while I was attempting to ice the cake....

They waited patiently and quietly--until it was too late and I was done--to start giving me advice. In that few minutes of advice, I learned more about icing a cake than I had learned in a lifetime. So I quickly wrote it all down so that I could share their tips with you...and ask YOU for your advice too. I'll never be (nor do I aspire to be) a fancy cake decorator, but I would like to make a decent-looking cake, one I'm not embarrassed to serve to non-family folk.

Here are all the tips I have. But I would love to hear yours, too!
  1. Turn the cake (still in the pan) upside down to cool (on a wire rack).
  2. Don't even try to ice the cake until it is cool.
  3. If it's a double-layer cake and it cooked up crooked, put the bottom layer crooked side down and flat side up to ice, then lay the top layer flat side down on top of that so the two flat sides are touching. If it's all too crooked, cut the cake flat with a knife. (That way you get to taste it ahead of time!)
  4. Ice the sides first. At least, that's what they said. Someone one else said that's not true. Not sure what to believe here...
  5. Ice the top last. (See above.)
  6. Ice the cake on a plate that is not the serving plate. Move it to the serving plate after it's done...although I'm not sure how.
  7. For lord's sake, keep the knife or spatula free of crumbs. Crumbs in the icing are the number two cause of disgusting icing jobs. Number one cause is not waiting until the cake is cool, which then REALLY makes a lot of crumbs.
  8. Always make extra icing. You can never have too much icing.
What did I miss?


For more from Maria Rodale, go to