Vancouver-based pastry chef Rosie Daykin demonstrates in 5 easy steps
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Start with well-whipped buttercream
When properly whipped, buttercream is supremely fluffy—almost like whipped cream—and surprisingly un-greasy. “When it’s right, it’s a breeze to use,” says Rosie. “It’s like pushing air around.” Also, because it has a lot less sugar than most buttercreams, it won’t set your teeth on edge. “It’s still sweet—let’s not kid ourselves—but it’s more buttery than sweet.”
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Split your cakes
Cover a rotating cake stand with a sheet of plastic wrap and set one of the cakes on top. With a large serrated knife, gently cut the cake horizontally and evenly in half, rotating the stand to move the knife deeper into the cake. Holding sides of plastic wrap, lift layers off stand and repeat with a second cake to make 4 layers total. Set aside 1 bottom layer to form top of cake later (it’ll be more even).
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Layer with frosting
First, anchor the cake: Set a cake board on the stand and dollop on some frosting—“that’s your glue.” Choose your most even-looking layer and center it on top. Using an offset spatula, smooth on a generous 1⁄2 cup of frosting. Set second layer on top. Repeat frosting, followed by third layer. Frost, then set the reserved layer in place, cut side down (“give it a little fliparoo”), and you’re done.
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With the back of an offset spatula, smooth a thin layer of frosting across top and down sides of cake, using a back-and forth
motion to massage frosting into gaps and crevices. Chill at least 15 minutes to harden the frosting. “This step locks down all the crumbs,” says Daykin, so they don’t migrate through your final top coat of frosting and make it look messy.
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Dollop frosting on top, then smooth it across and down sides. Smooth more frosting up sides of cake to give it a castlelike rim. Holding a bench scraper, wrap your arm as far around the cake as it will go, then rotate stand toward you, pressing scraper against frosting to smooth it and reinforce the rim. Draw long edge of spatula across top of cake, keeping as much of rim as possible so cake looks tall and straight rather than slump-shouldered.
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Finish option 1: Naked
“Very popular with brides” for wedding cakes right now. At the crumb coat stage, rather than chilling the cake, build up a rim as described in the top coat stage. Then scrape off all but a veil of frosting over the layers: Holding a bench scraper, wrap your arm as far around the cake as it will go, then rotate the cake stand toward you, pressing scraper against the cake. Scrape across the top as well, doing your best to preserve the rim.
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Finish option 2: Encrusted
Once cake has its top coat, fill a bowl with 2 cups finely ground nuts, coconut shavings, or candy sprinkles. Slide offset spatula underneath cake board to loosen it from stand and scoot it, with cake, onto your hand. Hold cake over the bowl and lightly press a handful of nuts, shavings, or sprinkles up side of cake, moving from bottom to top; they will instantly stick to frosting. “This covers up every mistake—it’s fantastic.” Rotate the cake to finish encrusting.
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Finish option 3: Rustic
Once cake has its top coat, hold spatula vertically, wrap your arm as far around cake as you can, and press spatula tip against cake. Rotate stand toward you while lifting spatula up to rim, creating a ribbonlike effect. (Beginners may find it easier to hold spatula horizontally.) To swirl top, hold the back of spatula against cake just inside rim. Rotate as you pull spatula inward, lifting up at center. “If it doesn’t work out quite right, just scrape it clean and start again!”