Advice on frosting cakes?
Every time I frost a cake, it always looks really sloppy... just never looks nice.
I've tried it with different utensils. I've done it when the cake is still warm, and when its cooled off, and it always seems to end up messy and such.
I'm not an expert on baking/frosting, but I have a couple of thoughts - do you use a crumb coat, i.e., a thin layer of frosting all over the cake to "seal in the crumbs" before actually frosting the cake? That might help. Also, an off set spatula makes the job much easier, I think. I would definitely always frost the cake after it has cooled. Slip strips of wax paper under the bottom of the cake, to keep the frosting from getting on the plate, then remove carefully when you are done. Could it be that your frosting isn't thick enough? Lastly, it's easier to do I think, if the cake is raised up off the counter. Even if you don't have a cake stand or one of those revolving decorating stands, you could put the cake on the serving plate, and then put it on top of an upside down bowl or something, so that the cake is raised up a bit.
I've found that for this, the adage may be true - practice makes perfect, or at least some measure of improvement. But a few ideas...
unless the recipe specifies otherwise, definitely wait until the cake has cooled completely - probably a few hours
a very thin coat (called a crumb coat) of frosting over the entire cake will, as the name suggests, help to trap down some of the crumbs that invariably come from the crust
as far as utensils, I like an offset spatula, and my preference is a relatively smaller one. I think it's just easier to control.
And if all else fails, you can make it so messy that it looks neat. Instead of a really smooth finish, you can press the convex side of a spoon into the frosting and pull away - keep doing this and you'll get a spiky finish, or just do lots of swirls. Homey, and pretty :)
Oh, and for neatness on the plate, you can do the waxed/parchment strips underneath the bottom layer, though I usually just clean up the plate with a damp towel.
the above suggestions are great. may i also suggest that after the frosting has crusted you can take an offset spatula dipped in hot water and wiped off and then gently go over the cake to smooth it. You can also take sheets of wax or parchment paper and place them on the frosting and rub gently to smooth it as well.
If it tastes good you will be forgiven for how it looks! My Mother once sliced a cake and served it without the Guests ever seeing the full cake because it was such a hot mess but it tasted yummy!
I practice my cake decorating using cake dummies. I get two or three styrofoam rounds or rectangles from the craft store, stack them and hot glue gun them together. It's also reusable if you scrape off the frosting and rinse it off. I've also found that Buttercream is easier to work with than commercial frosting. If you don't like the way it looks it's easy to scrape down to the crumb layer and start over.
Also, use a large bread knife to even up the tops and sides. Cut the dome off the top to make it level and to uniform the sides.
Garnish hides all flaws! Chopped nuts, cookie crumbs, sprinkles, candied zest/ginger or anything complimentary to the cake are especially nice on the sides to hide imperfections. Cheers!
I googled and found some great videos on frosting cakes. They helped immensely. Crumb coat is a must and it has to sit in the fridge for half an hour before you continue. Frost sides first and use a long spatula and lots of frosting in even strokes. Top is last. I agree with MMRuth about raising the cake off the counter, and chilling the cake before even doing the crumb coat.