Cake, like any other dessert, should taste good. But there is a lot of pressure to make cakes pretty, too. Some bakers create stunning works of art.
But not all of us are sources of Pinterest inspiration. Yes, our confectionary is delicious, but we find icing tricky. In fact, how do you fix messed-up icing on a cake?
There are many ways to fix messed-up icing on a cake, regardless if you are using fondant, buttercream, ganache, or cream cheese. You can patch it, massage it, decorate over it, or pipe in the cracks. Dusting icing sugar will also soak up damp spots.
When decorating a cake goes sideways, it is crucial not to panic. Remember: as long as it tastes good, you’ve done great.
So take a deep breath, dig into your creativity, and you will find the proper fix for your confectionary’s icing. There are plenty of ways to salvage the situation and tips on avoiding it in the future.
Creativity: Fixing Messed Up Icing on a Cake
When cake decorating goes wrong, the first thing to do is not to stress.
The second is to channel some inner creativity. Then, either rebrand your cake’s decorating vision or hide the problem.
For example, my friends had a cake crumble and collapse for a Fourth of July party, leaving three sides and a pile of cascading rubble in the middle. They lived nowhere near a store or delivery and didn’t have any more ingredients.
So they dribbled the chocolate frosting over the fallen ruin, stuck two tiny US flags into the mess at a tilt, then scrawled with an icing pen: Remember the Alamo.
There wasn’t a bite left when the party was done.
But sometimes, the cake fiasco isn’t on such a large scale. Sometimes the icing is only flawed in one small spot. If so, think of what you have on hand that can hide the problem.
Quick and Easy Icing Fixes
Chocolate buttons can hide a large number of icing issues. But any edible decor can work: marshmallows, chocolate chips, sprinkles, or, if you are genuinely talented, iced flowers.
Let it snow over your cake with coconut shavings. Nobody will see anything you don’t want them to see once you are done.
Take inspiration from the Japanese art of Kintsugi and fill in cracks with a frosting pen in a contrasting color. By doing this, you are owning the flaws and transforming them into art.
A friend of ours has a disability that impacts her fine motor skills. Thus, she finds frosting a cake impossible. So, she often dusts her cakes with icing sugar (powder sugar) and places lavender or roses on top, then serves frosting or chocolate sauce on the side for people to dip.
However, even iced cakes look gorgeous with fresh flowers on top. Plop them over the flaw and your cake will be fabulous.
Fresh fruit artfully arranged on a cake can hide a litany of icing sins.
If nobody is allergic, nuts can be a delicious way to hide icing errors.
Place a ribbon or bow just so, hiding the imperfection.
Spatula Iced Cake Design
If you can’t get the frosting or icing to go smooth, purposely add texture. One technique is called spatula iced cake design and adds ripples or spirals. This is easy to do and will eliminate flaws with artistic flair.
You can also use the back of a spoon or a fork to make patterns such as basketweaves, ripples, waves, swirls, or lines.
This stuff can hide anything.
If you can see a tutorial on spatula iced cake designs here:
5 Ways to Fix a Cake’s Cracked Fondant
Cracked fondant on a cake can be salvaged in several ways.
1 – Buttercream
Take some buttercream frosting of the same color as your fondant and use it to fill in the crack. You have to rub the edges with your finger or a paintbrush.
2 – Cover it
Sometimes it is easiest just to cover it. See higher up in the article for suggestions.
3 – Fondant Patch
Use a small piece of fondant of the same color and place it over the flaw. Then dip your finger in shortening or oil and use it to rub away the edges of your patch.
Dusting a bit of icing sugar over the spots will help soak up excess shortening or oil. You can then brush away the rest with a brush. (Works best with pale fondant.)
Alternatively, cut out a piece of fondant into a decorative shape, such as a star, to place over the crack.
4 – Massage
Some tiny flaws can be massaged away. Put a small dollop of shortening on your finger and gently massage the mark into history.
5 – Pipe Fondant
You can also fill in fondant cracks with fondant. Use the fondant scraps and mix them with 3-5 drops of oil and an equal number of drops of water. Stir into a paste.
If you need more drops, add gradually, no more than two at a time, until the paste is created.
Just as you would with buttercream, place your fondant paste into a piping bag and pipe into the crack. Blend with finger or brush lightly dipped in shortening or oil.
7 Ways to Avoid Cracked Fondant
Cracked fondant happens to everyone, including professional bakers. However, some fondant hacks can reduce how often flaws occur when icing a cake.
1 – Be Brand Loyal
Once you find the brand of fondant that sings to your baker’s soul, marry it. Do not allow discounted fondant to lead you astray.
Sometimes the shop isn’t selling your brand, and that’s sad, and you’ll have to be brave. Every brand has its quirks, and using a different one is as tricky as any new relationship, so be patient.
2 – Don’t Wait
Fondant is easiest to apply when it is fresh. So don’t wait after you’ve rolled it out to place it on the cake.
3 – Humidifier
If you live in a dry climate, make sure the humidifier is on and working away in the same room as you are decorating the cake.
4 – Massage and Pop
Before applying the fondant to the cake, look over it for rough areas and air bubbles.
Air bubbles can be popped using a sterile needle, then rolled away.
Rough spots can be massaged out using a clean finger to apply a small dollop of shortening.
5 – Pre-Frost
Before applying the fondant, frost the cake with a thin layer of ganache, buttercream, or marzipan. It should be pretty even but does not need to be perfect. Nobody is going to see it without its fondant coat on.
Once the cake has its buttercream or marzipan undercoat, gently smooth your fondant over. This technique limits the number of cracks and air bubbles while preventing the cake and fondant from drying out. In addition, it gives a slight touch of extra flavor.
6 – Roll it Right
Fondant should not be rolled out too thin or too thick.
7 – Shortening
If you can tell your fondant is a bit dry before you roll it out, add a dollop of shortening to the impacted areas. Then, keep adding, bit by bit, until the desired consistency has returned.
How to Avoid Lumpy Buttercream or Cream Cheese Frosting
When it comes to applying buttercream or cream cheese frosting, it isn’t always your application skills causing the problem. Sometimes the frosting looks lumpy because it is lumpy.
The usual reason for lumpy frosting is temperature. You want your butter or cream cheese to be at room temperature rather than straight from the fridge.
For cream cheese, just set it out until it has lost its chill.
For butter, cut it into cubes and let it sit until it is malleable but not melted.
Once your butter or cream cheese is at room temperature, whip it for 1-3 minutes, gradually adding anything else liquid such as vanilla or lemon.
Lastly, sift the sugar in with a sieve, no more than a cup of sugar at a time.
How to Thicken Runny Frosting
Sometimes frosting tries to impersonate syrup and is runny.
There are a few ways to try to fix it. The most well-known is by gradually adding sifted icing sugar, also known as powdered sugar.
8 Ways to Thicken Runny Frosting Without Adding More Sugar
1 – Arrowroot Starch
Add half a teaspoon while whisking at a time until it has thickened to the correct consistency.
2 – Butter
Wisk around a tablespoon of soft butter into the frosting. Crucial for success is making sure the butter is neither chilled nor melted.
3 – Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder is best used for chocolate frosting. But yes, whisk in half a teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is achieved.
4 – Cornstarch
Wisk in half a teaspoon of cornstarch into the runny frosting. Make sure it is thoroughly whisked in before daring to add any more.
5 – Flour
Put the frosting into a pot and gently heat on the stove. Keep the temperature low and continue to stir as you gradually add 1 to 2 sifted teaspoons of flour. Continue to stir and add until it starts to thicken.
Once thickening begins, remove from heat. Allow the frosting to cool before applying it to the cake.
6 – Gelatin
Prepare unflavored gelatin. Set gelatin aside to cool. Once completely cool, whisk in two tablespoons of the gelatin into the frosting.
Once finished, allow the frosting to cool in the fridge for 8-10 minutes before applying it to your cake.
7 – Tapioca
Whisk in half a teaspoon and repeat as many times as is necessary.
8 – Whipping Cream
Wisk in three to four tablespoons of whipping cream. Make sure the cream is very cold. Add the cream gradually so you can monitor the consistency and watch out for over whipping.
How to Avoid Crummy Frosting?
Frosted cakes are known to get crummy. That is why they need to be frosted twice, giving the first layer the name “crumb layer.”
There are a few steps to double frosting a cake.
- Apply a thin coat of frosting. Again, this is your crumb layer.
- Slip the cake into the freezer for ten minutes. If your freezer is too small, try putting it in the fridge for between twenty minutes to an hour instead.
You want the frosting hard enough that you can gently touch it without any sticking to your finger.
- Once your crumb layer has firmed, apply the second layer of frosting.
How to Salvage Ganache
Ganache can sometimes come out grainy or appear curdled. Avoid, at all costs, trying to add more cream to fix this.
Instead, try gently warming it by placing the bowl into a bowl of hot water. (Like a double boiler, but without the bottom water actually on the stove.) Wisk until smooth.
If your ganache is still being grumpy, you can try whisking in a touch of room temperature milk or a preferred liqueur until preferred consistency is acquired.
How to Not Ice a Cake?
Sometimes the easiest thing to do is not try to ice or frost the cake in the first place. As mentioned above, one woman prefers to sift icing sugar (powdered sugar) on the cake then top it with flowers.
Other ways to avoid icing or frosting a cake:
1 – Caramel or Chocolate Sauce
Make or buy chocolate or caramel sauce and drip it over the cake until the top is covered and spills over the sides.
2 – Frost Only the Top
Quit giving yourself grief about the frosted sides and just put the frosting in the layers. Then, on the top, frost, and cover in fruit and declare it delicious.
3 – Fruit
Instead of ice sugar and flowers, you can do sugar and artfully arranged fruit.
4 – Glaze
As done with the caramel sauce, drip glaze over the cake. Add flowers or bows if desired.
Alternatively, sprinkle slivered almonds or coconut shavings over the glaze.
5 – Syrup
As with the glaze or syrup, dribble it over the cake. Once done, you can decorate it with a bow or flowers.
6 – Whip Cream
Whip cream is the duct tape of baking. If all else fails, this gets the job done.
There are many ways to salvage messed-up icing on a cake. But the most essential ingredients are to avoid panicking and embrace your creativity.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.