Award-winning baker Melissa Weller weighs in on when to frost cakes and cookies.

By Kelly Vaughan
January 26, 2021
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Credit: Aya Brackett

Although naked cakes were trending a few years back, a double or triple layer cake with super smooth buttercream will always take first place in our hearts. Add chocolate mousse, fruit jam, or simply more buttercream on each layer for an even more jaw-dropping dessert with plenty of sweetness and flavor. Any home baker knows that timing is crucial when frosting freshly baked desserts. And there's no worse feeling than frosting a cake that's too warm and watching as the fluffy buttercream melts down the sides. To help home bakers produce perfectly frosted baked goods every time, we asked Melissa Weller, author of A Good Bake: The Art and Science of Making Perfect Pastries, Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and Breads at Home ($25.99, amazon.com), to share her expertise.

Syrup or Glaze

"Some cakes benefit from a glaze being applied while they're still warm because they're going to soak it in more," says Weller. Professional bakers swear by brushing a freshly baked warm cake with simple syrup. Not only does this technique help to keep the cake moist, but it's also an opportunity to enhance the cake with earthiness, fruitiness, or sweetness. Make simple syrup with vanilla bean, citrus peel, or fresh herbs, which will infuse the cake with unique flavor.

Buttercream

Once a cake comes out of the oven, let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely. Once it's cool to the touch, go ahead and frost it with buttercream or cream cheese frosting. "Buttercream is all about the texture of the icing. If you put a fluffy frosting on a warm cake, the buttercream will obviously melt," says Weller.

As important as it is for the cake to be cool, it's also essential that the buttercream is cool, too. If a batch of buttercream is too warm, it will become greasy and fall apart as you ice the cake. We recommend chilling the mixing bowl in the refrigerator before mixing the buttercream to ensure that it stays cool. However, Weller says you can always rewhip buttercream if it becomes too warm and greasy.

With cinnamon rolls, Weller recommends doing a double application of icing—first, apply the icing while the rolls are still warm so that the sweetness absorbs into the rolls. Then apply a second layer once they've cooled down a bit so that the icing completely adheres to the rolls.

Royal Icing

Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing are popular during the holiday season but frankly, we think they're fabulous 365 days a year. When applying royal icing to freshly baked sugar or gingerbread cookies, let the cookies cool completely before icing. Weller recommends applying the royal icing to a few cookies at a time before adding any sprinkles. "The royal icing will get a skin on it pretty quickly. Frost a few cookies, add sprinkles, do a few more, and then add more sprinkles," says Weller.

If you want to bake sprinkles directly on top of the cookies sans icing, brush an egg white wash over the unbaked cookies, which acts as a glue, then add sprinkles and bake.

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