Beginner’s Guide: How To Stack and Crumb Coat a Layer Cake!

In this beginner’s guide, I will cover all of the basics and give you my best tips on how to stack and crumb coat a layer cake! It’s not as tricky as you may think— with proper tools and technique you’ll be on your way to frosting flawless cakes in no time at all! TIP: If you’re a visual learner, check out my video tutorial here!

This site contains affiliate links.  As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  This means that I may make a small commission if you purchase a product using those links (Thank you!!).  This in no way affects my opinion of those products and services.  All opinions expressed on this site are my own.

Have you ever tried to stack and frost a layer cake? Maybe you started kinda-sorta-knowing what you’re doing— it doesn’t look that hard when they do it on TV! And then… disaster! The cake layers are sliding. Crumbs in the frosting. Bumps everywhere. And to top it all off, the cake is slanted…

Me too! 🙋🏻‍♀️😂 I’ve been baking for a long time—almost 20 years! There have been MANY a haphazardly stacked and frosted layer cakes. I always just thought, “It can’t be that hard!” and dived right in with no tools and no knowledge.

Just a girl, a can of store bought frosting, and a butterknife— staring at her cake layers, asking them not to suck. But alas, they did suck.

Several years and failed decorating attempts later (although how much of a fail can it really be if the cake was delicious and loved by all??) I am FINALLY stacking, filling, and crumb coating cakes like a pro. And the silly thing is that, it really isn’t that hard.

You don’t need years of experience, a degree in the pastry arts, or a wink from Paul Hollywood (I think that’s one way that bakers get super powers. Kind of like a bite from a radioactive spider).

All you need are a few simple tools and techniques to stack, fill, and crumb coat a cake like the pros!

I wish I’d learned that for myself much sooner! So let’s get on with it and get you ready to decorate some beautiful cakes! Okay?! Okay.

Definitions: Stack and Crumb Coat

Well, these aren’t *official* or *technical* definitions, but here are my explanations of “stack” and “crumb coat,” and why they are important!

Stack: We are assembling a layer cake. Most of my cakes are 4 x 6″ round cake layers, and I stack them up using various buttercream and fillings! It’s important to stack your cakes properly so they do not slide or become off balance!

Crumb Coat: This is the thin base coat of frosting that will set the tone for the rest of the cake design. The main purpose of a crumb coat is to trap all those little cake crumbs into this first layer of frosting, to prevent further crumbs from appearing in your subsequent layers of frosting.

The crumb coat also helps to establish the shape and stability of the cake, especially if you’re working with a taller cake! It will help to hold all of the layers in place and create a stable foundation for the rest of your cake design. It’s sort of like priming the cake!

Start With Strong Frosting

Holding up every great cake, is a great frosting. Do not use store-bought frosting for stacking a layer cake! Use my Vanilla Buttercream Recipe!

Store bought frosting is much too thin. You need a much firmer buttercream to hold up cake layers, and crumb coat.

My Vanilla Buttercream Recipe is versatile enough to be made thicker or thinner depending on your needs. Thicker buttercream is ideal for stacking and crumb coating layer cakes, while thinner frosting is better for piping.

Chilled Cake Layers

Another key element to a beautiful layer cake is to start with chilled cake layers! This will help the frosting to set more quickly while assembling your cake, and reduce the risk of sliding layers.

I like to freeze my cake layers overnight, then move to the fridge 1 hour prior to decorating. If you’re in a time crunch, let your cakes cool down a little once removing them from the oven, then remove them from the pans, wrap them in plastic wrap, and pop them in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

That may seem like a long time, but chilled cake layers really are a necessity to stacking and frosting a beautiful layer cake! If your cake is even a little bit warm, it will melt the buttercream and you’ll have a big mess on your hands.

Essential Tools to Stack and Crumb Coat

Everything listed in this section can be found HERE in my Amazon store!

  • Turn Table (NOT a plastic one. I have a super smooth aluminum turn table, that is also super affordable, listed in my shop!)
  • Bench Scraper
  • Angled Spatulas
  • Rubber Spatulas
  • Non Stick Mat (Mine is actually from NY Cake which is what I actually recommend. But I have one listed in my shop as well!)

Again, I’ve tried doing all of this with a butterknife, and while that’s yielded some OK results, I’ve had much less of a headache and far better looking cakes when using the tools listed above!

Technique to Stack and Crumb Coat

If you’re a visual learner like me, check out my video tutorial on how to Stack, Fill, and Crumb Coat a Layer Cake! Otherwise, here are some written instructions below!


  • Start by preparing your work surface. Lay your non-slip mat on top of your turn table, then your cake board on top of that.
  • Using your angled spatula, smooth out a dollop of buttercream on your cake board. This will help keep the first layer in place.
  • Using your angled spatula, add a large dollop of buttercream to the center of the first layer.
  • Gently spread the buttercream around the layer by using your wrist to brush the spatula back and forth across the cake.

Now let’s smooth it out!

  • Position your spatula steadily over the cake- imagine the top of the cake is a clock face. If you’re left handed your spatula should be in a 2 o’clock position, and if you’re right handed it will be 10 o’clock.
  • The length of the spatula should be parallel with the cake layer, with the flat bottom of the spatula tilted up at a 30º-45º angle.
  • Now, begin to gently press down on the spatula into the buttercream while pulling the turn table toward you. You don’t need to apply a ton of pressure, and if the buttercream moves out past the edge of the cake— good! That will make crumb coating easier.
  • Discard any frosting accumulating on your spatula into a bowl separate from the rest of your frosting— we don’t want any cake crumbs in the main batch of frosting!
  • Continue this process until the frosting is smooth and covering the whole top of the cake layer, even extending past the edges just a little.
  • Once you’re ready to stack the next layer, be sure to position it carefully in the center of the cake.
  • Repeat this process for however many cake layers you have. Don’t forget to frost the top!

Crumb Coat

  • Position your spatula now parallel to the side of the cake.
  • Begin by gently smoothing out the frosting protruding from between the cake layers. Mostly use a side to side wrist turning motion (like turning a door knob) while rotating the turn table.
  • Discard any excess frosting into your bowl (separate from the main batch of frosting).
  • Reapply the discarded frosting to bare spots and gaps. Use frosting from the main bowl if you’ve run out of discarded frosting.
  • Once you’ve got the cake completely covered, use your bench scraper to smooth out the sides buy holding it parallel to the side of the cake, tilted toward you at a 45º angle, and gently apply just a little pressure to the cake as you slowly rotate the turn table toward you.
  • For a clear visual of how to do this, check out my complete video tutorial here for how to stack and crumb coat a layer cake!
  • Discard any excess frosting from the bench scraper into your spare frosting bowl, and reuse to patch gaps and holes.
  • Since this is just the crumb coat, you should still be able to see the layers of cake through the very thin layer of frosting we’re applying.
  • This layer doesn’t need to be perfect! Especially if you’re going on to add more layers of decorative buttercream!

Finishing the Top!

  • Once the sides are flush and full to your liking, it’s time to smooth out the top.
  • You should have a jagged looking ledge of frosting extending upward past the top of your cake, so we’re going to smooth that down.
  • Using your angled spatula— again, as an extension of your arm— tilt the spatula out and up away from you at a 45º angle, keeping parallel with the top of the cake, with the bottom edge of the spatula just barely touching the frosting.
  • Starting at the outside edge/corner of the cake, gently push the frosting in toward the cake center, then lift upward to remove the excess frosting. It will look like a swooping motion!
  • To get a better visual check out my video here!

Serve or Chill

That’s it! Now you’ve stacked and crumb coated a beautiful cake! “Naked” cakes are very much trending right now, so you can stop here and serve as is! Maybe topped with some fruit or flowers! (be sure to use NON TOXIC flowers when decorating a cake with fresh flowers!)

If you plan to continue decorating, chill your cake in the freezer for 10 minutes to allow the crumb coat to set, so as not to let any crumbs escape into your beautiful cake design!

Frequently Asked Questions

Absolutely not! This is a very beginner-friendly thing to learn! Anyone can learn to stack and crumb coat a cake.

You can get started for free by studying! Watch videos and read instructional guides like this while you save your money to buy essential decorating tools.

Using store bought frosting. It’s not strong enough to hold up a layer cake, and is really just a nightmare to crumb coat with. I recommend my Vanilla Buttercream for beginners!

Don’t panic! Just pause where you are, and chill the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes. It should be set enough to hold together, but still soft enough to smooth down!

The last thing you need to know about how to stack and crumb coat a cake—

Have FUN! Don’t sweat it. This really is a simple skill set, and with a little practice, you’ll find that you’re able to stack and crumb coat a cake just like the professionals!

Have more questions? Leave me a comment below or email me at! I would love to hear from you!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *