Cake Icing 101, Plus How to Make Ganache in a Pinch


Drool worthy! Maybe fork worthy is a better term. Either way, get in my mouth.

This cake-decorating post is coming a week later than planned, as I was away on vacay last weekend. I had thought that I could get the post out beforehand, but then I had minor surgery before we left of vacation, so that put paid to that. As much as I know that you all live for my posts (what, you don’t?), I thought my blog would survive even if I missed a week. So my apologies, mea culpa, and here is this week’s post: Cake Icing 101, and how to make ganache in a pinch!

Icing a cake can be intimidating to a lot of people, but once you know the steps, it’s easy to make a cake that looks at least semi-professional. Once you’ve read this post, you should be able to make a cake that will elicit oohs and ahhs from anyone who sees and eats it!

First off, let me give you my top 3 tips to ice a cake and to make a mean buttercream!


  • Tips & Tricks to Icing a Cake
    • Half freeze cake before icing; this reduces the chance of the cake breaking during icing as well as reducing the number of crumbs that you’ll get coming off the cake while icing.
    • Do a crumb coat. This is what ices down any loose crumbs, and a major step in making a cake look professional.
    • Use a Wilton 1M tip – this is the best tip to use to get those gorgeous professional swirls!
  • Tips and Tricks to Make a Better Icing
    • Butter tastes better, but shortening makes it fluffier and easier to ice. I suggest using my Best Ever Buttercream recipe, as it combines both for a tasty and easy to pipe icing.
    • Also, beat your icing for a long time! This incorporates a lot of air into the icing, and makes it easier to spread.
    • Spread the icing on the cake using an offset spatula. This is one of the few kitchen tools that is hard to substitute, so if you want to ice cakes, it’s worth the investment!

Full disclosure, I did not use a 1M icing tip for this post. I left my only 1M tip at a friend’s house a few weeks ago when I was icing cookies with her son, and haven’t had a chance to either get it back or buy a new one. So do as I say, not as I do! Seriously, using a 1M tip will make any piping you do look professional. If you take away nothing else from this post, just remember to use a Wilton 1M tip!

Now, let’s whip up some chocolate buttercream, and get to icing a fancy-pants cake!


  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • 1/3 c. vegetable shortening
  • 3 1/2 c. icing sugar
  • 1 c. cocoa
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whip butter and shortening together until thoroughly mixed. Add in icing sugar, cocoa, and vanilla, and mix until combined. Beat on high for at least 10 minutes.

Want me some cake right now!


  1. Grease two cake pans with cake release spread (aka GOOP).
  2. Make a batch of chocolate cake batter. I highly recommend this one (it has the fluffiness of a box mix cake, but is 100% preservative-free).
  3. Pour batter into greased pans and bake a la recipe directions (likely about 350 degrees for about 25 minutes). Only bake until the top of the cake springs back when you poke it lightly with a finger. Don’t overbake, or the cake will be dry! That said, you can rescue an overly dry cake by brushing it with a simple syrup solution once cooled. But it’s easier to just avoid over-baking it in the first place.
  4. Once removed from oven, let cakes sit in pans for about 2 minutes, then invert over a cooling tray. Since you’ve used my fabulous GOOP recipe, the cakes will fall out of the pan super-duper easily!
  5. Let cakes cool until room temperature.
  6. Wrap cakes up individually in plastic wrap and freeze for several hours to overnight.
  7. Remove cake layers from freezer. On a flat cake plate, put a dab of buttercream in the centre, and centre the first cake layer on the tab of icing. This helps ensure the cake won’t slide around when you’re icing it.
  8. Slap on a bunch of icing onto that cake layer, spread it out evenly, and place the second cake layer on top.
  9. Slap a thin layer of icing onto the top layer, and spread it out. Smooth a thin layer of icing onto the sides of the cake, to make the crumb coat.
  10. Stick the crumb-coated cake into the fridge for at least half an hour.
  11. Spread the remaining buttercream  (less 3/4 c.) on the sides and top of the cake. Don’t worry about making it look perfect.
  12. Using a ruler held vertically against the cake (or, if you’re like me and can’t find your ruler, a stiff piece of straight-edged cardboard in a plastic baggie), rotate the cake plate. This will smooth the icing on the sides, and is a big step in making that cake look professional. Don’t worry about smoothing the top too TOO much, as we’re going to be covering the top with ganache!
  13. Chill the cake for at least 30 minutes.
  14. Make your ganache (recipe below) and pour in small circle on the top of the cake. It will start to run down the sides and give it a lusciously drippy chocolate look. Who doesn’t love dripping chocolate?
  15. Using your 1M tip and an icing/pastry bag (or a plastic baggie in a pinch), pipe little rosettes on the top of the cake around the edge. You can also pipe a little edging on the bottom of the cake if you want. You do you, boo!
  16. Stick some decoration on top of the rosettes of icing: chocolate-covered espresso beans, molded chocolates, chocolate wafers, chocolate-dipped strawberries, chunks of chocolate bar…anything you want, really!
  17. Present the cake to your friends, family, or co-workers, and be prepared for compliments! Bask in the oohs, ahhs, and impressed murmurs when you tell them you made it yourself. Ahhh… 🙂

Now about that ganache. Ganache is made using chocolate and cream. Usually, it’s a ratio of 2 to 1; 2 cups chocolate for every 1 c. of cream used. You heat the cream and stir in the chocolate until melted. Yum! But…I didn’t have any cream in the house, and I wanted to finish up the cake to send into work with the DH. (Also, I wanted a slice. I cannot lie.) What to do?

Well, I don’t call myself the Queen of Substitutions for nothing! I just followed my like-replaces-like principle that I talk about in my free e-book (This for That: Easy Kitchen Swaps & Hacks — available free to all subscribers, so subscribe now!), and replaced the cream with evaporated milk, adding in oil, as evaporated milk is lower in fat than cream.

Admittedly, it’s not going to be EXACTLY like ganache, but it’s close enough to work in a pinch. And it’s tasty, so eh, good enough. Life is too short to be a constant perfectionist. And I wanted a slice of that cake asap!

Want to make some good-enough ganache yourself? Let’s!


  • 1 c. chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. evaporated milk
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Mix chocolate chips, milk, and oil in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat in microwave in 30 s bursts, stirring in between each 30 s., until chocolate is softened and you can stir the mixture into a homogenous thick chocolate sauce. Et voila, good-enough-ganache!

By the way, remember that vacation that I told you I took last weekend? Well, the DH and I went to Vegas with some friends! And, since the DH and I are total romantics, plus we wanted the full Vegas experience…we got (re)married in a limo in a drive-through wedding chapel! (Yes, you read that right!) And being a capital R romantic, I proposed to the DH (he proposed last time, so it was only fair). Of course, me being me, I proposed using food. A slice of cheesecake to be exact.

I proposed at a restaurant, in front of our friends. Sweeet!

The DH, being the DH, ate the cheesecake, and then gave me an answer. Apparently, food really is the way to a man’s heart!

I may or may not have helped him eat that slice of cheesecake. (Hint: It was soooo yummy!)

Next Post: Reduced-Fat Alfredo Sauce & Why I Licked the Plate

Linking Up at Meal Plan Monday! And at Happiness is Homemade!

5 thoughts on “Cake Icing 101, Plus How to Make Ganache in a Pinch

  1. Jeannie

    I missed you last week but completely understand, you got married (again)!

    Jeannie @ who lives for your posts.

    1. Margaret Post author

      You live for my posts? You just made my day! And no, I did not hear any sarcasm in that sentence, it’s the internet and you didn’t use an emoji, so I’m reading it as true! Whoohoo! 🙂

      And thanks for the congratulations! I thought it would be kind of corny but fun (I mean DRIVE-THROUGH CHAPEL!) but it was actually rather romantic after all. I heart my husband! Who, incidentally, surprised me this evening with a bouquet of flowers, just because. [Insert starry-eyed emoji here] Yay, flowers!

      1. Jeannie

        I was not being sarcastic, which is unusual for me, and using an emoji is something technical. Unless one of my sons shows me the buttons to push and I take notes on a piece of paper with a pencil, YES A PENCIL, I can’t do it. (Insert cross-eyed emoji here). Yay, flowers!

        Jeannie @

  2. Pingback: How to Make a Candy-Filled Gender Reveal Cake! - Approaching Food

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