Completing a beautiful cake, whether for friends and family, or for a paying customer, begins with a good palette. Having a flat, smooth, crumb-free canvas to start with can be the biggest accomplishment for many decorators. Every decorator has their own method and order for icing a cake. Here's mine.
Icing the Cake:
Start with a level cake (see under "Baking Tips and Hints"), a turntable, a straight icing spatula, and a crusting icing - thinned to a consistency easy to spread. I like to apply the icing to the top edge of my cake first as this seems to help me achieve a sharper edge to the cake. Spread the icing with the spatula while turning the turntable. Be careful that your spatula doesn't come into contact with the cake before pulling away or you'll get a lot of crumbs in your icing.
Once the top edge is completed, I ice the sides of the cake using a longer straight edged icing spatula. Next I go back and add additional icing to the top of the cake and using an angled spatula, I'll spread the icing over the top of the cake. Any icing from the sides of the cake that overlapped onto the top will get pulled to the middle of the cake with the spatula. Remove any excess icing as you turn the cake.
Next I'll take some Viva paper towels and a fondant smoother and I'll smooth the sides of my cake with moderate pressure and an up and down motion with my smoothing tool. Once I've gone around the outside edge of the cake, any icing that may have been pushed up over the top edge will be removed with a spatula before I smooth the top of the cake.
Some decorators ice the sides first and then the top - try both ways and see what works best for you. Many beginners also feel it helps to do a crumbcoat first. A crumbcoat is a very thin first layer of icing which helps to "set" the crumbs in place before the final icing. This will help eliminate those pesky crumbs from ruining your finished masterpiece!
MORE TO COME...