How To Get Perfectly Smooth Buttercream Icing

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This tutorial shows you step by step how to achieve smooth buttercream. Commonly referred to as the “VIVA Paper Towel Method”.
After so many of you asking how I do it here it is….

List of Materials

  • VIVA® Brand Paper Towels (will not work with other quilted brands)
  • Decorating Tip #18
  • 18 inch Icing Bag
  • Angled Spatula
  • Fondant Smoother (aka fondant paddle)
  • VERY HOT Water

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With a tip 18 and an 18 inch bag pipe up and down the side of prepared crumb coated cake

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Continue all the way around the cake.

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With a large metal angled spatula dipped in VERY hot water
Remove spatula from water
dry the spatula and go around the cake…in sections till is all done

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With the smooth side of a viva towel rub the cake all the way around pushing any air bubbles up.

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With the smooth side of the viva towel round the edges with your fingers.

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With the viva towel and a fondant paddle smooth the side of the cake.

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With the tip 18 fill the top of the cake.

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With a VERY hot angle spatula smooth the top of the cake.

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Continue the until top all done with the hot spatula.

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With the smooth side of the viva towel and your hand smooth the top and the edge blending the edge well.

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With the smooth side of the viva towel and the fondant paddle smooth the top and the sides one final time.

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93 Responses to “How To Get Perfectly Smooth Buttercream Icing”

  1. I can’t tell you what a boost this tutorial just gave me; I’ve been using this method myself for about a year and a half now – I thought I invented it and was getting away with some kind of a cheat! I also use the Wilton Buttercream recipe, and I let it crust for about 30 mins. I have also used the pick-a-size Brawny towels with success, as well as Viva. Plus, the pick-a-size towels are great for dampening and clean-trimming my base board with a pointy spreader just before I apply the base trim (those towels are so versatile!). Last year I did a deep red buttercream that just seemed so plain as I was finishing it up…I turned a quilted paper towel around and pressed it onto the buttercream surface with my smoother tool (as seen in tutugirl’s tutorial), and the quilted pattern was exactly what it needed…super cheap texture at 89¢ a roll!

  2. For those who can’t get Viva paper towels, go to an automotive store and get the blue shop paper towels rolls. They have no quilting and are just as smooth as Viva. They are a little stiffer though, but works as a good substitute.

  3. I hope you post your answers soon because I pretty much have all the same questions. lol In your tutorial it doesn’t mention having the cake sit for any time after you pipe the icing on. Did you?

  4. Thanks so much for the post! I’ve had so much trouble using parchment paper and thought I would never get it but this has worked like a charm! The first time I tried it I was so excited I made my hubby come over and tell me how great it looked!! LOL

  5. Thankyou for posting this! Ive never seen buttercream so smooth! Im due to do my first ever wedding cake in a couple of months and she HATES fondant or any other sugary type icing but wants a perfectly smooth finish like fondant gives. I thought I would never find the answer! I am so trialing this tomorrow, I’m Australian and Im pretty sure we get Viva (I swear ive seen it on the shelves at woolies before) If not i guess trial and error…will post any success :)

  6. Thanks for sharing this I used it this weekend worked like a charm but how do you keep fabric hairs off it seems like the viva paper towel left a few arrgghh! and although they probaly are not noticeable i eagle eye my cakes and notice everything!

  7. That cake looks like it is covered in fondant! I would love to have the BC recipe you use , if you don’t mind sharing it. I have a two tier BC frosted cake to make for this weekend and would love to try out your technique. Thanks.

  8. Thank you for posting this! I tried this last night and it worked great! I also saved a lot of buttercream :) I just need to pratice more on the edges, but in due time I will master it. Thanks again!

  9. I seen quite a few comments about what kind of buttercream recipe is used for this technique because a lot of you were having trouble with the paper towels sticking to the icing. The recipe I’ve included below is how I make my buttercream and I just let it sit for about 10 minutes before smoothing with the paper towles….It works perfectly. Hope this helps!
    1 cup veg. shortening
    1/2 cup water
    2 lbs powdered sugar
    1/2 tsp butter flavoring
    1 tsp clear vanilla flavoring

  10. From what I’ver learned to get a real white-white B/C you have to use CLEAR van., and your powdered sugar must be Domino. I also use merigue which helps it crust. I do not like fondant at all, so the paper towel technique (Viva) because it has no texture, really works well for me.

  11. You can do this with an all butter recipe, i do it all the time on all my cakes!
    And you can use other towels as long as your icing has crusted.
    To the person who asked about the little threads getting into the icing: i find shaking the towel vigorously for a few seconds before using helps, and i find its alot of the times the 1st few towels on the roll that have them :) Hope this helps.

  12. I use this method all the time and it works that great. The only trick is that you do have to use a crusting buttercream (like the Wilton bc). I frost the top at the same time, then smooth the whole cake at once. After you get it as smooth as you can with your tools, just let it sit on the counter for 15 minutes and crust over (do not refrigerate it until you are finished or it will not work). Once it has crusted it shouldn’t stick to the paper towel. Start smoothing and working with it. After a bit, you may need to let it sit again and smooth some more. But it should work for you.

  13. If you hadn’t shown the pictures I would have sworn this was a fondant covered cake. You iced that cake amazingly, thanks for posting and for sharing your icing recipe.

  14. I teach Wilton classes and this is the method I teach to smooth the cake except I, alos apply all my icing and smooth with my spatula, let it crust, then come back and smooth with the Viva and my hand. Will try using the fondant smoother next time. I also use the Wilton buttercream and have had no problem with it sticking
    Recipe:
    1 c white solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
    1 tsp clear butter flavor (Wilton)
    1/3 c water
    1 tblsp meringue powder
    1 lb powder confectioners suger
    1 pinch of salt
    This recipe makes approximately 2 1/2 cups, enough to ice a 8in layer
    If the icing consistency is not thin enough, you can add 1 tsp of water at a time until you reach desired consistency.
    This recipe works for me everytime. I also use it under fondant.

  15. ggsbabycakes recipe sounds like it would work fine. Looks like the recipe from when I took a wilton course. Since the elimination of transfats from Crisco some people had difficulty with some piping staying where it was supposed to be on the cake. I have used a decorator’s buttercream recipe which is quite close to the recipe ggsbabycakes gave with the addition of flour and cornstarch. The proportions were 1 tablespoon each of flour, corn starch, and meringue powder for 2 lbs of powdered sugar. Makes a wonderful “skin” to smooth and work about ten or so minutes. I use it on my wedding cakes, birthday cakes, just about everything.

    • The labeling and ingredients lists on products, including Crisco, can be a bit difficult to understand because, unfortunately, any product that has “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fats and/or oils…of any kind…even if it is a “powder”…does have “trans fats” in it. The FDA has allowed products containing less than 0.5%…PER SERVING…trans fats to be labeled as containing “0% Trans Fats” since 2006. To understand this fully, you’d need some understanding of what ‘saturated fats’ are, what they are ‘saturated’ with (hydrogen, obviously…hence the name…LOL), and whether it is a naturally occurring full or partial condition or an artificially induced condition such as hydrogenation, or “full” hydrogenation, even some lard products are now hydrogenated, and/or partial hydrogenation as in many bottled (non-virgin and/or non-cold or expeller pressed) oils.

  16. vonda627 asked if there was a bigger tip to use than an 18. I don’t have an 18 but use a very large tip with no number that goes in a large bage with no coupler. It is 2 inches in diameter at the back and the tip is 1 and 3/4 inches by 3/8 inch. One side is smooth and ond side has teeth. It can lay on a lot of frosting in a short time. I got it where they sell cake decorating supplies.

  17. Thank you this is great! I have a cake business and my customers do not care for crisco buttercream recipe. So i use the traditional buttercream recipe which requires butter and milk. Is it possible to use this method on my traditional buttercream recipe and get the same effect?

    Thanking you in advance.

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