Baking isn’t a piece of cake, and one of the worst feelings when baking is when it ends up looking like a disaster, especially when the recipe didn’t call for one. Decorating can be the most fun part of the baking process: it can make your creation taste amazing, cover up any blemishes, and make it look beautiful. In the case of a cake, however, if the top is sticky, decorating is pretty tricky.
There are many ways to fix a sticky cake top, such as trimming, frosting, adding baking soda, sugar, sprinkles, or freezing the cake. There are also ways to prevent a sticky cake top, like using parchment paper or mats, using various sugars when baking, or simply letting the cake cool off.
Whether you need to know how to smoothen out a sticky situation or stop one from happening at all, you have come to the right place.
6 Ways to Fix a Sticky Cake Top
Okay, so maybe you weren’t very lucky. The damage is already done, and your cake top is already sticky, making it difficult to spread the frosting. Seems like a recipe for disaster, right? Well, don’t freak out and despair. You can have your cake and eat it too. I’ve compiled a list of a few things you can do to save your cake from this sticky situation.
The solutions I’m here to suggest are also just that: suggestions. Feel free to use them as you like—you can even mix and match them.
The first step is first. What are you gonna do with a cake top that just won’t cooperate? You’re gonna show that cake who’s boss, that’s what.
1. Dust With Powdered Sugar
This is what I recommend trying first. It has worked really well for me over the years, and the frosting will spread much easier.
You’re probably aware of the technique of dusting a countertop with flour when rolling out dough in order to keep it from sticking to the counter. Powdered sugar serves a similar purpose in the sense that it steals stickiness. It also tastes AMAZING—especially with cake.
If you add powdered sugar, then no frosting is necessary. But, if you want to add frosting anyway, you can easily add some buttercream or other frosting overtop the powdered sugar.
Just make sure it’s a heavy substance so that it does not slide. It’s probably the easiest, quickest way to save your cake from disaster. And it looks pretty.
Related 12 Easy Ways to Fix Runny Frosting.
2. Trim the Top
This might seem like it is a pretty simple solution, and that’s because it is. Trimming the top of the cake off will eliminate its sticky surface and provide a new canvas for you to work with. It is true, however, that with this new cake top, you’ll also have a new texture to work with—so it’s good to keep that in mind when you are working out all of your decorating options.
Whether or not you decide to trim off the top could also be partially influenced by what type of cake you are working with. If you made a bunt cake, for example, you might be less inclined to shave off the top, as the shape of the bunt is sort of what makes them what they are.
If you do choose to trim the cake top, you have many options. You could trim only the stickiest part, essentially providing a very close shave to it, or you could make a thicker cut and even out the cake across the surface, or you could choose an alternative option.
The sky is the limit, and you are the creator of your baked goods. Anything you want to do to your cake can easily become a part of your final design, and who knows, the result may pleasantly surprise you.
3. Add sprinkles
Sprinkles are pretty, come in many shapes and forms, and also absorb moisture. Really, they are great problem solvers.
Sticky cake tops can make decorating difficult. But by using sprinkles, whether it be in the form of rainbows, fruits, nuts, or whatever color your heart desires, not only can you get some decorating done and improve the taste of the cake, but you’ll also have some of the stickiness be transferred to your new edible decorations.
4. Freeze Before Frosting
Freezing cake will generally take the stickiness right out of it because it will both give it a harder texture, as well as take out all of the warmth and moisture. If you don’t want to freeze the cake all the way, you can put it in the refrigerator, or you can simply leave it in the freezer for a short amount of time. This can work especially well if you happen to have made an ice cream cake.
5. Try a Towel
These last couple are not as effective except on certain types of cake. I would only try them if the first 4 options failed. They may work on certain types of cakes or in extreme situations.
While frosting the cake is a bit trickier because the sticky texture makes the surface less agreeable, when this is done correctly, frosting the cake can be extremely helpful in not only the cake decorating process (and therefore improve the tastiness of your creation) but also in disguising your sticky cake top. With that being said, there is a process for frosting a cake with a sticky top, which includes several tips to help make this process easier.
Although it can be more time-consuming and take a bit more effort, frosting the cake when it has a sticky top is actually a personal favorite tip of ours because of how good the final result tastes. I also LOVE how creative you can get with it and the fact that the icing on top of it all, well, literally goes on top of it all.
- Use a towel (do this step if the cake is still warm)
- Fun fact: Sweating isn’t just something that people do. Cakes can too—but in this case, it’s not gross. For this first step of frosting the cake, you’ll want to get a towel and gently cover it. The towel will absorb the moisture and remove quite a bit of the sticky factor.
- Add buttercream frosting
- This will be your first layer of frosting, which you will want to be a bit runny. What this will do is function as a seal and keep the cake firm and in place while also creating a barrier between the sticky cake top and your top frosting layer. Once you have put a coat or so of the buttercream frosting down, the surface should be smooth enough to add another layer of frosting to your concoction. Of course, make sure the cake is cool enough to lay down the cream, and give that enough time to set before adding anything else.
- Frost the cake
- Once the buttercream has set, frost away with any frosting of your choice. And, of course, be gentle.
6. Absorb With Baking Soda
Baking soda serves as an absorbent so that it can serve as a hero in a scenario like this. Obviously, you don’t want your delicious baked goods to taste like baking soda, though, so there are ways to avoid that while still getting rid of a bit of that unwanted traction on the surface of the cake.
What you can do is grab a paper towel and place it in a plastic container about the size of the cake. Then sprinkle some baking soda onto the paper towel, and place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the cake. Place the plastic container over the cake.
The parchment paper should serve as a barrier between the cake and the starchy ingredient, keeping the cake tasty. The baking soda will absorb much of the moisture and help in making the cake less sticky. This will help when it comes to decorating your product of labor.
3 Ways to Prevent a Sticky Cake Top
Here’s how to stop a sticky cake top from happening in the first place or from ever happening again. Before getting into that, though, I thought I’d let you know why a cake might end up with a sticky top—for future reference.
If the cake is sticky on the top, moisture escaped the inside of it. This means that the cake wasn’t constructed to have enough air or ingredients to contain the moisture within the cake and enough left from the center to end up on the top of the cake. This made it so that rather than the interior holding all of itself together, parts of the exterior are able to latch onto surfaces as well. Long story short: the moisture made the top sticky.
So, now you have quite a few ideas of how to deal with that if and when it happens to you, but what if you could prevent a sticky cake top from the get-go? I have compiled a pretty good list of ideas to help you do just that.
1. Make Sure It’s Cool
In sticky situations, sometimes the best solution is to give it some time. When it comes to baking, cakes aren’t all that different than people. Simply let it blow off some steam, you know, give it some air to cool down. This will help keep the top of the cake from crumbling when you spread frosting on it.
After it’s at room temperature or even a bit colder than that, decorating becomes much easier. If you still find that spreading onto the surface is difficult and that the top of the cake still pulls up, you can try one of the aforementioned suggestions. Our rule of thumb, if you’re not sure if the cake is too sticky to decorate, is “when in doubt, be cool.”
2. Parchment Paper and Mats
Once again, it’s all about absorbing the moisture out of the cake. By doing this, the top will be less sticky. Parchment paper and mats have special baking elements that draw the wetness from the cake to their surfaces. The cake will be way less sticky, and not just on the top, but on the bottom too.
If you place your creation on top of one of these flat bases, the bottom of the cake should also be able to lift easier, and it allows for more air to cool off the entire surface so that you’re less likely to have a sticky cake top or bottom.
3. Don’t Go Light on Sugar
If you can’t already see a trend here, moisture is what causes a cake to be sticky in the first place. Sugar is pretty good at absorbing and trapping moisture. If the cake is really sugary, it has a better chance of being less sticky. The best part about this solution is that it tastes so sweet and so good. There are many different kinds of sugars to choose from, too.
- White sugar serves the basics as far as the benefits of how much it will absorb, and the more that your recipe calls for, the better. It will also make the cake airier and taste sweeter, which is a plus in our recipe book.
- Brown sugar absorbs more moisture than white sugar. It also does it more quickly. You can choose recipes and add substitutes that allow for brown sugar to be added to the cake. This will help prevent any cracks or excess wetness on the surfaces because the stick will be contained within the sugary elements of the molasses.
- Molasses is the main reason brown sugar is more effective in preventing sticky tops on cakes than white sugar is. Molasses is highly absorbent and one of the largest components of this type of sugar.
- There are no rules when it comes to your creation, so you can totally find a way to make brown sugar a part of your solution.
Join the Club
Now being armed with these tricks and tips of advice. Hopefully, you will run into the ‘sticky cake top problem’ less, and if you do run into it, you’ll know what to do. That being said, however, every baker, no matter what level they are or how many years of experience they have behind that apron of theirs, ends up with a sticky cake top or two, so don’t worry if it happens to you—you’re in good company.
Just to recap for you, though:
If you already have a sticky cake top, here are a few options on what to do:
- Trim the top
- Frost the cake
- Follow the steps
- Use baking soda
- Use sprinkles
- Freeze the cake
To prevent a cake from getting a sticky top, here are a few tips:
- Let the cake cool
- Use sugar
- Use moist recipes
- Use Parchment Paper & Mats
I totally have got you covered and know you will be a complete success. Even if the cake doesn’t initially turn out how you envisioned—which it really might. Remember, designs change just like people. So, don’t sweat it—leave that to the cake. It’s all in good taste.
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.