If you own an airbrushing kit for cake decorating you know that fondant is the ideal surface to work on – but what about buttercream? Can you airbrush buttercream?
We’re going to let you in on a little secret: yes, you can airbrush buttercream! Read on to learn how and discover tips and tricks for airbrushing this finicky frosting!
How to Airbrush Buttercream Cake
We get it – not everyone loves fondant. Furthermore, buttercream is a delicious frosting, so why sacrifice it for the sake of airbrushing? Luckily, you don’t need to!
If you’re careful, you can use airbrushing tools to decorate a buttercream cake. Here’s how:
I know it’s tempting to break out that airbrushing kit and start spraying away, but there are a few initial steps you should take before airbrushing your buttercream-coated cake.
First off, you want to make sure your cake is at the right temperature before beginning to decorate. Most bakers know to chill a cake before frosting to keep the cake firm – but you should also chill it between each step of frosting to ensure a stable cake.
Many cake decorators are aware they should apply a crumb coat before adding buttercream to keep cake crumbs out of frosting as they can give you a speckled, bumpy finish, but not all know that after applying your crumb coat you should once again chill your cake before adding the buttercream. Moreover, after applying your buttercream, you’ll want to chill it again before airbrushing so it sets solid.
Another element that will help when airbrushing buttercream frosting is having a smooth, clean frosting surface. This is especially essential when using cake stencils with airbrushing tools.
As is usual with buttercream frosting, start with a crumb coat to keep annoying crumbs out of your frosting, chill, then apply your buttercream. Smooth the frosting using a turntable and an offset spatula or bench scraper. Then chill again so the buttercream crusts – this will stop the stencil from sticking and make the icing more sturdy.
You may want to alter your usual buttercream recipe when airbrushing a buttercream cake to make the frosting a tad more durable. Some alternative buttercream recipes recommend using unsalted butter along with vegetable shortening to make a frosting that is more heat resistant than using butter alone.
Also, sometimes the addition of liquid coloring or flavorings like vanilla extract can make the frosting too runny. If this happens, consider adding in some cornstarch to thicken it back up.
Cornstarch is tasteless so it won’t affect the flavor of buttercream and it has thickening and moisture-absorbing properties. But don’t add it straight to your frosting or it will clump – instead create a slurry with milk.
Similarly, using heavy cream instead of milk will lessen the chance of a thinner buttercream. And thick, sturdy buttercreams are better for decorating!
Alright, you’ve prepared your cake by applying a crumb coat and thick buttercream, chilled it to keep it stable and now it’s finally time to airbrush this delightful confection! So, what’s the protocol?
The first thing you’ll want to check is what pressure or speed your airbrush is set to. It’s easiest to start at low pressure when working with buttercream and increase the speed or pressure slowly as you get a feel for your particular airbrush.
If your air pressure is turned up too high this may result in damaging the delicate frosting or blowing it right off your cake! With this in mind, always start out at a low pressure or speed and slowly work your way up if needed.
Buttercream is more delicate and temperamental than fondant, so you’ll need to keep a more precise distance when working with this fragile frosting.
Preferably, you’ll want to hold your airbrush six to eight inches from the cake. Too close and you’ll blow a hole in your frosting, too far and you’ll get spray everywhere. The closer you are to the cake the more concentrated the color will be. Pull back your airbrush for a softer, fainter color that you can build on.
This will take a little practice, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. And don’t worry about any mistakes you make – we have some tips down below to correct your airbrushing mishaps.
Use a Turntable
Turntables are always a helpful tool in cake decorating – dancing circles around a cake or turning a plate every thirty seconds is annoying normally, but with an airbrush in one hand these constant starts and stops can be even more bothersome.
Creating an ombre design with your airbrush? You’ll want to make use of a turntable or even a lazy susan to keep an even spray distribution. Try to rotate the cake with one hand and spray with the other. A constant rotation helps keep the color nice and even.
Take a look at the YouTube video below on how to ombre a cake!
Cover Up Mistakes
Mess something up? Use other cake decorations to cover the flaw. Consider piping over mistakes with some rosettes or adding fondant flourishes to cover cake blemishes.
Airbrushing a cake will often leave a dark ring at the bottom due to coloring settling there. Try adding a border out of piped frosting, candies or even fruit to cover up this little eyesight.
Find yourself with a drip or run in your spray? Cover with lettering, edible leaves or flowers. These little embellishments can add personality and dimension to an otherwise flat cake. Take these mistakes as an opportunity to exert your creativity!
Most know, buttercream does not handle heat well. And guess what? Neither does airbrushed buttercream! If stored at too warm a temperature your coloring may start to run and drip – and trust us – it won’t be pretty.
Buttercream cakes can be stored in the refrigerator for five to six days, but their coloring may begin to fade after a few days. Room temperature storage is fine (as long as temperatures aren’t too warm) for two to three days.
The ideal time to decorate a cake is soon before serving. This ensures your coloring won’t fade or be altered in the storing process.
Review: Tips for Airbrushing Buttercream Frosting
- Chill cakes before airbrushing to increase frosting stability.
- Start with a smooth surface, especially when stenciling.
- Start out at a low speed or low air pressure and work your way up. High pressure can blow holes in buttercream.
- Keep the airbrush six to eight inches away from your cake – six inches for more concentrated colors, eight inches for mistier colors.
- Use a turntable or lazy susan for ease of decorating and even color distribution.
- Cover up mistakes with borders, piping tools, or other embellishments. This is especially useful if a ring develops at the bottom of your cake – pipe a decorative border or furnish with fruit or candies to cover.
- Store at cool temperatures so your coloring does not drip. Buttercream despises heat!
- Ideally, decorate cakes soon before serving. Buttercream cakes last two to three days at room temperature and five to six when refrigerated.
General Airbrushing Tips
So we’ve covered the particulars of airbrushing buttercream, but it’s always good to review the fundamentals of airbrushing cakes. Here are some of the top tips to remember:
- Cover Surfaces: Always, prep your area before airbrushing by covering surfaces with paper or other materials. This is especially necessary if you’re a beginner and even if you’re not, airbrushing tools can sometimes splatter.
- Test Before Spraying: Test paper will come in useful when changing colors in your airbrush. It’s generally a good practice to test out your airbrush on paper before starting your cake and whenever changing colors. Once it’s on the cake it’s a whole lot harder to change.
- Angle The Brush Properly: For sharper, more defined color keep your airbrush at a 90 degree angle – for a mistier, softer effect, use the airbrush at a 45 degree angle.
- Use Cake Tools: Trying to create angular designs? Use other cake decorating tools, such as a bench scraper to create sharp edges with your airbrush. Simply, hold the bench scraper at a 90 degree angle to keep spray off unwanted cake parts and create defined edges.
- Order Colors From Lightest To Darkest: Plan the order of your colors. Go from lightest to darkest colors to avoid cleaning out your airbrush more than needed. This is especially helpful in ombre cakes. Creating a rainbow pattern? Start with yellow, followed by orange, then red… you get the picture.
- Clean Between Abrupt Color Changes: Going from blue to yellow? Best clean the airbrush if you don’t want a little of the previous color in with your new one. Clean by simply filling with warm water and spraying until clear. When changing colors, always spray on test paper before applying to your cake.
- Keep Crafting and Culinary Tools Separate: Never use the same tools for crafting as you do for food uses! An airbrushing kit that has been used for crafting purposes can never be used for food decorating no matter how well you clean it. Additionally, only edible paints can be used when airbrushing cakes.
Now You Know How To Airbrush Buttercream!
Those are the basics! You can indeed airbrush buttercream cakes as long as you follow some simple tips. Prepare your cake by applying a smooth surface and making sure your buttercream frosting is nice and thick, chilling before airbrushing.
Pay attention to your air pressure and airbrush distance while airbrushing your cake, being sure not to disturb the delicate frosting by getting too close or turning the pressure up too high.
Use a turntable for ease of decorating and cover up any mistakes with other cake decorations like piping or decorative embellishments. And last but never least, be sure to store your cake at the proper temperature so all your airbrushing work doesn’t go to waste!