Friday, July 7, 2017

Aspen/Birch Buttercream Cake Tutorial

Ok, I realize on my last post I said I was going to share my second Eagle Scout cake next, but I'm switching things up a bit. A sweet friend who lives many states over from me asked for some tips on a cake I did a few months back, so, rather than emailing all the photos I took to her, I thought I'd post a little tutorial for it here.

As the title above says, the cake was an aspen/birch tree cake. I've actually done several with this theme, both with fondant and buttercream. This was the third time I'd done a buttercream one, and I still had to look up pictures to try and remember what I did the first couple of times. So, Sue, this tutorial is for you, but it's also for me because I don't see the tree trunk design dying out anytime soon and the next time I'm asked to do one, I can look up this post and remember step-by-step!

I will start out by saying if I have to do a cake, especially a stacked cake, that is just buttercream (no ganache or fondant), this is the design I would prefer to do. No super smooth edges to worry about!

So, this cake has been torted, filled, crumb coated and then a very rough "finish" coat applied. I randomly splotched some gray buttercream over the sides of the cake. (Yes, that is a Trolls cake in the background I had just finished up the night before.)

I then ran a spatula around the edges blending the gray into the white. I did NOT worry about getting things super smooth, this is a tree we're making here. Keep it rough. If I found some areas were too dark, I just splotched some white on and smoothed again. Same thing with too light, add a little more gray. This is a pretty forgiving technique.

I then dipped this paintbrush into some brown airbrush color and dabbed the excess off on a paper towel. I like the airbrush color because it is already thinned down. I simply held the brush against the top of the cake and spun my turntable around making "rings" in the top. (Wow, those are some seriously ugly nails!! Maybe I should have cropped my hands out of this one. 😝)

Then I used my offset spatula to smooth those rings out a bit. I simply held the spatula still and turned the table again.

I used a clean paintbrush and ran it along the very edge of the cake top. This created a border between the inside of the trunk and the bark. By holding a crumpled up, clean paper towel on top of the cake and spinning the turn table I was able to get a good texture for the top of the cake. Some of the wrinkles in the towel will dig a little deeper than others giving you a more realistic look.

Like this. This part may take some practice. I think I re-did the top of this cake twice before I liked the look. The first time I pushed a little too hard. Pretty easy fix though.

Here I dipped a paintbrush in the brown airbrush color and ran along that furrow I made along the edge. I had to re-dip the brush in color many times to make it around the cake. Just wipe the excess buttercream from the brush on a paper towel in between dips.

This, this right here, this little pink tool is my favorite tool ever! I have no idea where I got it or how long I've had it. It may have come from the stash of tools I got from my mom when I first started decorating, but I can probably count on one hand the cakes I've done in the last five years that I haven't used this tool on somewhere. If anyone knows where I can find another I would love to know. If this one ever breaks, there's going to be some serious crying going on here. (Yes, that's one of my previous cakes in the background I was using for inspiration. I can never visualize how these cracks should look.)

I only did the cracks on the top tier for this cake. You could also do some close to an edge for the lower tiers if you'd like.

Top done.

To make a few knots on the side, I piped a circle with buttercream. I think I used a tip 8 for this one.

I used a clean paint brush to blend the edges into the side of the cake.

Then I used more airbrush color on the brush and just kind of tapped it into the center and a bit on the outside edges.

Guess what? More airbrush color. For this part, it would really help to have some pictures of actual bark in front of you to see the texture and lines. The first tier I did over because the lines were just way too close together.

You're really just brushing long and short lines randomly all over the sides of the cake. After I did most of the straighter lines, I went back and smudged some and made them thicker. I prefer to do that last so I can stagger them out a bit more evenly.

There's my favorite pink tool again, carving out initials.

And coloring in with the brown.

Here's the finished cake. I was very concerned about how to deliver it. I'm used to ganache and fondant that are pretty sturdy and hold up well at room temp. This one is all buttercream, and I didn't want the cake to start bulging as it sat out. My best thought was to keep it cold, but then I have to worry about condensation. My big fridge is notorious for that. It can melt fondant in a couple of hours on a cake. Don't know why, but it does. I've read many times that keeping the cake in a box will keep it from getting condensation so I thought I'd give it a try. Two of the tiers I was able to put in regular cake carriers, and I found a box to fit the bottom tier that was already on it's serving plate. We kept the tiers in their "boxes" until we reached the reception area where I then stacked and put on the gumpaste flowers. Some of the brown color did come off on my hands as I was stacking it, but it didn't mess up the design. Since I wasn't stacking the cake till I delivered it, I did some practice designs with the flowers on my styrofoam dummies. Once I got the look I liked, I took a picture with my phone for reference. I think it still ended up changing a bit once I stacked the actual cake, but at least I had a starting point.

I hope this little tutorial can be of help to you. I'm sure I will be referencing it myself someday as this ol' noggin' of mine isn't what it used to be, and remembering things gets harder and harder. 😊 Please comment below and let me know if you have any questions.

Till next time...
God's love and blessings!


  1. Thank you SOOOO much for posting this tutorial. You really do make it look so easy and they always turn out just beautiful. I have not worked with airbrush paints, so I will have to look into that in the coming days. Appreciate you taking the time to post this. <3

    1. No problem. Glad it could help. You can find airbrush paints on Amazon. I like the AmeriColor brand. You'll know you have airbrush color as they have a black lid as opposed to the white lids for their regular food colors.