How to do a Buttercream Transfer

Monday, April 23, 2012

It's your child's birthday soon and they're asking you to make the impossible.  But, I'm here to tell you that it may NOT be impossible.  My children are always asking for the random cake design and they know that Mommy will try her hardest to deliver what they ask for.  I have learned how to create Buttercream Transfers in order to make that perfect picture that I know I can't draw freehand.  So this year when my son asked for an Angry Birds birthday cake, I thought I'd take advantage of also teaching you all how to do a buttercream transfer.  It is a way to decorate a cake and make it look like anything you want.  It's so much easier than freehand piping.  All you need is a picture of what you want on your cake and a few other decorating items and you get a near professional looking cake.  Just make sure your picture isn't too involved or has too many lines.  This angry bird was a perfect design.  I learned how to do this years ago at a cake decorating class at a church activity.  Here is another tutorial on how to do it .  (This is the one I learned from).  So this is for you all who want to create a wonderful birthday cake that will make your child smile.
Click here for printable recipe/directions. 

Post by: Jen


White buttercream* (recipe follows)
Food coloring
Flat portable surface (like cutting board)
Wax paper
INVERTED picture print out of your design 
Piping bags (I would recommend these because buttercream is thick and your Ziplock baggies will burst)
Piping tips (plain holes, but not too small)
Coupler (to hold your piping tips in place)

*Buttercream decorating frosting recipe:
1 c butter, softened
1 c shortening (regular white shortening) 
1 tsp butter flavoring (Wilton makes a good one)
1 tsp vanilla (use clear vanilla to keep the frosting more white)
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 lbs powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter, shortening, and salt until smooth.  Add flavorings and mix together well.  Add about 1 lb of powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Add 1/2 c powdered sugar at a time and keep mixing until desired consistency.  Add a little water* (tsp at a time) to make it smoother or thinner if desired.  You do want this one a little thin to make it easier to color in your lines.  *Yes, you could use milk instead but then you'd have to refrigerate any leftover frosting.

**Important note:  DO NOT use the store bought frosting in a container to do this and think that it will save you time.  It will NOT freeze and therefore you will not be able to peel off the wax paper.  I know this because I tried it one year and was seriously disappointed and had to end up piping the picture freehand at the last minute.  Just thought I'd let you know.

Print out your picture in reverse.  I guess for this Angry Bird it didn't really matter which way he was facing, but if you have words then you want it reversed.  This is because we are going to flip the end result onto the cake and whatever you see now, will end up on the bottom.  Tape your picture to the cutting board.  Now tape wax paper over the top of the picture.  Make sure the wax paper is smooth.

The first thing you want to do is trace ALL your outlines, most likely in black, although it would really depend on the picture you're doing.

After doing your outline, think about your layers.  If there are small areas to color in, do those first.  Or if there are parts of your picture that you need to "pop" out more than others, do those first as well.  Here I did the cheeks first because it was a small area.
Next I filled in the eyes, completely covering the eyeballs.  Make sure that you fill in all the gaps and smooth out your frosting inbetween layers.  Otherwise you'll have a bumpy looking picture.

After doing the small areas, fill in your larger areas.  Again make sure to smooth it out as much as possible and fill in all the little gaps (especially next to the neighboring lines) 

I also traced around the picture in the same color that the cake is going to be frosted.  That way we will be able to blend in the transfer a little better onto the cake. (you'll see what I mean in a minute)  Now cover your picture with the same color frosting as your cake and smooth it all out so it is flat.

Cover your picture with another piece of wax paper and place in the freezer for a couple hours.  Although I have easily left it in there for a few days.  (In fact I still have one in there from a few months ago and I'm sure it will still be fine.  IF you do leave it in the freezer for a while, just make sure that it is protected, as your transfer is fragile. *See last picture on this post for an example of what I'm talking about)

After your cake is frosted and the top of your cake is smooth, then remove the transfer from the freezer.  Remove it from the cutting board and if you look at the bottom you should see a perfectly colored picture of your design.  Take the bottom (white layer in the above picture) and place it flat on the top of your cake.  Carefully remove the wax layer from your top.
You may see some bubbles or bumps where it didn't get smoothed before freezing.  No problem.  Just take a flat metal knife and heat it under some hot water.  Dry off your warm knife and carefully use the warm tip to smooth out your bumpy parts.  Using a warm flat knife helps melt the shortening thus creating a smooth surface.  

Now you may notice how thick your transfer is and that it's not blended in very well onto your cake.  Just take a warm knife again, and begin to smooth the edges into the surface of your cake.  You may need to add more frosting to make it all blend in well.
 Yes, this does create a bit of a thick top on your cake, but let's face love frosting.

Finish with the decorating or any other piping of borders you want to do.   Watch you child smile as he sees that you created exactly what he wanted for his birthday!

Here are some other examples of transfers I have done: 
The General Grievous cake was a bit of a pain because there were so many little lines to trace.  
This was for an anniversary celebration of a women's group at a church activity. This is an example of where you definitely want to print the picture in reverse so that your end result has words going the right direction.  (Yes, it is in french, because I live in France.  But it says "Charity never faileth"
This is an example of what the transfer looks like when you take it out of the freezer.  I couldn't decide which General Grievous picture to do so I did two of them.  This has been in my freezer for months.  

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Deanne April 23, 2012 at 12:06 PM  

Wow, this is awesome! Thanks for the tip, Jen! I feel like this is actually manageable to do. Now I can make all those cakes I never thought I could before that my kids ask for!

Michelle,  April 23, 2012 at 6:00 PM  

Brilliant! Must try!

Chelsey April 23, 2012 at 8:58 PM  

I just tried to leave a comment and it didn't work. I think this is an amazing idea. I've been trying to use picures that have easy cut outs but I can see that I could do something more complex with this method. Thanks Jen. You always were so good at decorating cakes:)

Wife, Mother, Gardener January 31, 2013 at 8:46 PM  

Thanks! Very helpful. Now my son can have a Diego cake after all! :)

Deb,  June 1, 2013 at 11:54 PM  

Thanks for another way to transfer designs onto cakes using buttercream icing. I learned a similar way at a cake decorating class myself. You take your inverted picture and tape it to a window or light colored surface. Tape a piece of wax paper over your picture. Take black icing and outline your design completely. Gently remove the wax paper and place it on your iced cake where you want the design with the icing side toward the iced cake. Gently take a paper towel and rub the top surface of the wax paper where your outline is. Slowly remove the wax paper and you now have the traced outline on your cake. From here you begin to outline the design again normally with black icing and then start filling in the other areas. Normally I fill in with stars or piping tip for a different texture or to have certain areas pop. Remember you need to apply enough pressure with the paper towel so that you get the indentation from the icing or the color so that you can see the outline BUT you don't want to press too hard to where the icing smudges all over the place and distorts the design. I have been able to do about any design from simple to complex with this technique. Hope you will too! Happy Baking!!!

E Dalusung September 23, 2016 at 3:40 AM  

i plan to make this one for my next cake.Thanks so much for all the ideas i've learned.
By the way, can i put it in an upright position on top of my cake or it is meant to be just placed flat on top of the cake?
Thanks in advance!

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My name is Lara and while I'm definitely not a gourmet cook, I do love preparing tasty, healthy meals for my family. Finding new recipes to try and sharing the ones we've already fallen in love with is a passion I've had since college and the reason why I've started this blog! With five kids, I'm usually in a hurry, so you'll find most of these recipes kid friendly and simple to make.

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