The Melvira Method for Quick & Easy Smooth Buttercream

Nothing looks as professional as a perfectly smooth buttercream cake. Unfortunately that is usually easier said than done, until now. Achieve smooth buttercream cakes with this easy, fool-proof method. Documented by Cake Central user, Melvira, this technique uses inexpensive tools to smooth buttercream that looks like fondant.

Before and After using the Melvira roller smoothing method on your buttercream frosted cake.

Over the years, many creative people have come up with a menagerie of methods and tools in the quest to create a flawlessly smooth cake surface, perfect for decorating. After attempting many of these methods, and always falling short, I was left wondering if I would always be plagued by issues like drag marks and finger dents in the icing, air bubble holes, and uneven patches. 

No matter how good the decorations looked, the canvas was always flawed. One day, in the middle of brainstorming over a pock-marked cake I began to design in my head the ideal tool for smoothing and perfecting my icing surface. As I pictured it, detail by detail, it struck me that I had seen such a tool before. It was just never intended for use on a cake. A quick trip to my local hardware store brought me face to face with the tool in my minds eye. With a small, dense foam paint roller in my hand (intended for use on walls), I headed home to test the theory, and was immediately rewarded by perhaps the smoothest cake I had ever turned out. The difference was amazing! 

The theory behind this method is that the dense foam is strong enough to push the icing in on itself, smoothing out any wrinkles or air bubbles, while being malleable enough to not damage the icing surface. Through trial and error I was able to develop the method, and mostly through error, created a list of tips that will help this method succeed for most individuals who attempt it. I have had an amazing outpour of positive results from both professional bakers, as well as home novice bakers, so it is a method that is accessible to all skill levels! 

The “Melvira Method” is intended to help you create a perfectly smooth icing surface on your cake, ideal for decorating. 

To complete this method you will need to purchase a high-density foam roller at your local hardware or paint supply store. The brand I am using is called "Quick Solutions". The description on the package says 6" Fine Finish Mini Roller

Most discount stores do not carry the high-density foam, please insure that you purchase the high-density foam roller refill heads or you will be left with a ‘spackle-like’ texture on your icing. The rollers are available in 2”, 4”, and 6” widths. 6” is ideal for most cakes, although the 2” is useful for the sides of sheet cakes, or for shaped/character cakes.

Step 1

To get started: Insure that you are using a crusting buttercream recipe! This is imperative if you do not wish to have a sticky mess all over the roller! 

Step 2

Smooth icing as you normally would, with a spatula. Allow it to sit and crust for at least 10-15 minutes, longer if humidity is high.

If you are using a cake that has been frozen, be sure that it is completely thawed and any condensation has dried, or the roller will simply pull the icing off of your cake. This method will not work on a cake that is tacky to the touch or on icing that does not crust, please do not attempt it!

Step 3

After the cake has crusted, gently roll the foam head over the cake as though you were painting it. I usually start with the sides of the cake, and then proceed to the top, bringing the edge together as crisply as possible.

Step 4

Gently roll across the top surface of your cake, smoothing out any air pockets, bumps, or wrinkles across the cake. Use long, light and gentle strokes across the surface. Do not use short, fast strokes as this may displace icing.

Step 5

Alternately, a Viva paper towel can be used on top of the icing as you roll, serving as a barrier between the icing and the roller, also insuring the smooth finish you would expect from the Viva method. You may also use waxed paper or parchment to achieve the smoothest surface possible.

Step 6

The roller is an excellent way to apply an edible image. Prepare a squirt bottle with clean water and set it to a fine mist. Immediately before applying image, hold water bottle about a foot above cake and spritz a fine mist over the top, letting it float down and create a slightly tacky surface so the image will adhere. Immediately apply image. Use roller to smooth over image in the same way you smoothed the top icing. Allow image to set. Before adding borders, smooth one more time.

Roller Care:

  • Wash roller foam pad well with dish soap and hot water before first use and immediately following subsequent uses. Rinse thoroughly, use fingers to squeegee out excess water and allow foam to completely dry before using.
  •  if the cake or the roller is AT ALL damp, the icing will stick. Roller must absolutely dry before attempting this method. 
  • It is advisable to have roller refill heads available in case the foam becomes wet or damaged in the middle of smoothing your cake. 
  • For easiest cleaning, do not apply soap directly to foam, take a small amount of dish soap and lather in your hands, then rub lather into foam. 
  • The roller may become stained if used on chocolate or colored icings, but this will not affect its performance. If you wash the foam well, any color stains should not bleed onto a white cake during subsequent uses, however, if you are unsure, test it by rolling some icing on a sheet of waxed paper or a cookie sheet before using on cake

Troubleshooting:

  • Use the most dense foam roller available, the higher the density, the smoother the surface. Low density roller heads will give you a velvet texture on your cake.
  • Icing pulls away from cake and sticks to roller head. Either icing is not crusted well enough, it is still tacky. Allow to more thoroughly crust. -or- You are using short, jerky strokes. Use longer, slow and smooth strokes to gently manipulate icing. If the cake itself was frozen, make sure it is thoroughly thawed and at room temp before you ice, or the condensation will come through the icing and stick to the roller.
  • Icing cracks and looks dry when I roll it. Icing is too crusted. Reapply a thin layer of icing and roll before it becomes too dry.
  • Air holes are not disappearing when I roll: Use a slightly firmer pressure. While you do not want to ‘smash’ the icing, you do want to push firmly enough to smooth out air bubbles and holes.

Comments (83)

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Bongo and Vick61, the safety issue has been brought up and exhaustively discussed in the forums in a number of threads. I completely respect and appreciate your concerns, which is why I encourage anyone who wants to try the method but is concerned about safety, to please use a sheet of parchment or wax paper as noted in the above instructions.

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Don't get me wrong, I own a roll of Viva Towels and use them once in a while.. but I encourage you to try to perfect the art of a smooth buttercream finish using a hot angled spatula. It is a method that requires focus, concentration and patience, but the result is so worth it. In the beginning my husband always popped over to help me while I struggled through my first buttercream cakes because he is so good a "spackling"... yes walls! I wanted to smack him upside the head, because yes, he could make it work, but then with each cake I made I got better and better at it and faster and faster and now he jokes about letting me spackle the walls of his next big project. I told him only if I can dump a quart of vanilla extract in the spackle to make it more enjoyable.

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Do you think washing the roller and maybe soaking in boiling water for a couple of minutes would remove the chemicles? I would want to wash the store dust off anyway.

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I will admit I've not seen the other discussions about the safety or lack of it re: using the foam roller that is mentioned above, so perhaps I am at a disadvantage. However, I simply cannot believe that ANYONE would use this and think it is safe! Plastic foam is comprised of tons of chemicals that I will guarantee you is NOT food safe!! How anyone could consider using this and think it's "safe" and okay AND knowing that so many little kids (when they are MOST vulnerable!) are eating your cake, too, is beyond comprehension. Hey - let's take some closed foam latex pillows and press them against the icing for a nice smooth finish, too. Where is your thinking here? IT'S DANGEROUS!! It REALLY concerns me as clearly most of you think it's okay to use.

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I emailed a company that manufactures these things and this is the reply I got. ( I would use this method, but only with the paper or paper towel.

Thank you for your question. We would recommend that you do NOT use the high density foam rollers for food preparation. These products are not FDA approved. They are made in various factories around the world and travel to the USA in containers that nobody could possibly know what might have traveled in the container before the rollers. Brent Swenson Linzer Products Corp.

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Curious about the buttercream recipe noted above with the 1/2 c butter and 1.5 c shortening...will that make the icing too soft? The recipe I have been using is delicious but calls for the same amount conf sugar with only 1 c butter or shortening. I used the roller method using wax paper and worked great! But my icing seems very soft, just wondering if adding the extra shortening would make it too soft. Thanks!

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I have tried different methods.  But I wonder if my problem is that I have not been waiting the 15 minutes.  As soon as I put the BC on, I start trying to smooth.  I'll have to try waiting.  I may even pop the cake into the freezer for those 15 minutes.  It seems the condensation helps when smoothing the BC.

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Maybe it's just me, but this seems like a method born out of laziness. I am all for using better methods for creating a better, more professional looking product in less time, but icing a cake is a basic process in cake decorating. Best and easiest method is a bench scraper dipped in hot water: quick, simple, efficient, and no Viva towel "dimples"

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I've tried this method before...but with less than stellar results. But I'm  always  one to learn and try new methods. Upon reading this post, I realize my mistake was using a cheapie foam roller from the dollar store. Using high density makes total sense. Definitely going to try again.

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I never comment on these tutorials, but buttercream is close to my heart, and I have to say, this is pretty ridiculous.  And I completely agree with TheSevenAcreBaker.  Buttercream is an art, and a developed skill.  Paper towels, computer paper, rollers and the like don't teach you how to handle buttercream under all conditions, like changes in weather, temperature, and humidity.  What I think is most imperative is the development of a consistent, easy to use, and completely delicious buttercream recipe.  Mine contains 5 ingredients, is all natural, ACTUALLY CONTAINS BUTTER, contains no meringue powder (a complete misnomer if you think about the common sense combo of egg whites and fat!) and is delicious.  BTW, sugar makes BC crust.  My recommendation is practice, practice, practice.

Good luck everyone!

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Would be great if hobbyists, newbies, professionals, and perfectionists could all get along. Hobbyists may not have the time we pros have to fine-tune our methods, and when I was just starting out, simple helpers like Viva towels were quite welcome. No, I don't need those kinds of tools any more, but let's please respect when members of our community strive to share things that some members may want to use! Safety concerns aside (not because I'm not concerned, but because this comment is about the Spirit of Community, not safety), I appreciate Melvira sharing a new strategy. If you choose not to use a foam roller, her concept may help you discover a food-safe alternative like a short pastry rolling pin (like the one Pampered Chef sells). Go easy folks - let's not stifle creativity and trample our community!

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This is not a new method, as it has been around for many years.  First saw it being used in Germany.  Can't use it in a bakery...Food inspector will write you up and will tell you to remove it along with bubble wrap.   

Someone always brings this method back every so many years.  It is important for decorators to be aware of products that can be harmful.  Just because someone does it, doesn't mean it is right, so you must check it out yourself.

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I am totally new to this website but I will say this...some of you folks are major rude snobs. If you don't want to use the roller then just move right along.  "Buttercream is an art" ?  It is freaking icing people!!

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I've been doing this for a long time. I keep getting more and more requests for a cake for a birthday or other event. The biggest was a four tier wedding cake. I want my cakes to be really delicious and I won't sacrifice taste that for "perfect" icing that has too much shortening to taste really good. I ice the cake with pure butter icing. I decorate with an icing with half shortening and/or fondant, gum paste or other icings. I make my own vanilla with rum and many pure vanilla beans that I buy online to decrease the cost. The more cakes I make, the better I get at smoothing. Usually, it's fine but I'd try the roller, over parchment, if I had one that just wouldn't smooth enough.



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@Rollingstone....The You are absolutely right, Buttercream is an art. Cake decorating is an art. However, that does not mean you should use a "paint roller"  to smooth out your buttercream. Now, as someone said they would use it with a paper towel that IS food safe. I am sure that you would only want the to supply your clients with the safest food possible to ensure that "CROSS CONTAMINATION" does not occur. This may be a really good idea as long as the proper "FOOD SAFE" practices are used.

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The same results can be achieved using wax paper and a wood fondant roller (with handle) over crusted buttercream. Buttercream may be an art, but time is precious and shortcuts are helpful, especially to beginners.

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I've been using my little wood pizza dough roller with handle for years with wax paper.  It achieves the same quick result with no worries about safety since the dough roller is food grade.  And, for those of us who are doing this as a hobby with 1 cake every 6 months or so, we don't have time or patience to perfect the hot spatula technique after we come home from a full day at the office.  Getting the icing on is not the fun part.

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Wow! Some difference of opinions here. I doubt I will try using the roller method on the buttercream unless it is over parchment or Viva towel. But thank you Melvira, for taking the time to so thoroughly explain the method. We can all be more tactful when expressisng our opions.



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