The biggest mistake you're making when icing a cake

Ever get a wave of inspiration and decide to bake a birthday cake instead of buying? And ever immediately regret it, when you're stuck with a lopsided mess of crumb-filled frosting? Yeah, us too.

But icing a cake doesn't have to be so daunting. With a few professional techniques, a little bit of planning, and a whole lot of patience, you can create a cake you're actually proud of. Our #1 tip for a bakery-status cake? Never, ever, ever skip the crumb coat.

A crumb coat is a super thin layer of frosting that seals in all of the messy loose crumbs on your cake, says Sprinkles for Breakfast. The blog likens the process to using primer before paint — if you skip it, it might look okay, but it'll never quite present like a professional job.

Kitchn recommends using a crumb coat whether the cake you're baking is a single layer or a triple-tiered masterpiece, since it's a necessary step to keep crumbs out of the final layer of frosting. Even if you use a single thick layer of icing, chances are you'll be stuck with a lackluster cake. The outlet also notes that the step is so important, it's actually emerged as a trend on its own: coined 'naked cakes.' These half-finished desserts have become a hit for party hosts rounding out a rustic-themed event.

So pause your Great British Baking Show marathon and grab your offset spatula — it's time to conquer the DIY birthday cake once and for all!

There are a few tips and tricks to master the crumb coat

First, start with a great cake recipe. No matter how fabulous your icing job looks, it all comes down to taste!

Once you've mastered the batter and baked your cake to perfection, leading bakeware brand Wilton suggests letting it completely cool before attempting the crumb coat. King Arthur Baking recommends going over each of the cake layers with a pastry brush once cooled to sweep away any rogue crumbs.

Once your cake cools, you can start to tackle the crumb coat. You can use any sort of buttercream (just avoid sticky icings or glazes), but it's important to use a thinner frosting and let it fully dry before doing a final coat so you're not stuck with any runaway crumbs (via Wilton). Another pro tip from King Arthur Baking: Be sure to wipe off any excess icing from your spatula into a separate bowl, so those said runaway crumbs don't get re-introduced.

If you're still intimidated by the crumb coat or feeling particularly lazy, you can always check put together one of those minimally assembled cakes for the next birthday bash instead, which are equally as delicious.