How to make a frozen buttercream transfer (Recipe)

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My favorite cakes to decorate are children’s birthday cakes, which often revolve around a theme or a favorite character. In my quest to figure out how to get these characters onto my cakes, I discovered the frozen buttercream transfer. The “FBCT” is a great method for transferring any image to the top of a buttercream cake. If you can trace, then you can make one!

Tips for making a frozen buttercream transfer:

  • Use an American buttercream recipe that has approximately 50/50 butter to shortening ratio. I’ve had good luck with this recipe by Peggy Does Cake.
  • Search online for coloring page images to find clear designs.
  • Place your transfer in the freezer for a minute in bewteen piping each color to keep outlines firm and strong.
  • Make your transfer level so it will sit nicely when flipped onto your cake. If the back is not level, it may settle as it thaws.
  • Make your transfer the day you are decorating or up to a week in advance and store it in the freezer.
  • Use a crusting American buttercream (like the one referenced) so you can smooth the final transfer with a Viva paper towel.

This is what I used:

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Flat work surface that will fit in your freezer (I like plexiglass)

Parchment paper

Image printed to desired size

Fine-tip marker

Buttercream

Gel icing colors

Piping bags with varying sized tips

Small offset spatula

Small paintbrush

Iced cake

Tape

Viva paper towels (not pictured)

 

Step1:

Place the parchment paper over the image and trace it with the fine tip marker. I also drew a 7-inch circle around my image because I planned to have it fill the top of an 8-inch round cake, leaving room for a border.

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Step 2:

Flip the traced image over and tape it, drawing side down, on the flat surface.

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Step 3:

Trace the outline of the image with black buttercream. I used a #1 tip for a fine outline.

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Step 4:

Begin to fill in the other colors. Remember the final product will be flipped so you are working in reverse order. For example, this chick has an orange blush on her cheek so I applied that color before the yellow background color.

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Step 5:

Occasionally hold your plexiglass up to check your work from underneath. If you see thin spots, add a little more icing. If you see bare spots where light is peeking through, use your small paint brush to gently press the icing against the outlines.

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 Step 6:

Continue filling in all of the colors on the image.

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Step 7:

Since I wanted my transfer to be a 7-inch circular shape, I piped my desired background color all the way out to the circle and smoothed it with my offset spatula.

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Keep checking from underneath during the process to make sure it looks good. Adjust with your small paint brush as necessary.

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 Step 8:

Pipe an even background on your transfer that will blend in with the cake color. Then smooth it gently with your offset spatula and place it in the freezer for at least 90 minutes to overnight.

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Step 9:

When it is frozen, gently place it on your cake and move it to the desired spot.

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Step 10:

Gently peel off the parchment paper to reveal the frozen buttercream transfer.

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Even with all of the careful work, I’m still not happy with the line marks that are visible in my transfer. These are from air bubbles between the piped icing.

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Step 11: (Optional)

If you’d like to refine the look of your transfer and eliminate those lines, there is a solution. Wait for your crusting buttercream to thaw, then gently smooth it with a Viva paper towel. Thank you to my friend CorrieCakes for this tip! It makes a huge difference.

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Much better!

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 Step 12:

Add your border and any final piping or embellishments. I added some tiny fondant flowers to my design for added interest.

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Serving time is fun since you can cut right through the frozen buttercream transfer and serve your guests the part of the picture they’d like to eat!

Happy Caking!

Renee

*Vintage Easter chick image purchased from Peggy Loves Vintage for use in this post.

Comments

  1. says

    That’s a very beautiful cake..I’ve one question, can I use a buttercream recipe without shortening and all butter for this technique, as I don’t wanna use shortening. Will it work?. Please reply me as I want to use this technique to make a Doreamon cake for my daughter’s birthday in August. Your reply would truly be helpful.
    Thanks for the lovely post.

    • Jonas says

      Cherry, Great question. You can substitute shortening for approximately 8-10 Tablespoons of condensed milk. Be careful to add a little at a time to avoid adding too much and your icing being too thin. Hope this helps.

  2. says

    This is awesome. It’s just the time that I need to transfer my design to my new cake and I was thinking a way for it. Thanks a lot. Wow this is a great Tutorial! I’ll have to try this one day.

  3. Lauren says

    Can you pipe flowers and then transfer them to a cake, my mamaw’s birthday is in March and my little sister, cousin and I want to make her a cake and have all of her kids and grandkids celebrate with her, she’ll be 65 this year, but I have tried and failed at actually piping flowers or transferring roses onto a cake, I can make them, I just can’t make them on the cake, or when it comes to roses, I always destroy them before the get on the cake. I have thought about just making them on parchment paper and refrigerating them, But I wasn’t sure. One other question, when the decoration defrosts, will it still taste the same, like it won’t taste like watered down butter cream will it? Reply back if possible, Thanks a million!!

  4. Lauren S. says

    Thank you so much for this awesome tutorial! I made a cake for my son’s second birthday this week using your directions. I have never frosted or decorated a cake. It came out pretty good for my first time thanks to your directions!!

  5. Sarah says

    That looks incredible! Smoothing it afterwards gives it such a nice look, you can’t even tell it wasn’t just a printed edible image. I’ve been researching the frozen buttercream transfer technique and so many of the tutorials and demos out there are sloppily done with chunky designs, I love your delicate lines and the care you took creating your design. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Cathy says

    Thanks for the easy to follow instructions. This is exactly what I was looking for! I’m in South Africa, so we don’t have fancy Viva paper towels, will experiment with what’s available here.

  7. Shirley says

    Hi
    Is it possible to take the transfer out of the freezer, keep it on the plexiglass and put it back in the freezer when I get to my destination.
    I have to fly to visit the grandchildren and would like to have this part of their cake ready before I get there.
    Thank you

    • says

      Hi! I wouldn’t recommend trying that. Perhaps you can bring your supplies on the plane and then prepare the buttercream transfer on site. The best decorations for travel in my opinion are well-dried fondant decorations.

  8. Katie says

    When you transfer the image onto the cake, do you peel the parchment paper right off or should you wait until it’s thawed a little?

    • says

      When you carefully flip the image onto the cake, you should remove the parchment paper right away, while it’s still frozen. This gives it the best chance of staying intact. Good luck 🙂

  9. Sarah McKenna says

    Hi! Great explanation! I am wondering if you can tell many how many recipes of that crusting buttercream you made to have enough to do the whole transfer? I’m thinking of making two recipes just to make sure I have enough. Should I do more?

  10. Anonymous says

    Hi! This is wonderful! How do you use the paper towel? Do you press on it? Im sorry Im just a bit confused. lol…

    • Melinda Agnew says

      Just lay the Viva on the cake and rub gently. Do not move the towel while rubbing. If you need to move it to another spot, carefully lift the Viva and ay it on the new spot. This does not work for other paper towels. Viva is the best.

  11. says

    I tried this last year for my son’s bday but the tutorial I followed didn’t say to add the layer of white buttercream. Needless to say, the transfer did not peel off the parchment 🙁 I’m hopeful that your version will work this year! Thanks!!

  12. debbie says

    That’s a great blog! I’d love to have a go. Can you describe what a viva paper towel is? Is it a kitchen towel?

    • Renee says

      Thanks Debbie! A Viva paper towel is a brand of paper kitchen towels that are very dense and smooth. They work very well for smoothing crusting buttercream.

  13. Elsie says

    Hi,
    this is very good. I have tried FBCT a few times and it worked but I did one just recently and when the ice thawed the black outlines bleed and it made it messy. Can you offer any suggestions on how to prevent it?

    Many thanks

    • Renee says

      Hi Elsie. I would recommend making your own buttercream with 50/50 ratio of butter to shortening and tint it black with gel colors that are made for tinting icing. I use the Wilton brand gel coloring. If you are in a humid area, it may help to bring the cake to room temp in a cardboard cake box. I hope these tips help you out 🙂

  14. Kayla says

    I was wanting to do this tonight for my friends birthday and I was wondering if when you use the paper towel does it smear the black I’m scared of that happening

    • Renee says

      Hi Kayla. It will not smear the black outline if you use a crusting buttercream recipe like the one I reference in this post. If you have an untested recipe, perhaps you could gently test a small area first to be safe.

  15. MotherSquid says

    Hello & Thanks for the well made tutorial! Does the color ever run as the transfer thaws? I live in Sanford, Florida (like another person on your team) and the heat & humidity sometimes makes cakes sweat.

    • Renee says

      Hi. I’ve used this method during the summer months in New jersey, which can also get quite hot and humid. I can vouch for Peggy’s buttercream recipe that I link to here. It is amazing in all types of weather. I tint all of the icing myself with Wilton gel icing colors. Some people use the premade tubes of black icing for the outline, which may be an issue with running. I store my buttercream cakes in my refrigerator in a cake box until delivery or party time. The cake box helps to absorb moisture during temperature changes. I’d suggest you do a small trial and test it out in your climate before using the method for a paid order. Let me know how it goes! 🙂

  16. Tina says

    Just made a cake using this method and it turned out wonderfully! It was a little sketchy there for a minute when I first turned the frozen transfer onto the cake. I was doubtful that the viva paper towel could remove all the swirls and lines; and when the icing started to thaw it was sweating a lot, so I wasn’t sure if it would crust well enough to use the paper towel. But after thawing on the counter for 30 minutes or so, then sticking it back in the fridge for about 15, the paper towel did the trick.

  17. Katie says

    Im attempting this over the weekend for my son’s party on 06-08. Will it still be okay if I freeze it for a week? well 6 days to be exact?

  18. Enza says

    Hi I love your tutorial….my question is if we’re not able to get Viva paper towels, what else can we use to smooth out the buttercream? thank you

  19. says

    What a great idea to do the background big enough to cover the top of the cake. I haven’t seen it done that way, but it totally makes it seamless.

  20. Michelle says

    Thanks Renee! I actually do all that you suggested. I will try to leave it in the freezer a tad longer and see if that helps. I guess practice practice practice! 😉 Thanks for you help!

  21. Michelle says

    I have a question for you Renee. I have done this method a few times and have had one common problem with all of them. When I peel the parchment paper off it tends to peel the outlines off. I go straight from the freezer to the cake to ensure that it hasn’t started to thaw, and I go slow and steady. What could be going wrong? I love the variety this method gives me, I just can’t seem to get them on the cake completely! 🙁

    • Renee says

      Hi Michelle..sorry to hear that. How frustrating after your hard work! I’ll make a few suggestions that will hopefully help. Make your own buttercream with the suggested butter and shortening ratios. Don’t use store bought types. Also use parchment paper not wax paper. And finally let it freeze for a long time perhaps six hours. I hope that one of these will solve your problem.

  22. Ellen says

    I’ve always wondered how to do this. Thanks for the clear instructions; I can’t wait to try it. Just curious… do you think crusting buttercream (the 50-50 shortening/butter recipe) should be refrigerated? It tastes so much better at room temp but should it be stored cold? I’ve always wondered… thanks very much!

    • Renee says

      Great question Ellen. I store my buttercream cakes in the fridge to be on the safe side since they have butter and heavy cream in the icing. Then i take them out at least an hour before serving time so they can some to room temperature. I’m sure they could be out quite a bit longer than that if you wanted to display a cake at a party. Good luck trying the method!

  23. says

    Fantastic post and i wonder how does make Corrie her cakes! Yours is beautiful so much! I’ll must trained on this technique! Thank you again Luise!!

  24. Saranya says

    Hi Renee, Loved this method. Works great. Cant wait to try it soon. I have a question, Can I use any other paper towels instead of Viva?????????
    Thanks 🙂

    • Renee says

      Hi Saranya. I’ve never tried any type besides Viva. I think they work well because they have no pattern. I have heard that people also use copy paper to smooth crusted buttercream so that might be worth a try? Good luck.

  25. Donndarae says

    You did a great job Renee. The tutorial was easy to follow and the cake looks awesome. If I wanted to cover my cake in fondant, would it be better to use the chocolate transfer method or this method?

    • Renee says

      Thanks Donndarae. I don’t think you can put a FBCT on a fondant covered cake. For that I would suggest fondant or chocolate embellishments 🙂

  26. Yolanda says

    Excellent tutorial! I’ve done FBCTs before the viva paper towel at the end seems to make a HUGE difference!

    • Renee says

      Yes! I’m so greatful to CorrieCakes for sharing that tip. i had no idea it would work until I read it on her page 🙂

    • Renee Daly says

      Thanks Rose! I was definitely trying my hardest to get clean lines for the sake of the tutorial…plus Corrie’s tip about Viva helped to refine the FBCT. I love all of your cakes!

    • Renee says

      Thank you. Yes, give it a try! Start with a simple image the first time to get the hang of it. Good luck.

  27. Daysee says

    Wow…this is the best example of the technique I’ve ever seen, it’s so clean and neat.
    Thank you for the incredibly easy to follow instructions!

    • Renee says

      Thanks Melissa. OMG..I think I’ve tried that gel icing transfer with dismal results now that you bring it up. Yes, this works better for me 🙂

  28. Dora Moreno says

    I love this method, especially because I frost with whipped cream and you can’t use fondant designs on whipped cream. My customers love it, thanks!

  29. Barbara Clark says

    You are so super for sharing all these great ideas. Thank you so much, can’t wait to try this.

  30. Ana says

    You read my mind! I was just looking up how to do a buttercream transfer! Perfect timing! Thank you! <3

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