Before you ice your cake, you want to make it as perfectly shaped as possible, both for ease of icing and appearances.
Use a sharp serrated knife to trim the domed top from the cake. For a really smooth surface with sharp corners, turn the cake upside down and use the smooth base as the top of the cake.
Use a sharp knife to cut away the domed top from the cake and give a flat surface
Before you start, plug any holes in the cake with small pieces of icing.
Cakes that are to be covered with either almond icing or soft icing need to be as smooth as possible, especially fruit cakes. Before you start, plug any holes or gaps in the cake with small pieces of icing. Both almond icing and soft icing (known as ready-roll fondant in the UK) can be bought in packets or made from the recipes on these pages. Bear in mind that the homemade almond icing contains raw egg yolk, so can't be kept as long as packet icing. It also has a slightly grainier texture than packet icing.
Brush the cake lightly with sieved apricot jam to make the icing stick to the cake. Roll out the icing, on a surface dusted with icing sugar, large enough to fit the cake. Roll onto the rolling pin, then onto the cake.
If you are using more than one layer of icing (often cakes are decorated with almond icing, then a layer of soft icing on top), leave the first layer to dry for about 24 hours before applying the next. Brush the dried icing lightly with a little lightly beaten egg white to make the next layer stick, then roll out the icing and cover the cake as before. Leave to dry for about 48 hours.
Always keep icings covered with plastic wrap until you are ready to use, to prevent them drying out and forming a crust. If you are coloring your icing, use a toothpick to add the food coloring drop by drop. Pastel tones are more appealing than overly bright cakes.
When using a spreadable icing, such as a ganache or buttercream, to avoid crumbs in the icing, apply a thin 'undercoat' to the cake first, then spread the rest over the top.