Glacier-Inspired Ombre Painted Buttercream Cake & Isomalt Ice Tutorial

buttercream painted glacier inspired cake with palette knife painting tehcniques and isomalt sugar sail

Nothing inspires me more than a gorgeous nature scene. Especially in the winter, I find myself captivated by all of the beauty surrounding us. So this week, I’m sharing with you a wintery ombre painted buttercream cake, inspired by stunning Alaskan glaciers.

While reminiscing on old photos from vacations past, I stopped mid-scroll, in awe of the strikingly pristine ice masses, emerging out of the bluest blue water I’ve ever seen. I tried my best to imitate the deep hues of water and sky, but in buttercream form, of course. So, in this tutorial, I’ll show you how to do just that!

Then, as the piece de resistance, we’ll add some isomalt sugar shards on top of the cake. After all, what’s a glacier cake without ice?! I’ll share with you the tips to working with isomalt so you can utilize this eye-catching decoration method for yourself!

First things first, check out my 45-second time-lapse decorating tutorial video. Then, pay close attention to the palette knife cake painting and isomalt sugar tutorial sections. Finally, near the bottom, I’ll share with you some of my favorite winter cake recipes, including the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate recipe I used in this glacier-inspired cake.

buttercream painted glacier inspired cake with palette knife painting tehcniques and isomalt sugar sail

Ombre Painted Buttercream Cake Time-Lapse Video

If a photo is worth one thousand words, what’s the value of a video? For a visual depiction of the ombre buttercream painting process, check out this 45-second time-lapse video!

If only the process actually took 45-seconds in real life! LOL!

Palette Knife Cake Painting & Isomalt Ice Tutorials

I’ve practiced these cake decorating techniques quite a few times in order to share with you the most helpful and effective advice. That way, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did the first time around!

I’ve included links to the materials you’ll need for easy shopping and reference, some of which are affiliate links. See my disclosure below for full affiliate information.

Buttercream Painting Method & Tips

Materials Needed:

  • Your favorite buttercream recipe (I’ve linked mine below in the Cake Recipes section)
  • A chilled, crumb-coated cake (I discuss how to do this in all of my Cake Recipes tutorials)
  • A plate or Tupperware lid to use as a painter’s palette
  • Food coloring gels (I only use Wilton or Americolor gel-based color, not water, for better pigmentation and more vivid results)
  • Tapered offset spatula (if you have a pointed fondant tool like the one from this set, you can use that)

buttercream painted glacier inspired cake with palette knife painting tehcniques and isomalt sugar sail


I like to begin any cake painting project by first sketching out my plan on paper or my iPad. This not only helps me to gain a feel for the artistic techniques I’ll use on the cake but also acts as a “rough draft” to test out the look of the design. Once I’m satisfied with and confident about the drawing, I set it near my cake decorating workspace for easy reference.

Next, I plan out my “painter’s palette.” This basically entails spooning some plain buttercream onto a plate and mixing my main colors. As with any gel food coloring application, I like to use a toothpick to add just a touch of color, mixing gently until achieving the desired results.

Tip: To create an ombre scheme, in addition to white and black, mix three shades of blue for the middle of the spectrum – light, medium, and dark. You can blend the edges of these colors on the palette to further smooth the ombre effect, and create virtually every variation of blue.

Then, it’s time to begin painting! Gently holding the palette knife/spatula, scoop some of the darkest shade of buttercream. Press the “paint” onto the bottom of the cake, dragging the knife slightly before pulling it up and off of the cake. Repeat the process again, each time starting from where you last released the spatula until your line of paint “splotches” meets your liking. I only decorated a portion of my cake, choosing to leave some smooth, bright buttercream around the edges for contrast, but feel free to cover more or all of your cake in this method!

buttercream painted glacier inspired cake with palette knife painting tehcniques and isomalt sugar sail

Adjust your paint colors as you go, mixing on the palette to create each perfect shade. Once your design is finished, use your palette knife to smooth any too-rough textures that seem out of place. I preferred to feather out the sides of the color to create a faded effect onto the white buttercream. To replicate this look, simply swipe your clean palette knife over the edge of the color and onto the white buttercream, pulling out and away from the color. Don’t forget to wipe your spatula every so often, especially when transitioning from drastic colors; otherwise, you can muddle the ombre effect.

And, just like that, the ombre buttercream painted portion of this ombre buttercream painted cake is complete! To see another tutorial, example, and video of the palette knife buttercream painting technique, check out my Winter Mountain Scene Cake, here!

Isomalt Sugar Method & Tips

Materials Needed:

isomalt ice isomalt sail isomalt glass


Begin by melting your isomalt according to package directions. For precooked isomalt nibs, the process usually entails microwaving in twenty-second intervals until liquid.

Warning: Use EXTREME caution when working with isomalt. This beet-based sugar substitute is preferred by culinary artists for its amazing sculptability and beautiful glass-like properties when dried. However, in order to create such a stunning final product, the melted sugar becomes extremely hot! Plus, it’s ultra-sticky. So even the smallest amount of isomalt can cause second- and third-degree burns. ALWAYS use heat-proof gloves, or at least oven mitts, when working with isomalt, and exercise extreme caution when transporting, mixing, and pouring it.

Next, place a piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet, and pour the isomalt on top. Let it spread into a somewhat thin, large circle. Don’t fret if the shape isn’t exact – it doesn’t matter. Then, let the isomalt dry naturally for 20-30 minutes.

Once the sugar has hardened and is cool (or room-temperature), gently break it by dropping it onto the baking sheet from a few inches in the air. If that doesn’t work, use your kitchen knife to carefully make a cut down the middle. The sugar should crack into big shards. Make a few more cuts to create some smaller pieces, if necessary.

isomalt sugar shards isomalt glass isomalt ice sails

Be careful when handling the sugar shards – though they aren’t actually glass, the edges can feel like it! Gently place a few of the large shards onto the top of your cake.

Tip: Handle the isomalt pieces as little as possible to avoid muddling the shiny finish with fingerprints. Gently hold the pieces on a smooth edge, or, for more precision, use kitchen tongs or tweezers!

I like to place a massive, eye-catching piece of isomalt in the center, then artfully arrange some medium-sized pieces around it. Don’t use small isomalt shards in the cake as they could cut someone’s mouth if they take a big bite, unaware of the crunchy candy decor. However, isomalt is edible and tastes basically like an unflavored sugar-lollipop. (Though, another warning: isomalt, when consumed in large quantities, can cause some unwanted gastrointestinal distress in sensitive tummies.)

buttercream painted glacier inspired cake with palette knife painting tehcniques and isomalt sugar sail

If you’d like, you can use food coloring gels to tint the isomalt when it’s in a melted state. Check out this penguin ice-skating cake where I used isomalt sugar to create a frozen pond for some adorable fondant friends!

The Best Winter Cake Recipes

For this ombre painted buttercream cake, I used my Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Cake recipe. Click here to check it out! Comprised of a soft “hot chocolate” cake sponge, and layered with ultra-creamy salted American buttercream, this cake is the epitome of a cozy winter treat! Plus, I like to add honey nuts in between each layer for an extra crunchy textural element.

Since I’ve been in such a wintery mood, I also created this Peppermint Hot Chocolate Cake recipe. This festive cake features a deliciously creamy chocolate ganache and crushed peppermint candies between each sweet chocolate cake layer. Then, it’s finished off with an amazingly light and marshmallowy swiss meringue buttercream. This cake really tastes like a steaming mug of peppermint hot chocolate – but cakeified.

I’ve compiled a full index of delicious and simple cake recipes here – ready for browsing (and drooling.)

Time To Head To The Kitchen!

So, what are you waiting for? With these tips and recipes, you’re well on your way to creating a beautiful and delicious ombre buttercream painted cake! Don’t be afraid to get creative; use these techniques, and a little imagination, to create something wildly wonderful!

Speaking of which, don’t forget to find me on Instagram and tag me in any photos you post of your culinary creation! I love to see what you bake!

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Bye! Talk soon!


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