Fear of layer cake failure can make even the best of us opt for making a safe, one-story sheetcake instead of a gorgeous 3-layer-cake. Don’t settle! Anybody can make a perfect 3-layer-cake, and here are some easy tricks that make all the difference between a final product that’s lumpy & lopsided, or perfectly stacked as if from a fancy bakery case.
For my cake, which is a birthday cake I’m baking for myself (no one makes birthday cakes for moms, people! And I refuse to go birthday cake-less!) I’m using my favorite white cake recipe, a moist and slightly almond-y cake that reminds me of the kind of cake they serve at expensive weddings. The recipe is not my own – here’s a link to it on Heidi Bakes. Yum. The frosting I like to use is this recipe – except I substitute butter for the shortening. And I’m using cherry preserves in between the layers of cake.
Perfect 3-Layer Cake Tip #1
Use Parchment paper circles in your cake pans.
The biggest disaster that can happen to your cake is that the cake doesn’t come out cleanly from its pan after baking. In addition to generously greasing AND flouring your cake pans, cut a parchment paper circle to fit the bottom of the pan and put it in before you pour in the batter.
Perfect 3-Layer Cake Tip #2
Flip the cakes upside down to cool.
After your cakes bake they’ll have a slight dome shape on the top, and that’s trouble for stacking them up neatly. So as soon as your cakes come out of the oven, flip them over to cool upside down on some parchment paper. Their own weight will flatten out the dome.
Perfect 3-Layer Cake Tip #3
Consider using something between layers besides frosting.
Fancy cakes often have fruit filling between the layers for that extra “wow” factor. But it’s actually easier to do a fruit filling than a frosting one! You can make the fruit filling from scratch if you’d like, but a high-quality, low sugar jam (not jelly) is just as great. Spread it on nice and thick between each layer. The jam will slightly soak into the cake, making a delicious, moist fruit layer. Sure, you can just use more of the same frosting between your layers. But it’s 1- a bit boring, 2- more likely to slide around and cause a cake collapse and 3- can end up making the whole cake taste “too sweet” (yes there is such a thing!)
Perfect 3-Layer Cake Tip #4
When it’s time to frost, start with a crumb coat.
Nothing makes a cake look unprofessional and un-pretty like a bunch of crumbs all mixed in with the frosting. And once those crumbs break loose, it’s almost impossible to keep them from spreading everywhere in your frosting.
A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that catches and seals in all those crumbs, before your second coat of frosting hides them all. Begin frosting with a huge mound of frosting on top of your cake. Use a spatula to spread it over the top, down and around the sides. Let that layer of icing set for about 30 minutes before adding another thick layer, covering all your messes (including excess jam messes, like I’ve got going on!)
If you’re frosting your cake on the same plate you’ll serve it on, tuck pieces of wax paper all around the base of the cake. They’ll protect the serving plate from getting frosting all over it, and when you’re done frosting you can just pull them all out and the cake will be on a perfectly clean plate, ready to go.
Perfect 3-Layer Cake Tip #5
Use the right tools.
No matter how delicious your cake is, or how carefully you follow the instructions for assembling it, if you don’t have the right tools you’re fighting an uphill battle to get it to turn out okay. Three things that I would recommend buying if you plan on making your own layer cakes are a cake lifter, rotating cake stand, and a frosting smoother/comb for easily making textures/stripes on the sides.
As you can see from the pictures, frosting decorating is not my specialty. Which is a bit sad because when I was 12 I decided I definitely, definitely wanted to be a professional cake decorator when I grew up. Boy was I way off.
But on the bright side, there are some awesome no-frosting cake decorating ideas I’ll share in my next blog!