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How to Make a Layer Cake


If you’ve ever wondered How to Make a Layer Cake, today is your day! With this quick and easy tutorial, I show you how to build the perfect double-layer cake, from preparing the pans to leveling your cakes to frosting the layers. Plus, more helpful cake-making tips and tricks.

The Beginner’s Guide to Making Layer Cakes

It probably comes as no surprise, but I absolutely love making layer cakes. It’s a labor of love, but there’s no better feeling than enjoying the end result with family and friends. There’s something so satisfying about presenting a perfect, beautifully frosted cake. 

Of course, I didn’t get here overnight. My journey started with cake decorating classes over 10 years ago and continues every day. It’s taken many (many) years of practice and many (many) successes and failures. The good news is, I picked up loads of tips and tricks along the way. The better news is, I can share them with you!

Whether you’re a beginner baker, or simply looking to brush up on your layering skills, I can’t wait for you to try out this step-by-step tutorial on how to make a layer cake. I break everything down so that you can follow along, and ace each step as you go. 

Without further adieu, let Layer Cake 101 commence!


Layer Cake Terminology

To begin, let’s take a look at some of the terms associated with cakes and layer cakes. What are the different parts of a cake? What on earth does “torting” mean? There’s a lot of terminology floating around in the cake-making and decorating world. But don’t worry, I’ll keep it simple.

For the purpose of this tutorial, here are the main terms we’ll be using:

Cake Layers: These are the baked layers inside a cake. You’ll find that most layer cakes have anywhere between 2-6 layers. These layers can also be sliced in half (called “torting”, see below) to create thinner layers, which are filled and frosted. 

Dome: A dome is created when the edges of a cake bake faster than the middle, which causes the center of the cake to rise into a dome. These domes are trimmed off before you stack your cake. I share my tips on ways to keep your cakes from doming further on, as well as how to trim them so that your layers are level.

Torting: Torting is slicing a cake layer in half to create more layers. It also refers to leveling off the dome on top of each cake layer so that the layers stack more evenly.

Filling: Filling is what goes between the cake layers. Cakes can be filled with frosting (like in this tutorial), mousse, ganache, whipped cream, fruit preserves, custard, and more.

Frosting: Aside from being used as a filling, buttercream frosting is used to decorate the outside top and sides of the cake. Frosting can be spread, smoothed, piped, etc.


Step 1: Prepare the Pans for Baking

Alright, it’s time to get this layer cake show on the road! First things first: getting your pans ready. Here’s how to prepare your cake pans for the oven:

Grease and flour your pans. Use your hands to generously grease and flour the bottoms and sides of the pans. This helps to prevent the cake from sticking, along with lining the pans with parchment paper or silicone mats, see the next point. You can use cooking spray or shortening (like Crisco vegetable spread) to grease, and regular all-purpose flour.

Line the pans. Place parchment circles or round silicone baking mats into the bottom of each cake pan. This is extra insurance against the cakes sticking to the bottom of the pans, and it makes it much easier to remove the cakes once they’re baked.

Wrap with bake-even strips. This step is optional, but I love using these cake strips to help the cake layers bake more evenly, with minimal doming. 

Note that the bake-even strips should be wet when applied to the outside edge of the pan. Alternatively, you can line the outside of the cake pans with a double layer of foil if you’d like.


Baking times are affected by the type of pans used. Darker pans tend to bake faster than lighter metal pans, and as a result, the edges and bottom of a cake will brown more quickly.

Not all ovens bake the same. Getting acquainted with yours is your best bet to achieve consistent results when baking. This is true for any baked goods, not just cake! For instance, if you have a hot spot, you might want to rotate the pans in the oven halfway through baking to ensure that the layers bake evenly.

Measure out the batter. You may also notice that not all of your layers will bake for the same amount of time. This is usually because the pans are not evenly filled (we are human, after all). An easy tip is to use a measuring cup when adding the liquid batter to each pan.

Set your timer for the minimum time suggested. It’s always better to err on the side of caution! Check your cake, and add additional minutes as needed.

Step 3: Leveling the Cake Layers

If your cake layers have domes when they come out of the oven, you’ll want to level (tort) them once they’ve cooled completely. Torting, as explained earlier, is slicing or trimming a cake layer to either divide it into thinner layers or, in this case, to even out the top.

Leveling the cakes prevents the layers from slipping and sliding around when stacked. I have a handy cake level tool that helps ensure the layers are even. Otherwise, use a serrated knife to trim away the domes. Here’s how to easily level a layer cake:

Get at eye level with your cake. Position your cake level or knife where the dome begins to rise up from the cake. 

Trim. Use your knife to gently cut into the cake horizontally, until your knife reaches about 1 inch from the edge. Then, rotate the cake slightly, and repeat, working your way around the cake and towards the center. If you have a cake level, you can usually use it to cut straight through.

Once the dome is loose, saw through the middle. If you’re not assembling your layer cake right away, I recommend leaving the loose dome in place or wrapping the cake layers in plastic wrap to retain moisture.

Step 4: Assembling and Frosting a Layer Cake

Once your cakes are baked, cooled, and leveled, it’s time to frost. The key to building a stable layer is evenly frosted layers and using the right frosting. 

There are hundreds of frosting variations out there, and you’ll come to learn which ones work better than others. I have an easy guide for How to Make Buttercream that pipes perfectly and holds its shape. Below are some more basic frosting recipes that are easy to make and work well in layer cakes:


Overhead view of the first vanilla cake layer topped with a smoothed-out layer of vanilla frosting.

The second vanilla cake layer added over top of the first frosted cake layer of a double-layer cake.

Filling the Gaps and Adding a Crumb Coat
Stand back, and admire your handiwork.

Your layer cake is taking shape! You’ll notice some gaps or spaces between the layers, and that’s totally normal. This next step is where we’ll fix them and prepare the layer cake for frosting with a crumb coat.

What is a crumb coat? A crumb coat is a thin coat of frosting added to the cake before it’s frosted fully. This crumb coat picks up any loose crumbs so that they don’t get mixed into the final layer of frosting. It’s optional, but I always recommend it. Here’s how to make one: 

Fill. Using your piping tip, pipe frosting into any gaps that remain between the cake layers.

Coat. Use an angled spatula to scrape a thin layer of excess frosting lightly around the sides of the cake to create the crumb coat. You don’t have to be too precious here, as this is really just the “underwear” for your actual frosting!

Chill. Refrigerate the cake for 5-10 minutes, so that the crumb coat can set.



A slice of frosted layer cake decorated with frosting swirls and rainbow sprinkles on a white plate next to a fork.
Vanilla Layer Cake Recipe
★★★★★

5 from 2 reviews

Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 60 minutes Yield: 12 slices
Description
Learn How to Make a Layer Cake with this easy step-by-step tutorial. Everything you need to know, from preparing the pans to leveling the cakes, frosting the layers, and more helpful tips. Follow the directions for my favorite vanilla layer cake below!


Ingredients

For the cake:

2 cups (380g) granulated sugar
½ cup (118 ml) vegetable oil
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon (14.8 ml) pure vanilla extract
½ cup (118 ml) light sour cream, at room temperature
2 ½ cups (350 g) all-purpose flour, sifted 
3 teaspoons (11.2 g) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
1 ¼ cups (296 ml) milk, at room temperature

For the frosting

1 1/2 cup (339 g) unsalted butter, cold.
5 cups (650 g) powdered sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (30ml) heavy whipping cream (or milk)

Instructions


FOR THE CAKE: 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare two 8-inch round baking pans, line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the sides. Prepare your bake even strips if desired.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until well incorporated. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Next mix in the sour cream and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl combine the remaining dry ingredients and sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add half the dry ingredients, and half the milk, and beat on low speed just until the flour starts to incorporate. Repeat until all ingredients are added and combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir the batter from the bottom to the top to ensure it’s well mixed.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans, about 2 1/2 cups per each pan. Bake at 350°F for 28-32 minutes. Test the cake for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

FOR THE FROSTING: 

Cut butter into pieces. Using the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Beat until the butter looks light in color.

Add the powdered sugar 2 cups at a time, alternating in the liquid ingredients (heavy cream and vanilla). Mix on low speed until incorporated into butter then add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Beat for about 60-90 seconds before adding additional powdered sugar.

Once all the ingredients have been added, increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes to whip additional air into the frosting.

TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE

Use a cake leveler to cut the domes off the top of the cake. Place a dollop of frosting on your cake board and place the bottom layer of cake on top of that.

Place about 2 cups of frosting in a large piping bag fitted with a large open round tip, or simply cut off the end of the piping bag. Pipe a layer of frosting on top of the cake, starting at the outside edge and working your way into the middle. Spread evenly with an offset spatula. Place the next layer on top.

Use your piping bag to fill in any gaps between your layers and to create a crumb coat. Using an offset spatula or icing smoother, wipe away the excess frosting, leaving you just enough to coat the outside of the cake. Do not mix your crumb-coating frosting back into your icing if it has cake debris in it.

Proceed to frost the top and sides of the cake using your offset spatula. Once the sides of the cake are covered, use you icing smoother to remove any excess frosting.

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