Today I’m sharing my favorite baking tips for layer cakes. If you’re new to baking layer cakes, or even if you’ve been making them for a while, I think you’ll find a tip or two that can make baking layer cakes easier.
I’ve made several fun cakes for my grandsons’ birthdays over the last few years. During those years, my beautiful daughter’s become a very good baker. So I decided it was time to turn the cake baking duties over to her.
But before I did, she wanted to know my tips and tricks for baking layer cakes. Those things I just do automatically without thinking about it. Things that aren’t in the recipe.
She wrote up the questions and I answered them while we made the cake layers together; then she took the layers home and decorated the cake. She then emailed me the questions and answers so I could do a post. Then she’d have easy access to them for future reference, and I could share the tips with my Barbara Bakes readers.
Baking Tips for Layer Cakes
What do I need to know to get started?
- Before baking, use the pans to trace a circle onto the parchment paper, then cut the parchment so that the circles will fit in the pan. Spray the bottom and sides of the pan with nonstick spray, then put the parchment inside.
- Have your ingredients at room temperature.
- To get even layers, I weigh the batter on my digital scale.
How do I know when my cake is done?
- The cake is done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, and when you gently touch the middle of the cake, it should feel firm but bounce back.
- To avoid overcooking your cake, stay in the kitchen while your cake’s baking. With practice, you can actually smell when your cakes are done baking.
Any tips for taking them out of the pan?
- When you take the cake layers out of the oven, let them cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.
- The cake has probably already pulled away from the edges, but just in case it hasn’t, loosen the edges with a butter knife or a thin spatula.
- Place a cooling rack upside down on the top of the cake pan, then use two hot pads to grab the sides of the cake pan and the cooling rack at the same time, and in a smooth motion flip them upside down. The cake should fall onto the cooling rack.
- If the cake layer doesn’t fall on to the rack, flip the entire thing back over and use your thin spatula to gently lift the areas where it seems to be stuck.
- The cake will be upside down. Peel the parchment paper off, then put another cooling rack on top of the upside-down cake, then gently flip it over.
How early can I make the cakes in advance?
- I recommend freezing your cakes before decorating them. They’re firmer and easier to work with. As a bonus, if you choose to freeze them, you can make them up to two or three weeks in advance.
If I bake them at night after the kids are in bed, do I just cover them with a towel while they cool and then take care of them in the morning?
- You’ll get the best results if you stay up until they’ve cooled. Cakes cool pretty quickly—it should be cool within an hour.
Do I freeze or refrigerate the cakes after I’m done baking?
- You cool it completely on the rack. I like to put the parchment round I peeled off back on the cake and then flip it back over so the cake doesn’t stick to the wire rack. Then freeze uncovered on the wire rack.
- Once the cakes are frozen solid, remove from the freezer and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
How long do I need to thaw the layers before working with them?
- You actually don’t need to thaw the layers before you work with them—the cake will thaw really quickly and they’ll be easier to work with while frozen. Note: If you’re frosting with buttercream thaw first. A reader commented “I worked in a bakery and the cakes came in frozen. If I frosted them before they had thawed, the icing would crack as the cake thawed. The cake expands as it thaws causing the buttercream to crack.
I know you use a little thing under the cake while you frost it—what is that called?
- It’s called a cake round. I don’t always use them unless I’m going to have to transport it in a cake box to another location. You can buy them at a kitchen supply store, or I’ve even seen some in the baking section at Walmart.
- If you’re not transporting it, I like to place the cake on my cake stand with six little strips of parchment tucked under the edges of the bottom layer on the cake stand to catch any frosting that may drip down and keep the stand clean. Remove these papers once you’re done frosting. You can use a thin spatula to keep the frosting from pulling away when you remove the papers.
How do I place the middle layer of cream cheese/frosting on so that it doesn’t ooze out from the sides when the top is put on?
- Your filling has to be thick enough so that it doesn’t ooze. Spread the frosting almost to the edge, then place the layer on the cake and very gently press on the layer to push the filling just to the edge of the cake. If any does go beyond the edges of the cake, use a dry spatula to remove the excess or push the filling where it belongs.
How do I get the top layer on top of the cake without breaking it in half?
- Freezing it helps. If you don’t have time to freeze it, you can use a spatula to lift a tender cake. Most cakes will hold up to being moved just fine.
How do I frost it so it’s smooth on the outside?
- First, do a quick, thin layer of frosting to lock in the crumbs. This crumb layer will give you a smooth clean surface to work from.
- After you frost the crumb layer, place the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes or until the frosting is set to the touch. (The frosting will look like it has a hard coating on it.) Then remove from the fridge and quickly frost.
- Start on the top and place a big blob of frosting on top, then gently push the frosting in a circle in one direction, smoothing the frosting as you go. Don’t frost back and forth. Then place more frosting on and gently push the frosting over the sides. Work with a clean spatula—every so often, use a paper towel to wipe off the spatula. I prefer to use an offset spatula and a revolving cake stand to make this process a little easier.
What tips do you have for decorating it so the decorations stick to the frosting? What can I do if the frosting starts to dry before I finish decorating?
- You have to do it while the frosting’s still wet. As you’re decorating, you can usually wipe away a little frosting to make it sticky again.
What should I do with the cake once it’s done—do I leave it on the counter, or do I try to put it back in the refrigerator?
- It depends on your filling. If you have a filling that needs to be refrigerated (cream cheese fillings, pudding fillings with eggs in the ingredients), then it needs to go back in the fridge until about 30 minutes before you serve. Otherwise it’s fine to sit out on the counter, covered with a cake dome.
Any tips for actually cutting the cake??
- Always clean your cake knife between cuts.
- Warm the knife up under warm water, dry, cut, then rinse your knife again in the warm water, dry, and cut again.
Layer cake recipes you might like:
Triple Layer Chocolate Cake with a Coconut Cream Cheese Filling, Barbara Bakes
Chocolate Oreo Construction Cake, Barbara Bakes
Chocolate Cheesecake Cake, Barbara Bakes
Raspberry White Chocolate Layer Cake, Completely Delicious
The Best White Cake Recipe, Add a Pinch
Our cakes broke when trying to layer and then when frosting the tops rolled.The cake while still delicious was a huge mess!
Hi Amber – that is frustrating. Do you think they were overbaked or underbaked?
Use a cooling wet strip around the pan for a perfect Even ” flat” top surface every time. The middle will rise more evenly with the hotter edges. You can find a set in the baking aisle at most stores. Also try to “dip out” a little batter in the middle which will allow it to bake more evenly overall helping to prevent over baking and browning of the edges.
Thanks for sharing your tips Beth.
hi barbara, can you share the recipe you used for this cake? thank you
Hi Jessica – it’s this triple layer cake https://www.barbarabakes.com/triple-layer-chocolate-cake-coconut-cream-cheese-filling/ Enjoy!
I worked in a bakery and the cakes came in frozen. If I frosted them before they had thawed, the icing would crack as the cake thawed.
The cake expands as it thaws causing the buttercream to crack.
Thanks for sharing that Cindy – I rarely use buttercream so I haven’t had a problem. I’ll make a note of it.
can I cover this cake and the frosting with a fondant icing? I am trying to make a cake for a family friend and want to create it to look like a paint palete…I know very far fetched but was looking for the perfect 3/4 layer cake and yours came up tops
Hi Ruth! You can use any almost any kind of frosting underneath fondant, the important thing is the consistency of the frosting (too thin and it will squish out from under the weight of three fondant, and too thick you won’t be able to smooth it properly), getting the icing as smooth as possible with very few air bubbles and making sure that the outside layer of frosting isn’t too thick.
I crumb coat my cake, freeze it and then put a very thin layer of frosting on the cake. Then I immediately cover with fondant before your buttercream crusts (if the buttercream is American). If the buttercream does crust before you get the fondant on the cake just brush it with a little bit of water so the fondant will stick.
If you want the smoothest results, buttercream or chocolate ganache are the best options for underneath fondant!
Thanks Chelsey! Ruth – I asked my friend and neighbor, Chelsey to give you advice since I haven’t worked with fondant before. You can see Chelsey’s beautiful creations on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/chelseyscakesncookies/
Do you have any tips for actually layering the cake? I’ve been told to put some of the layers upside down to make it lay more evenly or flat, is that true?
Hi Andrea – Since the bottom of the cake is the flattest, you always put the cake right side up on the bottom. The top layer you can put upside down so the flattest part of the cake is on top. But if your layers bake up relatively flat, it doesn’t make too much if you flip the top one over or not.
Thanks for the great tips. My cakes always are very moist and taste great – but always look as if I put on cake plate with a spoon!
Glad they with helpful – thanks Toni!
Should your German chocolate cake be refrigerate? Also, how does the buttermilk affect the German chocolate cake as compared to the regular box mix?
Hi Brenda – I’ve always stored it covered on the counter and not in the refrigerator. The buttermilk is acidic and helps to tenderize the cake.
Do you bake 3 cake layers on top or middle shelf? Thanks!
Hi Gail – on the middle shelf if they’ll fit.
Hey, your tips are very useful. I want to know why my cake sides get a bit dry n hard when i keep it in fridge after layering the cake even after I soak them with sugar syrup ( I make naked cakes) and freezing the cake layers won’t make them hard..? Will the cake remain moist and soft even after freezing and thawing??
Are you overbaking your cakes perhaps? Freezing will keep them from drying out better than putting them in the fridge I’ve found.
I was wondering how big of a thing you should store a 3 layer cake in… Also I was wondering how do you cute your cake perfectly even and flat for stacking or if there is any other techniques I could use? -Thanks
Hi Lex – generally cake stand covers aren’t tall enough for three-layer cakes. So I’ll typically put it on my cake stand before decorating. Then after decorating, I’ll put toothpicks in the top (maybe three so the wrap doesn’t touch the cake) and cover it with plastic wrap. To level the top of a cake if it’s domed, I’ll use a long serrated knife making sure to keep the knife flat and just cut off the dome.
Hi! What can I do so my cake doesn’t rise unevenly in the over like a dome and then crack? How does your cake look so even? A friend told me that she ties a wet rack around the pan but my cake still raises like a dome. Thanks for your advice
Hi Maria – are you using boxed cake mixes or from scratch recipes? Often, just changing to a different recipe will help. Are you baking at altitude? If it’s cracking, you may need to reduce your cook time. Many people use these cake strips https://amzn.to/2VSB1DN to help keep cakes from doming.
Hi, I have a question. Would freezing and then thawing the cake alter its texture in any way? Because I’m going to try and bake a cake for my brother’s birthday (my first time baking a layer cake- send help!) in a few days and I don’t have much time to experiment with different techniques.
Hi Meghana – no, freezing and thawing doesn’t change the texture of the cake. It’s a great way to make baking a layer cake easier because you split up the work into several days. I’m sure you’ll do great!
Thank you 🙂
Wow. These are really great and useful tips. I am so glad I found your post as I will be making a layer cake for my daughter’s birthday tomorrow. I especially found weighing the cake batter to be a great nifty tip as I was worried about getting even layers.
Thanks a lot and keep up the great work.
I would like to know what to do when you have 3 layers of cake…you start putting icing on and the layers 2 and 3 start slipping and sliding. What can I do for it to come out being a pretty cake instead of a lopsided one.
Hi Denise – sounds like you need to thicken up the icing between the layers or use less icing between the layers. You can add more powdered sugar to the icing. You can put the iced layers in the fridge to firm up before icing the outside so you can adjust the layers and they won’t move around. On wedding cakes they’ll use dowels to secure the layers, but on a typically 2 or 3 layer that shouldn’t be necessary.
Pan and oven racks all ok. Could it be because i lined can tin one inch above the rim and when i cooked cake caused sides to become uneven. Cake almost looked like it collapsed on sides. Thank for you help
It is possible that as the cake tried to rise, the paper caused a problem. Try it without the paper on the sides and see if you get a better result.
Made this cake, lined the base of cake tin and around the sides with baking paper, can you tell me why did cake come out with uneven sides, almost wavey. I did line sides one inch above cake tin. Thanks for your help.
Are your oven racks even, or the pan dented perhaps?