When Rachel asked me to do a short tutorial on a layer cake, I wasn’t really sure how to go about it. So, here we have a single blog post, with tips and tricks for baking a gorgeous layer cake.
I decided to use Magnolia Kitchen’s red velvet recipe. Bets is one of my favorite bakers and she really nailed this recipe! Not sponsored, but you should absolutely order her book and follow her on social media…they will both make you drool!
Tip: I always start a recipe by measuring out the ingredients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a recipe and realized I was out of milk or eggs or vanilla extract (okay, only a handful, but still). Don’t risk it. Added bonus – you will be able to transition step to step without having to stop, measure, find your place, accidentally skip a step…
I proceeded to follow Bets’ recipe. Lots of slow speed mixing, then some medium speed mixing, then more slow. She even throws in a fun science-y bit with apple cider vinegar and baking soda. I really love her writing style throughout this book! I really don’t have any tips for this part. Buy high-quality ingredients, measure carefully, and take your time.
Once you get everything mixed, it’s time to prep your pans. I always spray whatever pan I’m using (in this case some 6″ rounds) with cake release spray, then put parchment paper along the bottom, and then give it a quick spritz again with the spray. Nothing is worse than a layer that sticks to the pans!
I always either scoop my batter with a dough scoop or weigh each pan as I fill it. This will help make sure all of your layers come out roughly the same size AND that each layer will bake in the same amount of time.
After getting the batter in the pans, it’s time to get baking! I always make sure to set my timer for just under whatever the recipe calls for. Every oven is different, and I’d rather have to add a few minutes than have an over baked layer! Also, I highly recommend grabbing an oven thermometer! I keep an extra baking sheet in the bottom of my oven to catch any drips (I’m trying to keep that “new” feel as long as I can).
Once your cakes have baked, it’s time to play the waiting game. I always let my cakes cool in their pans for about ten minutes before moving them to wire racks to cool completely.
While I had some time to kill, I decided I wanted to try out the chocolate brush strokes I’ve been seeing all over social media. I started with some white chocolate melts that I spooned onto my baking sheets and then brushed with a damp paintbrush. Easy peasy! By the time I finished making these and set them aside to harden, my cakes had cooled and I could begin leveling the layers. I ALWAYS level my layers. I find it impossible to stack and fill a cake if you leave them uneven and I have never had luck with those baking strips that go around pans to keep them level. I prefer to level with a leveling tool but have also done it with a knife and a ruler in a pinch (shoutout to Yolanda Gampp at How To Cake It for teaching me this). I set all of the layers aside and pick the shortest one (they should all be very close) and then set the leveler to whatever level I want to trim the layers down to. Using a sawing motion I move it through the cake and off comes the tops! There are crumbs everywhere, but you are left with level cakes and some scraps for snacking (or cake pops).
Now that the layers are level, it’s time for the frosting! I use a turntable to ice most cakes, so that is the route I will work through here! If you are aiming for a naked look, simply do a thin crumb coat and a thin final coat of buttercream if needed. Here, I’m doing a white chocolate ganache crumbcoat and a vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream frosting for a more covered look (and loads of flavor). To start, make sure you have a cake disc (both cardboard or acrylic are fine) secured to your turntable. I’ve seen people use shelf liner to hold everything in but in a pinch I use my silicone trivets. Next, go ahead and put a dollop of the ganache (or buttercream) on the cake board and set your first layer on top. I try to center everything on the turntable. Add a dollop of ganache or buttercream to the top of the layer and then while rotating the turntable, use an offset spatula to even it out. It’s perfectly fine if some of ganache goes over the edge. Then, stack your next layer and repeat! I decided to use 3 of my 4 prepped layers since I planned to use the fourth to make cakepops later. Once you have all of the layers stacked and straight, crumbcoat the entire cake with a light coating of your ganache or frosting and then move it into the fridge to chill for 10 to 15 minutes.
After your cake is nice and chilled you can add a final layer of frosting. I went with Magnolia Kitchen’s Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream since I wasn’t really feeling a cream cheese vibe with this cake. Plus, I wanted to try a new frosting recipe that was less sweet so the cake would be the star of the show. I am using cardboard rounds for this process but acrylic cake discs work wonders and are reusable, so I highly recommend grabbing some! They come in a variety of sizes so it’s easy to get the “thickness” of frosting you are after. I prefer a little less frosting, so the cardboard discs will work fine for this particular bake.
Place a dollop of frosting on the top of your cake and then spin while you smooth. Set a cake disc on top of the frosting and using a straight edge (scraper, ruler, etc.), make sure that your top disc and bottom disc are in alignment (ideally with the cake centered in between the two). Now the fun part – glob icing onto your cake, making sure that you have an excess of frosting on the sides of your cake. Once your layers are good and covered, grab your scraper (I use a cheap plastic one from amazon but there are some great acrylic and metal options out there as well) and line up your scraper edge with your cake discs. Carefully (and slowly) continuously spin your turntable while you have the scraper against both discs to achieve a smooth finish. You might have to go back in and add frosting here and there to get it completely smooth, so don’t fret if it takes a few rounds.
Now is the tricky part – very carefully remove your top cake disc and smooth your frosting. You might have to *lightly* redefine your top edge with an offset spatula to get a very crisp, clean look (I have not perfected this, but I’m getting there). After this, you are set to decorate! While my buttercream was still soft, I applied the chocolate brush strokes and voila ~ a completed cake was born!
And, just for fun, a few other layer cakes I’ve made recently!