How To Make a Perfect Layer Cake: Everything You Need to Know

Layer cakes are wonderful for so many occasions. Wondering how to get started or improve your technique? Learn to prepare the perfect layer cake with these tips and tricks! 

Layer cakes are wonderful for so many occasions. Wondering how to get started or improve your technique? Learn to prepare the perfect layer cake with these tips and tricks! 

Want to up your layer cake game? This post will offer extra guidance to help with my layer cake recipes, as well as many others you’ll find online! I’ll be covering equipment, how to get a perfect slice of cake, storage, and general tips.

For a more in depth look at buttercreams as well as how to troubleshoot meringue buttercream (my frosting of choice), check out my Buttercream Basics post. 

Equipment & Tools

Kitchen gear makes a huge difference. You can get away with not using all of these, but everything I’ve listed serves an important purpose. With the exception of the KitchenAid stand mixer, I’m not particular about the brands linked below. Disclosure: These are Amazon Affiliate links. 

KitchenAid Stand Mixer – This is worth the investment if you love to bake. I use the classic 4-1/2 quart model which is much cheaper than some of the newer models (and sturdier, I’ve heard). Mine is a 3rd generation hand-me-down. You can definitely get away with using an electric hand mixer for the cake, but not for meringue buttercreams.

Kitchen Scale – I’ve said it a million times, but it’s worth repeating: you need to weigh out flour. A cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 3 1/2 – 5 1/2 ounces depending on how you measure it. Layer cakes use quite a bit of flour; imagine how much those two ounces (multiplied) might impact your recipe!

8-inch Cake Pans – Other sizes are fine as well, but this is a great place to start if you’re building a kitchen arsenal. Don’t mix and match different brands if you’re making a double or triple layer cake; there will be subtle differences that may negatively impact your results. Pick something and purchase 3 of them.

Parchment Rounds – Pre-cut parchment rounds will ensure that your cake never gets stuck to the pan. I also use them with the cardboard rounds below to create a protective barrier against moisture. I strongly recommend using these.

Cardboard Cake Rounds – Since cakes need to be cooled completely before frosting, I often bake them 1-2 days in advance. Place the cakes on these rounds before wrapping in plastic to ensure they hold their shape. However, I mainly use these as a base on top of the revolving cake stand. The cake needs to be chilled before a final layer of buttercream is applied. The cardboard can easily be transferred between the revolving cake stand and the refrigerator. Use them with parchment rounds and you are set. Once again, I strongly recommend using these.

Revolving Cake Stand – I consider this an essential. It makes decorating and achieving flat, even layers much easier and faster. You can gently spin the cake while spreading buttercream with an offset spatula (see below), keeping an eye on all sides to make sure the lines are even.

Offset Spatula – The offset spatula is an essential for cake decorating. You use it to spread the buttercream evenly on the tops and sides of the cake. It’s also good for leveling out the cake batter before baking.

Cake Lifter – Truly an essential for transferring the cake from the revolving cake stand to a pretty display stand.

Large Sheet Pan – This is not essential, but it fits three cake pans and makes transferring them in and out of the oven at once a breeze.

Digital Thermometer – My recipes always call for a candy thermometer when making meringue buttercream, but I have a secret: I use a digital meat thermometer. I love a multitasking tool, and this gets the job done.

Serrated Bread Knife – Not an essential, but no matter how much you try to even out the batter, sometimes cakes aren’t level. When this happens, I use a serrated bread knife to carefully slice away excess cake to even out the top.

Baking Tips

  • As noted in the equipment section, it’s critical to weigh out your flour to ensure the cake bakes properly.
  • You can lightly grease the sides of the cake pan, but the key word is lightly. This is especially important if you’re using baking spray. Too much will cause the cake to pull away from the sides of the pan at the top, leading to uneven sides.
  • Allow the cake to cool before removing it from the pan. Then gently run an offset spatula or paring knife around the edges. Press a large plate, cardboard round, or a cooling rack covered with a dish towel against the top of the pan and invert everything, shaking gently until you feel the cake detach. Using those parchment rounds will make this entire process easy as…cake.
  • If your cakes are baking very quickly or very slowly compared with recipe instructions, you might need to check your oven temperature for accuracy.

The Perfect Slice

People often ask me how I get such perfect cake slices for my photos. If you’re serving the cake to eat immediately, you don’t want to do exactly what I do. For photography, I slice the cake when the buttercream is cold so I get clean lines. However, cakes are best served at room temperature. You can still follow the rest of my method and the slices will be sharp, though the icing lines won’t be quite as clean:

  1. Run a long sharp knife (I use a slicer but you don’t need something that fancy) under hot water. Wipe off the knife with a clean dish towel.
  2. Firmly press the knife down into the cake and pull it straight out as opposed to up.
  3. Run the knife under hot water again, dry, and repeat on the other side of the slice.

How to Store Layer Cakes

Room Temperature:

Layer cakes are best enjoyed at room temperature. They can be stored for 3-4 days on the counter using a covered cake stand, a large, inverted bowl, or by covering loosely with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Make sure the cake is at room temperature before covering to avoid trapping moisture.

The Refrigerator:

There are three instances when I recommend refrigerating the cake:

  1. If a layer cake is prepared with cream cheese frosting or whipped cream instead of buttercream, it must be refrigerated after 4 hours at room temperature.
  2. If you bake and frost a cake more than three days before you plan on serving it, the refrigerator will help keep it fresh.
  3. You should also refrigerate the cake if your home gets very hot.

Always cover refrigerated cakes to prevent dryness and avoid the absorption of any refrigerator odors. Let the cake come completely to room temperature on the counter before serving.

The Freezer:

If you want to preserve your cake for longer than a week, you can freeze it for up to 3 months. Wrap tightly to keep ice crystals away. Before using, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Troubleshooting Tips

Buttercream (especially meringue buttercream) can be tricky to work with on occasion. If you’re interested in learning more about the different types of buttercream and how to fix them when they break (don’t throw them away!), check out my post on Buttercream Basics.

Learn how to make perfect layer cakes every time with this tutorial from Savory Simple!

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