How to Build a Layer Cake

filed under: Surprise Inside Cakes on August 3, 2012

Some of the most common emails I get is “Can you do a tutorial on how to make a layer cake?” or “How do I get my crumb coat smooth?”

I would love to share the tips and tricks that I use!


how to level cake

This is the SUPER FAST and EASY version!

Use a good recipe.  This can be a box mix or your favorite homemade recipe.  You are looking for a cake the bakes up flat and even and moist and firm.  Easy right? (This is my favorite chocolate cake recipe, it is perfect every time!)

Just in case your cake does not bake evenly, have no fear!  You can simply level your cake.  There are three easy ways to do that:

Use leveler or a long serrated knife to skim off the top dome part of your cake.

If your cake has risen above the edges of your cake pan, you can rest the knife on the edges of the pan and use the pan as your guide.

As soon as your cake is done baking, take a clean towel and lay it on top of your cake.  Press gently and evenly.  Tip: This only works if your cake is done baking!  So make sure you test it.

Make sure all your layers are the same height.  

neopolitan cake

Neapolitan Cake

Chill your layers before assembly.  I find that working with a chilled or partially frozen cakes really helps.  There is nothing worse than trying to assemble a layer cake and having it fall into pieces in your hands.  And you totally know I am speaking from experience.

There are many methods to torting, or using frosting in between the layers of your cake.  I like to do what is easiest and whatever method requires as few tools as necessary.

building a layer cake

I just decide before hand how thick I want my layer to be and then use an appropriate amount of frosting.  One-half cup is a nice thin layer on an 8in cake,  but 1 cup of frosting is my go-to amount.  I like frosting.  Lots of it.

I typically use about a cup of frosting on a 6in as well as an 8in cake.  I don’t recommend that.  You be normal and use less on that 6in cake, ok?

Place your first layer on your cake stand.  Put  frosting on it and use a small offset spatula to make frosting an even layer.

Place your next layer on top.  Some frosting should “spill out” the sides and that is exactly what you want.  Repeat this process;  frosting, layer of cake, frosting, layer of cake, until you have added all your layers.

When making a layer cake it is important to do a crumb coat.

A crumb coat is simply a thin layer of frosting applied to a cake.  The crumb coat is intended to seal in crumbs, hence the name, crumb coat. Maybe too much frosting spilled out, or your layers may not be perfectly aligned, or maybe your cake is slightly lopsided.  Doing a crumb coat is a great opportunity to fill in any problem areas.

layer cake


Want to see how this cake turned out?  It’s the New Years Eve Cake in my book, ‘surprise-inside cakes’

Use an offset spatula.  I put a dollop on top of the cake and then use the spatula to bring it down over the sides, making sure to get the frosting all the way to bottom.

If you have a rotating cake stand, you can place your spatula flat against the cake and slowly turn the stand.  This will help smooth out the frosting and create an even coat.

You can also use a bench scraper and move around the cake. If you see any uneven spots, simply add more frosting to those areas and then repeat with the offset spatula or bench scraper.

Once your cake is covered in the crumb coat, I usually chill it for at least 10 minutes.  I like the cake to settle and the frosting to set.

layer cake

To decorate a cake, I start by putting a smooth layer of frosting on.  This is done the same way as the crumb coat.  Place a dollop on top of the cake and pull it down over the sides using an offset spatula.

To smooth out the sides, make sure the cake is covered in an even layer of frosting, then place spatula (or bench scraper) flat against side of cake.  Slowly turning cake, smooth out layer of frosting until you have polished, even coat.

This step takes practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t look perfect.  Just keep at it until you are comfortable with how your cake looks!

Once you have the sides done, use your spatula to smooth out the top. Starting at the edge, gently press your spatula against the frosting and move in, towards the center of the cake. Repeat this around the entire cake until you have removed excess frosting.

You can use the small offset spatula to go around cake to make the top crisp and clean.

NOTE: If there are any dents or areas without enough frosting, simply add more frosting and then smooth out again. You can do this process as many times as needed!

I have also placed my cake stand directly on a rotating stand, and this helps me when smoothing out the edges.

How to Frost a Cake!

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  • Patricia Urban says:

    I cut parchment same size as cake pans then spray pans then place parchment in pan then pour in mix. Cake should set a few minutes before you take it out of pan. It should pop right out then peal parchment right off. Easy peasy lol

  • Cathy says:

    Can Ifrost this the day prior to eating if I keep it chilled…..I don’t want it to be too soggy

  • Mahlik Griggs says:

    Can you please email me on how to pip a flower and what is the appropriate bit to use when doing so

  • colin wenn says:

    hi i am making a wedding cake it’s sponge and has to feed more people than the stated amount for a sponge cake it is 3 tiers is it possible to do 3 layers cover fondant and put the same on top then cover the whole cake with fondant ,please i need them to be 6 layers for the pattern she wants on them all I usually put fruit cake on the bottom tier
    but she doesn’t want any other than sponge hope you can help . your cakes look fabulous .thanks a lot hils cakes.

  • Debbie says:

    Can i layer a cake with frosting or ganache then crumb coat and freeze until i need it?

  • Martina Harmsworth says:

    I get very worried when I have to cover a cake with sugar paste. Every ti me I do this the sugar paste looses its shape as if I have a lot of butter cream underneath. I do not know why it is so difficult for me to cover a cake. I really love doing it and even more decorating the cake. Please help.

  • Sandra bevins says:

    Hi could you please tell me that if I put ganache in my layer sponge cake and then cover with ganache and then cover with sugar paste I am worried that the ganache in the inside of the cake will set hard as I have only ever used butter cream

  • Alyssa Yarbrough says:

    I love to make a layer cake. before, i don’t know about the cake leveler but my friend gifted to me on my last birthday. at that time to till i want to love to make layer chocolate. It is easy to adjust wires to give proper shape.

  • Margaret Stieber says:

    Very informative and easily explained instructions. Greatly appreciated your simplicity of your step by step details.
    Thank you for sharing your awesome cake baking and decorating experience.

  • Minda Mautante says:

    Id like to learn & make the cakes that youve posts

  • Nelly says:

    I want to know how to make a smooth frosting

  • Tammy Morris says:

    Beautiful. I have the most difficulty with buttercream consistency. Too thin too thick breaks down tastes gritty. If so live to deco like a pro but can’t get consistency right to try flowers. Any ideas? I’m 55 with arthritis but just once would like to do beautiful cake. Thanks love all your posts and keep them in email file too. Your awesome.

  • nikitar says:

    thanks so much for the lesson i baked 3 cakes using youre help

  • Nancy says:

    Love your recipes. Thank you for sharing. I’m an at home baker that bakes for my neighbors. I enjoy being creative.

  • bblfoodzz says:

    Neapolitan Cakes looks amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!