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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  • Courtney G says:

    Yes I do make layer cakes. I love how they look when you cut into the cake!!

  • Britiney @ Consider the Lilies says:

    I’ve made a lot of layer cakes, but very very few looked anything like yours. Thanks for a chance to win!!

  • Marla says:

    Yep! Made em, love making em. Thanks 🙂

  • Pam, in nC says:

    I would tell you that THAT was just a silly question – but I actually met a woman a few weeks ago who is 50 and has NEVER baked a cake!! Amazing!! Yes, I’ve baked hundreds of layer cakes!!

  • donna giblin says:

    I love to make layer cakes. Love to take two layers and make them into 4. My go to cake is Hershey’s chocolate cake and Hershey’s chocolate frosting. So delicious and so easy! Thanks for the chance to win great tools.

  • Linda says:

    I have made a few layer cakes through the years, but I haven’t ever been really happy with the way they looked! I definitely have trouble getting my layers even and keeping the cake from being lopsided! I would love to figure out the process that would result in a great cake!

  • Becca says:

    I have made layer cakes before, but they haven’t come out perfect. I’d love to try using these tools!

  • Linda Terry says:

    I have made a few layer cakes, I am by no means a pro, still trying to get comfortable with making them, and I am still looking for tips in making layer cakes. I love the rose swirl cake, looks amazing!

  • katy says:

    am gonna try these rules 😉

  • Ashley says:

    I have made a German chocolate layer cake and a peanut butter cup layered cake with reese’s homemade whipped cream! Both the cakes were for my boyfriend’s 28th birthday. Made with tons of love.

  • Rachael says:

    @mizan. I’m not an expert by any means but with five 14″ layers I think you’re going to need internal supports. Especially if it is soft.

  • Julie Pruitt says:

    Hi — I was reading your site, and enjoy the cooking tips. I was looking at this one about layering cakes. I just take one cake mix, divide it equally between four eight-inch pans — and voilá — I have four layers. I just baked these layers this morning. They turned out pretty perfect. No cutting. It’s really easy. I baked two pans at a time for 18 minutes at 350 degrees (I left the second “batch” in for two extra minutes — they just seemed to need it). I do use whipping cream instead of water in the mix. I don’t know if this makes a difference or not. Also, I used disposable silver (Hefty?) pans. Those layers popped out perfectly after they cooled.

  • Anne Marie Lussier says:

    Thank you very much for your “Tips on the multi-layer” cake. My Best Friend and I always try to give one another “harder” things to bake for one another’s Birthday. She wants a white/chocolate multilayer cake with white frosting/Raspberry Preserves in each layer. Topping off with Raspberries … Oh boy – this is going to be fun. Thanks again for your help! Annie

  • Anne Marie Lussier says:

    Thank you foron the multilayer cake. Have a great day!

  • laura says:

    I tried to make a layered cake with homemade fondant. I could have really used these tips…. Although it tasted amazing it didn’t look the prettiest.

  • Melissa says:

    Yes. I love making layered cakes. They are delicious!

  • Racheal Nelson says:

    Yes I’ve made many layer cakes, but I can never seem to get them the same size. I’m going to try today … on a snickerdoodle cake. Fingers Crossed … 😉

  • Jenna S says:

    I have made many layer cakes, but am just NOW getting into the “right” way to do them. I already have a list of tools that I need (most of which are on this list to win!), so this would help my foray into the cake world immensely!

    Mine usually taste good, but don’t look great. I want to learn how to make cakes that look AND taste great!

  • lorrie says:

    I have made a lot of layer cakes. Most of them I learned from my mother. She was an awesome baker and made everything look easy!

  • Qwen says:

    This is my greatest problem area, icing the cake. I can never get it to look nice and even. It will come out too much, not enough woop sided . I am going to try this and see if I can get it iced. I am tired of my naked cakes.

  • Jessica Calvarese says:

    Yes, I have yet to master it though.

  • trisha webb says:

    I have made lots of cakes but never a layered cake. This was helpful.

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