Let me confess that I haven’t always known what I was doing, or even what I was supposed to be doing when it came to making cake. Oh, no. I have had my fair share of complete cake disasters. I learned through lots and lots of practice and from tips from other bakers and bloggers. All of it paid off and I think I can safely say that I know how to build a layer cake. I use the word build because in my opinion, there’s so much more that goes into a cake besides knowing how to frost it. Today I want to show you how I do it, from start to finish. I’m sure it’s not the only way, it’s just my way, and it has worked really well for me.

(Be prepared, I’m a little long winded on this subject.)

First off, building a layered cake is a two day process for me. I like to bake the cake layers and let them chill in the fridge overnight. This way they are really cold and firm when I work with them, and lot less likely to move around or crack and crumble than layers cooled just to room temperature.

Okay, let’s get started! One of my least favorite things is when a cake doesn’t come out nicely from its pan. I’ve had many meltdowns from broken, crumbled layers. But here’s a sure fire way to prepare your cake pans to make sure the cake comes out perfectly every time.

First, line your cake pan bottoms with parchment paper. Trace the pans and cut them out.

Cutting out parchment paper

Next, grease the pan. I use the paper liners from the butter I use in the actual cake. Brilliant, no? I grease the bottom of the pan, then line it with the parchment paper, then grease the entire thing.

Buttering the pan

Then I sprinkle each pan with flour and roll it around until the pan is completely covered.

Flouring the pan

Now comes time to make the cake batter. Need a great cake recipe? I’ve got lots in my recipe index.

When it comes time to pour the batter into the prepared cake pans, I try to make sure that I get an equal amount of batter in each pan so that each layer is the same height. You could eyeball it, but I’ve ended up with too many uneven layers that way. So I like to weigh my filled pans.

Pouring batter

I actually know the weight of my mixing bowl and when the batter is ready, I weigh it all, subtract the weight of the bowl, and divide that by the number of pans I have. And that’s how much batter goes in each pan. It’s almost too much math for me to handle, but that’s why I have a calculator in the kitchen.

You could also measure the total volume of the batter (cups, fluid ounces, etc.) and figure it out that way if you don’t have a scale.

Equal amounts

Now it’s time to bake! Cakes naturally bake with a slightly domed top, which isn’t so good if you want to stack them. You can cut the tops off, but I feel like that’s a waste. There are also wet strips you can wrap around the pans to get the layers to bake evenly, but that seems way too complicated. Want to know what I do?

I reduce the heat from 350 degrees F to 300 degrees F and increase the baking time. The lower temperatures bake the cake slower, which prevents it from doming. A good rule of thumb when you reduce the temperature is to bake it for one and a half times as long as the recipe originally suggests. So if the recipe says 60 minutes at 350 degrees, it will take approximately 90 minutes at 300 degrees. But keep an eye on it! Check it periodically after the original suggested time to be sure you don’t over bake it.

Now you know my secret to perfectly level layers!

Even layers

Once the cakes are baked, let them sit in their pans for about 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the edge and turn them out onto a wire rack. The parchment paper will come out with the cake and I like to use that as a barrier between the cake and wire rack so that nothing sticks, so I actually turn the cake out onto my hand and then flip it bottom side down on the wire rack. Cool on the racks completely.

Like I said earlier, I like to then chill my layers overnight. Wrap them in plastic and chill the layers in the fridge. If you are short on time, a few hours will probably do the trick. Note, cakes will last for at least a week in the fridge and several months in the freezer, which is great for planning ahead! If you freeze your cake, double wrap your layers in plastic wrap and when you’re ready for them, let them thaw completely before unwrapping the plastic.

I have prepared many cakes from layers I froze and then thawed, and I can honestly say I can’t taste the difference between a frozen and a fresh cake.

Wrapped for chilling

Now it’s time to frost the cake!

Unwrap the layers and prepare your icing. You want your icing to be thin enough that it will go on easily, but thick enough that it will stay in place and hold its shape.

Here are a few extra steps I take at this point that aren’t really necessary, but that make it easier for me to get a great looking cake. I use a turntable to frost the cake, which I think cost me $7.00 at a baking supply store. I put the cake on a cardboard round (which can be purchased or made yourself) on top of the turntable and then move the whole thing to my cake stand when I’m ready.

First layer

Once you’ve got your first layer down on your turn table or cake stand, spread on the filling. If it’s the same as the icing for the rest of the cake, it’s very easy. If you are filling the cake with preserves, fruit curd, or anything else that might run out while you’re frosting the cake, it’s best to build or pipe a little dam of icing around the edge of the cake before you pour on the filling. This will keep it in place.

Second layer

Then add the next layer of cake and repeat the filling and stacking for as many layers as you have.

When icing the cake, I like to first do a crumb coat. This is a thin layer of icing that essentially seals in any loose crumbs. This is essential when using a light colored icing on a darker colored cake, but I do it always.

Covering in icing

Simply spread the icing on the top first, then move to the sides. I use an offset spatula to ice my cakes but a flat rubber spatula could work too in a pinch.

Icing the sides

It’s okay if it’s messy at first.

Messy first layer

You can clean it up.

Smoothing frosting

When the first crumb coat layer is done, put the cake in the fridge to chill for 20 to 30 minutes. This will harden up the icing and make the second coat go on super smoothly.

If you got any crumbs in your icing while putting on your first layer, make sure that icing does not go back in the bowl. You’ll want to keep it separate so that your second coat is crumb free.

Spread on the second coat of icing, which goes on very smoothly and makes it easy to get a clean cut finish. Your cake won’t be completely smooth, that’s impossible, I’ve tried. It will be smooth enough and little imperfections add charm.

Second coat

Now is the time I move my cake to a display plate or stand.

Piping bag

And I add the finishing touches with the help of a pastry bag and tip from my collection of star tips and plain tips.

Piping icing

And voila! You have yourself a beautiful cake.

Iced cake

A cake with even layers, smooth frosting, and a professional look. People will ask you where you got the cake and you can simply say, I made it myself, thank you very much!

View the recipe used in this post (photos have been updated): Yellow Cake with Easy Fudge Frosting

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Do you have any tips or ticks up your sleeve when it comes to cake? I’d love to hear about it!
Finally, if you want to see me in action, check out this short video I made, Annalise Makes Chocolate Cake.

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104 Responses to How to Build a Layered Cake

  1. Mindy says:

    Love, love, love this! I will be coming back when it's time to make Tim's birthday cake.

  2. Heather says:

    Thank you so much! That was so helpful! Now I know why my cakes always look…rustic.

  3. Stephanie Rose says:

    oh this was great! So many helpful tips. I never thought to make my cakes overnight. Thanks!

  4. Christina of Form V Artisan says:

    Great post. Cute photo too!

  5. the chirpy bird says:

    Fantastic tips! Always good to know how the pros do it!
    xo tash

  6. Georgia (The Comfort of Cooking) says:

    Annalise, this cake is perfect! Thank you so much for this tutorial. When I make my husband a cake for his birthday in March, I'll definitely be referencing this. Great job on this beautiful cake!

  7. Holly says:

    That was very cool!! I liked the video and the pictures:) Great job-thanks:)!!

  8. Galexi Cupcakes says:

    Great tutorial!.. Thanks!

  9. Sandy, the Old Crow says:

    Tutorial was outstanding, very professional and easy to follow.

    Sandy

  10. Heather says:

    Thanks for this–it definitely takes some of the terror out of baking a layer cake. :)

  11. Mary says:

    Thank you for this tutorial! It is soooo appreciated!!

    Mary
    Delightful Bitefuls

  12. Roxan says:

    Wow that is truly beautiful. I've never made a layer cake before so I didn't know how much work goes into it! Now i feel like I want to make one. Thank you so much for these tips.

  13. Kathleen says:

    This is a wonderful post!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing such detailed and wonderful tips!

  15. Jessica Foreman says:

    Thank you for posting this! I'll be making a couple of cakes for graduation this May, and this will be very helpful!

  16. Laurel {Make and Takes} says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful tutorial! I want to try it out soon. I'd love for you to submit this to the M&T Spotlight: http://www.makeandtakes.com/spotlight

  17. Allix says:

    This is so helpful! Something always goes wrong when I make a layer cake. In fact, it was my new year's resolution to successfully assemble and frost one :) one question though… You've never had a problem with the cake drying out if you refrigerate it overnight?

  18. Annalise says:

    Allix,

    I generally don't have any problem with the cake drying out overnight in the fridge in the plastic wrap. If I think it'll be in the fridge longer than one night, I may double wrap in plastic just to be sure.

  19. Jackie says:

    Wow! I've literally never been able to make a perfect layered cake because it's either domed or sunk in the middle, and as for frosting? Don't talk to me about frosting! What a disaster!

    But these tips are awesome. When I get home I'm going to have a go and see if I can't make a (near) perfect cake! Thanks love =)

    Jax x

  20. Barbara Bakes says:

    Great tutorial. I'll have to remember the tip to weigh the batter to get even layers. I love my digital scale but hadn't thought to do that for some reason.

    So great meeting you yesterday. Don't know why I didn't put your gorgeous blog together with you.

  21. Katie Yoon says:

    wow! Thanks for the tutorial!

  22. Mary says:

    What a gorgeous creation. Your photos are simply wonderful and you instructions wonderfully clear. This is my first visit to your blog so I've spent some time browsing through your earlier entries. I really like the food and recipes you feature here. I'll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  23. sandrine says:

    Hummm, this cake looks so delicieux !

    I am moving in a new house, all my kitchenware is packed, I just cannot wait to unfold everything and bake this gorgeous chocolate cake…

    Merci !

  24. Online Bakery says:

    great post! i was inspired by your story. time really makes a person better. even in making cakes.cakes on line

  25. MrsMayHenry says:

    I really like your tip about baking the cake at a lower temperature for longer… I HATE cutting the rounded part off (although my husband enjoys the scraps haha)

  26. The Cilantropist says:

    Great great post Annalise! I am going to be making another layer cake for my birthday, and even though I have made them before I learned something new from your post: Weighing the batter to divide it evenly is genius!

  27. Pretty. Good. Food. says:

    I always have issues frosting and getting my finished product where I envision it in my head. This step-by-step (with awesome photos) is a HUGE HELP. I have a cake (wrapped in plastic wrap) chillin' out in the fridge, I can't wait for tomorrow when I can try out your tips and skills :) Thanks for being an inspiration!! Happy Weekend!

  28. Veggie Tales says:

    Looks like you made the impossible seem relatively hopeful for me :) I'm excited to try making a layer cake.

  29. Nessie says:

    Oh wow thanks so much for this tutorial! Layer cakes are my nemesis…I think I may be tempted to give them another go! Any tips on transferring the cake from turntable to stand/cakeboard? Thanks heaps! :)

  30. Eleanor says:

    I love the on-line food community. I'm making my wedding cake, and a friend pointed me to foodbuzz, which had the recipe I wanted and linked to you, so armed with cardboard, dowelling and your tips I now feel confident and ready (ok, I'm still going to do a tiny mock-up for practice). I've made layer cakes successfully before, but the parchment paper, lower temperature (I have always thought that leveling the dome is a waste too) and pre-icing icing are going to make this a breeze.

    Thanks!

  31. Beth says:

    That's incredibly helpful. Thanks for the tips!

  32. Jen says:

    I bookmarked this page as soon as you posted your tutorial. Thank you so much for taking the time to do it. Can't wait to show you my old vs new cake pics!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for this tutorial! I have a question though- I just watched your Annalise Makes Chocolate Cake video and it says to bake at 350 for 40 minutes. So in making that cake, do you not have to reduce the heat to 300 and increase the baking time to get it to come out flat? It looked pretty flat to me when it came out so just wondering. Or maybe the original recipe called for it to bake at 400? Sorry, just confused!

    Thanks!

  34. Annalise says:

    How very astute of you!

    The original recipe calls to bake it at 350 degrees. The video wasn't the right place to explain the tip for getting flat layers and so I didn't. I actually did bake it at 300 (if you look closely at some shots from the video you can see 300 on my oven).

  35. yujean says:

    wow, this is SO helpful. i'm new to baking, but am ambitiously trying to make a layered cake for my friend this weekend. this tutorial makes me feel much more confident, and like i know what i'm doing haha

  36. Sara Cate says:

    I just made a layered cake this weekend for the first time. I wish I had seen this tricks first! My custard would have stayed in place so much better with a frosting fence!

  37. Judy says:

    Thanks, you gave me some good tips. This is my year for cakes. I plan to make many.

  38. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for the great tips! I learned a couple of things through the years that I thought I would share. To help even out the icing you can run your offset spatula under hot water right as you are icing to help smooth out the kinks. Another good tip when using buttercream icing is to tear off a piece of parchment paper to lay on top of the icing and rub gently to also smooth out the icing. Both work great! Thanks again for the tips on baking your cakes level. That I always need help with!

  39. MARY ANN GOLFO says:

    im a starter and i want to learn from you, the recipes, tools and ideas. im so excited to do this at home….maryann from Philippines

  40. Sites we Like……

    [...] Every once in a while we choose blogs that we read. Listed below are the latest sites that we choose [...]……

  41. brittany says:

    I am making my first two layered cake tomorrow for easter, I googled “How to make a two layered cake” & this was the first thing that popped up. I am hoping that this turns out right, like the vision in my head. I am terrible at baking, cooking, & not setting my kitchen on fire. I’ll let you know the results! Thanks!

  42. jasmine says:

    omg

  43. laura k says:

    I recently decided that it’s time to bite the bullet and bake my first layer cake. I bought cake pans and everything, and then I stumbled on this post. I love serendipitous timing like that! These are great tips and I know I’ll be referring to this when the time comes for a fancy cake.

  44. Susan O. says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for this post! I am making my son’s groom’s cake for his wedding this weekend and this helped me so much!!!
    I kept wondering how to transfer the cake to the cake stand after decorated on the turntable…now I see that you use a cardboard round under the layers and transfer the cake and round together to the stand. It stays while you cut the cake, correct? Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  45. Jantien says:

    Very helpful! It contains all the handy details that normal recipes don’t :-) I was just wondering what you use for the icing? I can’t find any recipe for icing which is easy to work with and doesn’t require a huge layer of it (which I think makes a cake just TOO sweet).

  46. wahida zaman says:

    WAHIDA ZAMAN from India:
    wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!! looking delicious.its really good idea to make this everyone.thank u so much……

  47. Jasmine says:

    I have just found your blog and LOVE this post, thanks.

  48. Sara says:

    Thanks so much for your recipe my Birthday is on 20 july and i will make that cake love it <3 and thank you :)

  49. Danielle says:

    i love ur website

  50. Danielle says:

    i love this

  51. Liz says:

    This was a great tutorial! My boyfriend asked for a layer cake for his birthday and I had never made one. This was the best tutorial I found to the web! My cake turned out great!

  52. Hannah says:

    I am a grandmother, and had stopped making layer cakes because they were always lopsided and domed. Now with Annaliese’s tips, my cakes are perfect, and I love making them!

  53. Bindu says:

    Wow! this is helpful, wonderful tips, just what I have been looking for, thank you so much!

  54. Farzana says:

    I just wanted to tell you that this info you posted WITH pictures are really, really helpful. I have NEVER made a layered cake before. I always wanted to but I thought it was too difficult for me. The way you explain and show here . . . well you make it look easier than I thought. Thanks for doing this. Very helpful :-) BTW your cake looks so yummy. Recipe?

  55. Elysia says:

    I’m baking my mom a cake for her birthday tomorrow, and this is going to be sooooo helpful! I am so excited to use these tips! Thank you!

  56. These are such great and easy tips! I just recently learned the parchment paper trick from my husband’s grandma, but it still broke because my recipe isn’t right yet…I seriously wish I had a kitchen scale, even if only for baking even cake layers!

    Thanks for all the great tips!

  57. Kristen says:

    So beautiful and such GREAT tips!

  58. Genevieve says:

    Hi. When you prolong the baking time at reduced heat, does dry your cake out a bit or there is actually no change in taste and texture at all except for the shape?

  59. Priscilla says:

    I’m also a grandmother and very comfortable making pies, but cakes came out lopsided and awful looking with the lemon curd leaking out the middle. Thanks to you, my granddaughter’s birthday cake was a pink cream cheese
    iced lemon cake (with half icing and half lemon curd in the middle) success!!

  60. [...] today I was foraging around the interwebs looking for awesome cake tips and I came across this amazing post by Annalise at Completely Delicious. Aside from the fact that she and her blog are both totally adorable, she’s got some serious [...]

  61. Jenn says:

    This isn’t technically my tip, but I will claim it. :) To have a nice clean cake plate after icing put parchment paper under the edges of the cake (or in your case cardboard) and then when you are done icing, slide out the paper and voila! Clean cake plate without the worry of not being messy when icing.

  62. Geoff Malen says:

    This is makes so much sense. I never would of it in that way. I am sooooo trying this myself!! Nice one!

  63. Kelly says:

    Can you do this with square cakes as well?

  64. Kelly says:

    ok bc im having a surprise party for my boyfriend and i dont have round pans i only have square and a 13×9

  65. Brittney says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful tips. Unfortunately my cakes still had a dome at the lower temp, but not as much as normal. But thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

  66. Julie says:

    Thanks for the great tips! Could you please explain how to move the cake from the turntable to the platter/stand? I’ve tried a few times and always end up poking holes in the icing with my fingers!
    Also, do you put a small dollop of icing between the cardboard and bottom layer to stop it slipping? And do you move the cardboard onto to platter/stand with the rest of the cake?

  67. [...] in the lead up to the party researching how to assemble the perfect layer cake and even found this amazing blog which explained in detail how to build a layer [...]

  68. Emilee says:

    Wow! Youu are such a lifesaver. I have been baking for awhile and I always get wonderful compliments about my cakes, but I have the hardest time with them! I never knew there was a way to make them not dome up! My cakes always crack, they are a pain in the butt to frost and I either have to cut the tops or deal with the dome. I’m trying your advice tonight! Thank you SO much for the tips!

  69. Dora says:

    Brilliant!! Thank you!

  70. [...] cake, I can’t provide any decorating tips at this time, but this is an awesomely helpful how-to [...]

  71. Alex says:

    I’ve been searching for the relationship between the reduced temperature and increased baking time for half an hour! Thanks so much, and all the rest of the tips are really helpful too!

  72. Sandra says:

    I have a trick up my sleeve you will love! If you are icing with buttercream, I always ice the cake and let it sit. The icing will develop the slightest “crust” after 30 minutes or so. (Cake must be cooled). I then take any papertowel that has a pattern, and I lay it lightly on the cake and run my hand over the towel, leaving a pattern on the icing. It makes it smooth, pretty and people wonder how I put a pattern on the cake!

  73. Samo says:

    BRAVO BEAUTIFUL.

  74. Pat says:

    Where did the link to this recipe go?? It says the page is not found when I click on the link at the top of the page.

  75. Donna says:

    I have read your post and will be using the tips to make a pretty large cake. I do have a question though that has been posed a few times here, but not answered. I will be making a 9×13 two layer cake.
    1. How do you move the iced cake to a clean plate???
    2. How can I move the top cake layer to its place without breaking it? Is it stiff enough after being in the refrigerator overnight?
    Thanks for all the wonderful tips!

  76. Erica says:

    I received my first stand mixer for my birthday this past Wednesday. I couldn’t resist busting it out and baking a birthday cake. Naturally I had to explore and make my first layered cake. I ended up with a delicious and lopsided 1st try ~ Perfect cream cheese icing with mountainous cakes.

    Chocolate Cake frosted with Dark Chocolate ~ filled with White Chocolate Cream Cheese icings.

    Thanks for the baking tips! I can’t wait to finish eating my birthday cake so I can make another one! :)

  77. Jackie says:

    Hi Annalise

    Do you have any tips for cupcakes?

  78. Nadine says:

    This is so helpful! I’m so glad to have found your blog! Just curious, what size cake pan did you use for this lovely cake?

    Nadine

  79. Melissa M says:

    Hi Annalise
    Thanks for the great tutorial. I don’t like leveling my cakes (they never come out leveled!). I’ve used this for a three-layered red velvet cake and it came out well!

    For my question…I am attempting an ombre-iced cake. It seems like it’s better if I used a turntable to do the icing. How do I transfer the cake from the turntable to the cakestand? How did you do it?
    I bought a cake lifter but not sure if that will be any help.

    Hope to hear from you!

    Melissa

    • Annalise says:

      Hi Melissa! So glad the trick to bake level cakes is working for you!

      If I plant to frost a cake on a turntable and then move them to a stand later, I always build them on a cardboard cake round (the removable bottom from a tart pan also works really well). Then once I’m done icing on the turntable, I run a large flat spatula (like this one) under it and with a little courage and confidence, lift it and move it to the stand. It also helps if the cake is chilled, as it’s pretty solid. Hope this helps!

  80. Lina says:

    Hi! I am so excited to make the yellow cake with chocolate buttercream but the link keeps taking me to a vanilla layer cake with fudge frosting. Help!

    • Annalise says:

      That’s the right recipe! The photos have been updated and the recipe slightly improved. You’ll love it, I promise!

  81. Megan says:

    Practice makes perfect! Thanks for sharing your tips on building a layered cake! I’m looking forward to the next family birthday so I can try this recipe out.

  82. Kristen says:

    This is a beautiful and handy blog clearly sent from the heavens for handicapped bakers like me. Thank you so much! Can’t wait to have another, now more educated, go at a layer cake. :)

  83. Natasha says:

    This is amazing! Thank you for all these wonderful tips! Quick question, does lowering the oven temperature and increasing the baking time of the cake layers alter the finished product’s texture? Thank you so much!

    • Annalise says:

      I haven’t ever had a problem with the texture changing. The tops don’t brown as much, but that doesn’t seem to affect anything. Hope this helps!

  84. Joyce says:

    I just came across your blog because I want to make a cake for my daughter’s baby shower….but the FIRST thing I noticed was your name! My daughter’s name is ANNALISE :) I don’t know too many with that unique and beautiful name so I was pleasantly surprised! <3

  85. Lary says:

    Hey Annalise – just curious – should the increased bake time/decreased temp work okay with a carrot cake?

    • Annalise says:

      I’ve never tried it with a carrot cake (personally not a fan), but I have applied these principles with every variety of cake that I have baked with the same result. Hope that helps!

      • Lary says:

        Thank you for the thoughts…fortunately for me, “THE cake” isn’t until April – so I’ll have opportunity to experiment before then; I’ll let you know how things turn out!

        Awesome tips – I really appreciate it!

        Thanks again!!

  86. Kimberly says:

    Annalise,

    I don’t have any wire racks for cooling. Do you recommend me storing the cake cooked still in the pan in the fridge?

    Thanks!

    • Annalise says:

      I would at least loosen them from the pan before putting them in the fridge. I’d hate for them to get stuck as they cool. You can also cool and store on a sheet pan or plate.

  87. melissa says:

    hi, um any tips for a foil tray? you see i’m on short notice so i did not have time to go to store.thanks a bunch.

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