How to Make a Layer Cake (Step by Step Tutorial)

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You’ll love this quick and easy tutorial to build a perfect layer cake. I’ll show you how to prepare the pans, level your cake and frost it too. Whether you’re a beginner baker or a more experienced baker, there’s always something new to learn. 

A collage with 4 images for making a cake

I absolutely love making cakes. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a labor of love, but there’s nothing better than presenting that cake to family and friends.

If you’re a beginner baker, or new to making cakes, don’t worry, I’ve been there too.

Even though I took cake decorating classes (over 10 years ago!) it’s taken me years of practice and many cakes and I’ve learned these tips and tricks along the way. There’s so many truly talented cake decorators out there! I can’t wait to share these tips with you in this step-by-step tutorial.

You can do this with a box of cake mix or using a recipe made from scratch. I do find that cake mixes can be difficult to work with because they’re so light and fluffy, it can be hard to frost them without the cakes falling apart. However, it’s totally doable!

Let’s dive in.

A slice of vanilla cake with pink sprinkles on a gold polka dot plate

How to make a layer cake 

There are several steps involved in making a layer cake, I understand it can be overwhelming. However, if you break it down one step at a time, it’s a lot easier to digest. It’s usually be a two-day process for me. I bake the cake layers first and then assemble and frost the next day. I don’t like the rush the decorating as I am very meticulous with the details.

  • Prepare the recipe
  • Prepare and fill the pans
  • Bake and Cool
  • Level (torte) the cake
  • Stack, Assemble and frost
  • Decorate

I’ve gone into more details for each step of the process below.

How to Prepare the pans

Grease and flour your pans: generously grease and flouring the pans to prevent the cake from sticking. I prefer using Crisco vegetable spread as opposed to cooking spray, but if you only have cookie spray, definitely use that. 

Line the pans: lining the pans with parchment paper or a round silicone baking mats will ensure there’s the cakes don’t stick to bottom of the pans, and it makes it much easier to get the cakes out of the pans.

Bake Even stripes: I love using bake even stripes because it helps to bake the layers flatter. Without them, the edges of the cake bake quicker, forcing the centers to bake last, and therefore doming in the middle. You’ll notice the outside edges of the cake are also a little darker without them. The bake even stripes should be WET when apply them to the outside edge of the pan.

An 8inch cake pan lined with a silpat baking liner

How long do I bake my layer cakes for?

Baking times will always vary, and the time provided is a general guideline. This is affected by both the type of pans you’re using and your individual oven. This is true for any baked goods, not just cake!

Not all layers bake for the same amount of time, usually because the pans are not evenly filled. It’s always best if you can take the extra time to measure out the liquid batter for each pan. Set your timer for the minimum time suggested, check your cake and add additional minutes as needed.

It’s best to know YOUR oven. For instance, I have a hot spot in my oven, so I like to rotate my pans in the oven halfway through baking to ensure the layer bake evenly.

How to level (torte) a cake layer

Torting or leveling a cake layer means to remove the dome on top of each layer so that you have a nice, flat surface to work with. This will prevent the layers from sliding around when stacked.

I happen to love my cake level tool, which helps ensure my layers are even. Otherwise using a serrated knife is best. Get eye level with your cake and cut as evenly as possible. It can be difficult with a really moist cake but be patient!  

A collage of 4 images showing how to level a cake layer

How to assemble and frost a layer cake

Once your cake is baked, cooled and leveled it’s time to frost. Evenly frosted layers and using a very stable frosting are two important factors in a stable layer cake. By following these simple steps, you can still frost beautiful cakes.

  • Step 1: Place a dollop of frosting on a cake board or the plate that you’re stacking your cake on. This helps to prevent the cake from sliding around. Place the bottom layer center on the cake board.
  • Step 2: Pipe a layer of frosting using a piping bag to ensure it’s even (remember we want nice, flat layers!). Pipe from the outside edge into the middle. You don’t have to use a piping tip, you can snip off the end of the bag as well. Use an angled spatula to smooth it out.

two side by side images showing how to frost and fill a layer cake

  • Step 3: Add your second (or third) layer and repeat adding a layer of frosting in between. One you’re ready for the top layer, I recommend inventing it, so the top of the cake is the flattest it can be. You’ll notice that will leave some gaps into between the layers. Don’t worry, we’re going to fix that.
  • Step 4: Fill in the gaps and add the crumb coat. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting added prior to the final layer. The intention of the crumb coat is to pick up any loose crumbs so they don’t get mixed into the final layer of frosting. Use your piping bag to fill in those gaps and continue to spread it around to create the crumb coat. It’s recommended to refrigerate the cake for 5-10 minutes to chill the crumb coat. If you have any holes or gaps, fill them in with the piping bag and rescrape. The crumb coating is optional but recommended.

two side by side images showing how to frost a layer cake

  • Step 5: Add the final layer of frosting. You can do this by hand, but I find it’s easiest to continue to use a piping bag fitting with a large open round piping tip, or for larger cakes, I use my cake icer tip- but note that this requires a lot of extra frosting.
  • Step 6: Scrape it evenly using a cake scraper or angled spatula at 90 degrees or perpendicular to your cake. It’s best to use a turntable to rotate the cake and hold the cake scraper still. You don’t need to apply a lot of pressure and you’ll likely make a couple passes in order to get it nice and smooth.

A cake scraper along the outside edge of a layer cake

  • Step 7: Frost the top using the remaining frosting. Continue to use the scraper or angled spatula to remove any excess frosting.
  • Step 8: Decorate using extra frosting then add sprinkles, fruit or décor.

A gorgeous frosted cake with pink and white sprinkles

How to fix a leaning cake

If you notice that your cake is sliding as you’re assembling, you can try resetting it and placing it in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.

Once the cake is fully stacked, I like to use drinking straws or dowels to help hold the cake layers in place (especially if it’s 4 layers or more). Drinking straws are the easiest.

Simply cut them shorter than the height of your cake and use 3-4 spaced evenly in the cake. This is best done before adding the final layer of frosting on top so that you can cover the holes from the straws.

Of course, be sure that you are starting with nice and even layers as mentioned above. You want to cut the dome off the top of your cake. 

A wide angle shot showing you how to torte and level a cake

How to store a layer cake

If you plan on making multiple cakes, I recommend purchasing a cake carrier, which seals the cake with an airtight lock. It can also be a great way to transport the cake. I place some grippy material (like you would line a drawer with) on the bottom of the cake carrier to prevent the cake from sliding.

You can also purchase cake boxes but note these are not airtight. Craft stores usually have them to purchase single units, but I also buy them in 10-packs online.

Basic Tools you need to make layer cakes

There are lots of fancy tools you could buy, but don’t necessarily need. These are the basic tools I use and love all the time. 

 For the cake:

  • Cake pans– I recommend having three 8-inch pans
  • Parchment circles or silicone mats– once I discovered the silicone mats, I stopped using parchment paper. You can also cut your own parchment circles by tracing the width of the pan on piece of parchment paper and cutting it out. 
  • Bake even stripes

To decorate the cake:

Common Sized Pans for baking cakes

Nearly all my cake recipes call for 8-inch baking pans, which is a common size you’ll find at a local bakery. Bakeries generally sell cakes in 6,8,10 or 12-inch sizes. Your pans should be two to three inches high. 

Usually my cakes are 3 layers. Most recipes can be adapted to other size pans, and it’s best to check on the individual recipe.I like 8-inch pans because the cakes are usually taller than a 9-inch or 10-inch pan and it’s the easiest size to work with. 

I don’t love 9-inch pans. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but most standard 9-inch pans don’t have straight edges on the sides of the pan, so the layers stack unevenly and there’s always large gaps in between. As such, I find that by 9-inch layers are always lopsided and unevenly baked. 

 

A slice of vanilla cake with pink sprinkles

My favorite Cake Recipes

My favorite Frosting Recipes

More baking tutorials you’ll love

This should cover all the basic steps you need to build and stack a layer cake. I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful, but if you have further questions, please leave me a comment below. Happy baking!

A gorgeous frosted cake with pink and white sprinkles

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A gorgeous 2 layer vanilla cake on a pink cake stand with a slice cut out

Vanilla Layer Cake

  • Author: Beyond Frosting
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 60 minutes
  • Yield: 12 slices

Description

With this easy tutorial you’ll learn to build a perfect layer cake. I’ll show you how to prepare the pans, level your cake and frost it too.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 cups (380g) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (118 ml) vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon (14.8 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (118 ml) light sour cream
  • 2 ½ cups (350 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons (11.2 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 1 ¼ cups (296 ml) milk (I use nonfat)

For the frosting

  • 1 1/2 cup (339 g) (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold.
  • 5 cups (650 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) heavy whipping cream (or milk)

Instructions

  1. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare two 8-inch round baking pans, line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the sides. Prepare your bake even strips if desired.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until the eggs and oil are well incorporated and the batter is lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
  3. Next mix in the sour cream and beat until well combined.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add half the dry ingredients, beat on low speed while pouring in half of the milk. Mix just until the flour starts to incorporate.
  5. Finally add the remaining dry ingredients, mixing on low speed while pouring in the remaining milk and beating until all of the ingredients are well combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir the batter from the bottom to the top to ensure it’s well mixed.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, about 2 1/2 cups per each pan. Bake at 350°F for 28-32 minutes. Rotate your pans in the oven halfway through baking.
  7. Test the cake for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, you cake is done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  8. For the frosting: Cut butter into pieces. Using the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Beat until the butter looks light in color.
  9. Add the powdered sugar 2 cups at a time, alternating in the liquid ingredients (heavy cream and vanilla). Mix on low speed until incorporated into butter then add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Beat for about 60-90 seconds before adding additional powdered sugar.
  10. Once all the ingredients have been added, increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes to whip additional air into the frosting.
  11. To assemble the cake, use a cake leveler to cut the domes off the top of the cake. Place a dollop of frosting on your cake board and place the bottom layer of cake on top of that.
  12. Place about 2 cups of frosting in a large piping bag fitted with a large open round tip, or simply cut off the end of the piping bag. Pipe a layer of frosting on top of the cake, starting at the outside edge and working your way into the middle. Spread evenly with an offset spatula. Place the next layer on top.
  13. Use your piping bag to fill in any gaps between your layers and to create a crumb coat. Using an offset spatula or icing smoother, wipe away the excess frosting, leaving you just enough to coat the outside of the cake. Do not mix your crumb coating frosting back into your icing if it has cake debris in it.
  14. Proceed to frost the top and sides of the cake using your offset spatula. Once the sides of the cake are covered, use you icing smoother to remove any excess frosting.

Notes

Sour cream substitute: Sour cream helps keeps these cupcakes very moist, I do not recommend omitting it. Substitute with with non-fat Greek Yogurt if you do not have sour cream. Full-fat sour cream is also workable, but I prefer low-fat or fat-free.

To make this as a single layer, please see my other vanilla cake recipe.

This frosting is for a 2 layer cake. The frosting recipe would need to be adjusted if you are making adjustments to the size of the pans or number of layers.

Baking pan substitutes:

  • For two 9-inch cakes, they baked from 28-32 minutes. Baking times will vary due to how full the pans are, type of pans and true oven temperature. Please note these did “crust” a little more on the outside edge due to extended baking times and they rose quite a bite in the middle, so you’ll lose more of the “dome” of the cake.
  • For three 8-inch pans: divide the batter evenly, about 1 2/3 cups per each pan. Bake for 20-23 minutes. See my Moist Vanilla Layer Cake for more details.
  • For 6-inch pans: a full recipe will make four 6-inch layers, filling each one with about 1 1/3 cup of batter and baking for approximately 24-30 minutes.
  • For 10 inch pans: I’ve never tested this with 10 inch pans, but I would recommend a 2 layer cake so you still have nice, thick layers. Trying baking for 18-20 minutes and assessing additional time needed from there.
Nutrition Information:
1 slice
752
83.9g
236.4mg
35g
23g
106.5g
.8g
6g
111.4mg
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake from Scratch, Easy Vanilla Cake Recipe, Birthday cake Recipe, Easy cake recipe with oil, How to make a cake

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