layer-cake-tips-the-biggest-birthday-cake-yet Recipes, Tips

layer cake tips + the biggest birthday cake yet

My father-in-law, youthful guy that he is, turned 60 this past weekend and if you think I was going to allow my in-laws to purchase him a cake from a bakery, oh, you don’t know how even typing those words caused the shudder to rise up in my chest. A bakery cake! Promise me if I make it to 60, I get a homemade cake too. I hope to have leveraged enough cake-baking karma by then to not even have to ask.

two pounds of chocolate

But this isn’t about my father-in-law’s birthday cake, or not entirely. (But you’ll see the recipe later, you know, just in case you ever want to make your own 12-inch square insanely chocolaty cake.) I am long overdue to share with you many of my favorite layer cake tips. I get a lot of email about them, people asking about the logistics of putting them together and I realize I’ve absorbed a lot of advice over the last fifteen or so, and I’m overdue to sum it up in one neat place. So here we go!

ridiculous amount of ganache

10 Tips for Better Layer Cakes

1. Why I am obsessed with the freezer: If you’ve read a few of my Celebration Cakes posts already, you’ve probably heard me mention the freezer, one, twice or possibly 32 times. I am clearly a little obsessed with the freezer when working with cakes and that’s for good reason: The freezer is your friend. Cakes are much easier to work with when frozen — from lifting layers to stack them, leveling the layers and even setting some frostings. How do you freeze a cake layer? I use the flash-freezing approach. I pop a single layer in the freezer either on a parchment- or waxed paper- lined tray or even still right on the cooling rack, make sure it isn’t touching a thing and freeze it until it’s solid — about 30 minutes to an hour. Once frozen, you can use it right away, or wrap it tightly in plastic until you need it again.

a nice, level cake

2. Baking even layers: If you’re going to stack one cake layer on top of another, you want the surfaces to be flat. A flat-bottomed cake layer on top of a rounded cake dome will inevitable crack, and I will inevitably throw a temper tantrum over that. It is infinitely avoidable. We’ll talk about leveling your cake next, but the best way to have less to level (and less scraps to “nom” on, because oh, you will, and then have no room for a real slice) is to bake them more evenly from the get-go. There are two ways to do this. The first is through Evenbake Cake Strips which are meshy metallic fabric strips that you dampen and pin around the outside of a cake pan before you put it into the oven. I’ll spare you the science behind it (like I get it, anyway) but they really are magical and your cake layers come out evenly. The second way to get your cakes to bake more level is the gadget-free way, and an old baker’s secret, but I would say that the results are a leetle less flat, yet still impressive. Simply bake the cake at a lower temperature (usually 300 instead of 350) for a longer period of time — that’s it!

levelling the cake, evening the sides

3. Leveling: So you’ve done everything in your power to get nice even layers but guess what? You’re baking, not building a cake out of styrofoam blocks (in case you’ve ever wondered why your cakes never look like those in the wedding magazines, I have now gleefully blown their cover) and there will be uneveness. This is when you bust out the longest serrated knife you own (I fell in love with this 12-inch F. Dick — oh lawsy, the Google searches I’ll get for that — when Torrie brought it over last summer and I had to buy my own. It is the very best serrated knife I have ever used in my entire life, and for a good knife, downright cheap.) and start trimming. Oh, I know some people use a level but for me, that’s one step beyond my level of insanity; I eyeball it instead. I also even out the sides. Inevitably, even when you stack two cake layers from the same recipe baked in the same pan, their edges will not perfectly meet and any place they do not meet, you’re stuck spackling them smooth with frosting. Or you could just use the same knife to trim the sides.

chocolate cake with brandied ganache

4. Cake boards: Cake boards are awesome — there is no easier way to transfer a cake from a box to a platter to the fridge to wherever you need to take it. Sure, you can cut your own from cardboard and, lo, I have done that many times when I forgot to buy one or grabbed the wrong size but if you have any kind of baking supply store near you (New Yorkers, check out New York Cake Supply on 22nd Street) they probably sell them for a quarter a pop. You can buy cheap cardboard ones or thicker, decorated ones depending on your usage; I actually buy extras because they’re useful to have around. What to look for? A board that is two inches bigger than your cake. This creates a one-inch border around the cake that, when slid into a box, protects the lovely decorated cake sides from damage. If you buy cake boxes, too (again, super-inexpensive, $1 to $2 a pop or you can just go to your local bakery and beg them to sell you one), you’re looking for a size that matches not the cake, but that two-inch larger board.

5. Keeping your cakes moist: Let’s just say, for a completely random example, that you’re making a wedding cake and you’re concerned that in the time between you begin and finish off the cake, the cake might dry out a little. Brushing it with a simple syrup, one part water to sugar, or even three parts water to one part sugar (if you’re concerned about the cake getting too sweet) before you start decorating it is the best way to avoid this. Heck, I have rarely seen a layer cake that wasn’t improved by a little extra moisture. But there’s no need to be boring: you can add citrus zest or juice to flavor the syrup (or boil the syrup with a citrus peel inside), a shot of liquer or your favorite extract or any flavoring you can think of. It is especially fun to use it to complement the flavor of the cake. Want to know another secret? When I made the wedding cake, I didn’t even use a syrup on the chocolate layer, just a little water with vanilla in it.

decorating

6. Strips of waxed paper: So your cake layers are baked and you’re ready to start decorating. You gently lower your frozen cake layer onto the center of your cake board (see how easy that was when it was cold?) and you are about to get out the filling and frosting but wait! Before you take out anything else that will mess up your cake board (which you’ll probably be serving the cake on, so you want it to stay nice), slip little pieces of waxed paper underneath the edge of the cake all around its circumference until the board is covered. No matter how much of a mess you make decorating, the board still looks shiny and new when you’re completely done and remove them.

masking

7. Crumb coating/masking: If you take not one other thing away from this post, at least promise to remember this. The difference in the appearance of cakes iced by professionals and those iced by home cooks almost always comes down to the presence or absence of a crumb coat. The crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that is the “base coat” if you will. It sort of glues the crumbs into the cake (especially important for dark cakes with light frostings) and primes the cake for the thicker, smoother layer to follow. No need to make this coat perfect, but you do want to make sure you cover every crumb of the exposed cake or they will sneak through, trust me. Once you’ve finished masking the cake with the crumb coat, you can set it in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour before adding the final coat. It will go so much more smoothly than you’re probably used to.

stuffed freezer

8. Stuff that can be done in advance: Baking your cake layers. (Triple-wrapped in plastic and frozen, you can bake layers weeks in advance.) Creating some fillings. (Curds keep especially well in the fridge, often for a week or longer.) Creating some frostings. (I have the greatest success with Swiss Buttercream, which you can leave out at room temperature for a whole day without anything bad happening, or a crust forming. Presuming you don’t live in a sauna, that is.). Often, making the whole cake. (Most finished cakes will keep moist and lovely in a fridge for at least a day.)

giant chocolate cake, details

9. Pan Size Conversions Say you want to make this 12-inch cake into a sheet cake, a 9-inch circle into an 8-inch square, a bundt into cupcakes… This cake pan size conversion chart will show you what’s feasible, and what needs to be scaled.

10. Resources: Despite all of this, and a wedding cake too, I am no cake expert. At best, I am a cake dilettante, and the amount of advice I am confident giving is limited to what you see on this page. If you have questions beyond this, the best place to get good answers are the Wilton boards (those people know their stuff!) and site (they have excellent guides) or to get a good cake book. I would say that Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible is probably the best of the books, but I have also not looked at many beyond it. I have yet to meet a person who regretted the $23 purchase.

itsapieceofcake

One year ago: White Bean Stew
Two years ago: Italian Bread

FAQ Page: I love getting email, and I’m lucky because I get a lot of it. I also like to think that I have good manners (or unhealthy compulsions, but really, doesn’t “manners” sound a lot better?) because I try to respond to all of it. And then there are days that I look up and realize that I’ve spent half of it emailing and not, say, meeting deadlines/ testing recipes / updating this here site — whoops! And that, you see, is the very long introduction to this even longer FAQ page, in which I hope to cover the territory of most of the emails I get. Does this mean I don’t want you to email me anymore? Not one bit. But if it was a quick question, who knows, maybe I already answered it. Instead you can email to tell me how nice my hair looks that day. [FAQ Page]

Giant Chocolate Butter Cake with Raspberry Filling and Brandied Bittersweet Ganache
Adapted from Sky High Cakes: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

The components of this cake may look familiar. We used the cake recipe for the bottom tier of the wedding cake (that post contains the recipe for a regular-sized version of the cake), though three layers tall when this one is only two (I didn’t think a birthday cake needed the height/grandiosity of a wedding cake) and the filling we used on those layers (Brandied Bittersweet Ganache) was actually the frosting on this (though realizing I’d made extra, I put a little between the layers too).

I go back and forth between this chocolate layer cake and that from the Double Chocolate Layer Cake. That one is, hands down, the most incredible chocolate layer cake — it’s insanely moist and soft and light-tasting and nobody who has made it regretted it. However, this cake also has its glories; it’s sturdier but still moist, it’s practically a one-bowl recipe and it’s a lot easier to work with because it’s not so soft that if you pick it up, you’ll end up with a handful of crumbs. (The downside of an extremely soft cake, if there could ever be one.) For large cakes and wedding cakes, or if you find soft cakes hard to work with, this is the one to use.

Last note/warning: This yields a ridiculous amount of batter, too much for my 5 quart Kitchen Aid or any of my bowls. I halve it and make the batches of batter separately.

Cake Layers
5 1/3 cups cake flour
5 1/3 cups sugar
2 2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, not Dutch process
6 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/3 sticks (20 2/3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups buttermilk
5 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
2 2/3 cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1 cup seedless raspberry jam (for cake assembly)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 12-inch square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. Divide the batter among the two prepared pans; each pan will take about 5 1/2 cups of batter.

4. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are cool.

Brandied Bittersweet Ganache [Makes approximately 6 cups]

2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, broken up
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut up
2 cups heavy cream, heated slightly to remove the chill
1/2 cup brandy or Cognac

1. Place the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. As the chocolate and butter melt, stir to blend.

2. When completely melted, remove from the heat and whisk in first the cream and then the brandy. Be sure to scrape down the bowl well and mix thoroughly. Allow to cool and thicken to the consistency of mayonnaise.

Assemble the Cake

1. Place one 12-inch layer on a 14-inch cake board. Use a long serrated knife to level it if has domed a bit on the top. Spread one cup of ganache thinly over cake layer (optional, you can have a raspberry-only filling too). Once it sets (if your cake is cold, this will be quick, otherwise put it in the fridge for a bit) spread the jam over the ganache.

2. Carefully place the second layer on top of the filling. Use the knife to even out any edges that overhang or don’t smoothly meet. Spread a thin layer of ganache over the top and sides of the cake, covering all of the crumbs. Let it set. Once set, spread the remaining ganache over the tops and sides. [I had some extra, and put it in a piping bag with a thin round tip to make the dots. You’ll only need a little.]

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351 comments on layer cake tips + the biggest birthday cake yet

  1. That looks so much better than any store-bought cake and that chocolate is gorgeous! So did he love it? He must love having a daughter-in-law like you! :)

    And the extra pictures and steps in your post were very helpful too, especially for those of us who aren’t very good at making cakes.

  2. Wow this is an amazing post with so many tips! I especially love them tip about the wax paper strips underneath for icing – what I usually do is wipe all the excess icing off but that sometimes still looks messy. Why didn’t I think of that before?!

  3. This cake looks absolutely gorgeous! I have utilized your website many times, and i must have looked at your wedding cake pages atleast a hundred times when I tackled my first wedding cake a while back. After reading through all your tips, I think that making cakes will be a lot easier, and less time consuming, which is very helpful since at 16 I have a ton of homework to tackle too. I definitely relate to making everyone’s birthday cake, but woe to me, i had to make my own this year, eventually i will get one from someone, i hope :)

  4. Beautiful. Awesome. It takes patience to make a good-looking cake…and you lady, obviously have some! One of these days I’ll put your excellent tips into action :)

  5. What fabulous tips!! I’ve saved all of the links you provided. I have to get myself some of those magnetic cake strips. Thanks for putting this all in one place. Your cake looks fantastic. Hope your father-in-law had a fabulous birthday!! (How could he not have with a gorgeous cake like that?!)

  6. That looks delicious!

    A friend of mine started blogging about her cake-baking endeavours (hurryupcakes.com) and between the two of you, my diet is in serious jeopardy! LOL!

  7. Ohhhh, that CAKE! I’m in desperate need of a slice of cake just like that. I’m sure practicing with your tips will be delicious!

    By the way, I love your site!

  8. Thanks for the tips! If I ever make a cake (ha) I’m going to try that syrup trick. I hate when layer cakes are too dry, and they nearly always are. I usually forgo the cake and just eat the frosting since I’m a frosting-holic. I tend to regret that decision about 5 minutes after eating 1/2 cup pure buttercream, but that doesn’t seem to stop me next time a cake shows up at the office :-)

  9. What a cute cake! It looks professionally made with a homemade slant. I’m not sure that makes perfect sense, but just know that I wish it was MY cake.

    About those cake boards: Have you reused any? I’m trying to be very Earth-conscious this year (and pray that it sticks) so I’m wondering how I can use something fantastic like a board – more than once. Have you ever tried covering them yourself? Do you know if there are products out there, similar to foil or wrapping paper, that are food safe and come in colors and such so that you can reuse the boards?

  10. Thanks for reminding us about your FAQ page. I’ve been searching your site looking for where you mention your spice containers. I didn’t want to email you b/c I was sure you had it posted someplace! Well, I just ordered some. I’ve been wanting to change my spice organizing system for a few years. yeah!

  11. So many times I have combed your cake posts because I thought I remembered “she said something about a crumb coat”..or whatever. One day, nervous about an upcoming cake project, I went through several sites and gleaned off all of the tips that I found and put them in one document that I keep on my computer. I’m sure I missed many. This will save someone (me probably) alot’o lot’o time! Thanks, Deb!

  12. Abby — I have never reused one. They’re cardboard and they get greasy — and most are one layer and infinitely recycleable. I suppose you can line them with a piece of parchment or waxed paper, but I also think that might defeat their purpose if the cake could slide off. I suppose the more decorative, silver-paper coated cardboard one you see in this post could theoretically be reused but a) the chance is good that someone will cut through it when cutting the cake and b) I’ve only used them for bringing a cake to a party and never once considered bringing it home.

  13. Those pictures are spectacular!
    What a sweet daughter in law. I love visiting your site. It really lives up to the name “Smitten Kitchen,” I bet all your readers are as smitten I am with you:)
    You seem like such a warm person:)
    That cake looks so rich and chocolatey too!:)

  14. I’ve been looking at the Pink Lady Cake to make for a friends birthday this month. Yesterday I lucked out at Tuesday Morning and bought a copy of Sky High cakes for $9.99! Then today you post another Sky High Cakes recipe, what’re the odds? I am SO going to also try and bake the Chocolate peanut butter cake. Thanks for all the inspiration you give me to bake and cook!

  15. What a gorgeous cake for your father-in-law. It’s not his 60th birthday – how we say it is — it’s the 10th anniversary of his 50th, which is what one of our friends in the islands now calls his birthdays. Sounds younger I think.
    My birthday is…………Just kidding, but who wouldn’t be happy to have you fix that cake for them on their birthday. Here’s to many more birthdays to your father-in-law.
    Sam

  16. I absolutely love your blog!!! I get on here everyday just to see if you post anything new!!! I made my friends wedding cake about a month a go (it was my second wedding cake so I’m just a beginner!) and I did the crumb coat and everything but yet I couldn’t get the edge of the cakes to not show through. It took me so long and it finally worked , but I wondered if you had any ideas of how to get the very edge coated well??

  17. Unconfidentialcook — Yes, it is the base coat.

    Alexandra — You may need to use an additional layer of frosting if the cake is still showing through. Or a thicker/heavier one.

  18. Oh Deb, I can’t thank you enough for this. I’m about to embark on the first of two wedding cake projects (yet, I know I’m mad!) and I know this is going to be invaluable.

  19. If it wasn’t for you, birthdays in my family would involve very boring cake projects. So thanks for being a source of inspiration.

    You have crazy cake baking skills! Keep it up!

  20. Holy guacamole. That photo of the melted chocolate in the bowl stopped me dead in my tracks. These are great cake-making tips – thank you so much for sharing! This post has been bookmarked for upcoming v. special birthdays. (Now off to track down the Irish cupcakes post from a couple of weeks ago…. :).

  21. I can assure everybody – this was the most delicious cake I ever tasted. All my guests LOVED it!!!. Even the crumbs were gone within 20 minutes.
    Thanks again, Debbie!!!

  22. H-E-A-V-E-N-L-Y post – really. Anything chocolate that you post makes me WEAK at the knees! Lovely bang-up job – really! You always inspire me! THANKS!

  23. This cake looks amazing. And thank you for the tips. I was always nervous about freezing, but you have reassured. To be honest, I would take this scrumptious cake over any bakery overly fondant done way to far in advance. I got to be honest, I am very sick of all these wedding cakes being more about how they look than how they taste. Your cake looks and probably taste amazing, plus it looks great! What more could you want.

  24. Stunning as usual – and oh my does that look chocolate-y – and the raspberry – you are killin’ me!

    Thanks for taking the time to write up all your tips/tricks/techniques!

  25. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Oh my. Just curious — about how many guests did this serve? A Very Happy Birthday to Alex’s Father!

    Welcome back from your vacation. Dreamy scenery. Was it hot (as warm weather hot)? Gotta get a plane ticket and go.

  26. I wish I had someone like you around when my birthday rolls in! This cake looks beautiful. I’m making your double chocolate layer cake next week for my sister. She’s convinced there is no way a homemade chocolate cake is better than a box mix…wait till she tastes this. Thanks Deb!

  27. Deb,
    Hope you had a wonderful party and a big Happy Birthday to Alex’s father. The cake looks heavenly. I will keep the recipe and cut it down for our birthday celebrations–kids help in making our cakes (and eating of course). I think they will really like this one.

    Mary Ann

  28. You are totally my new favorite person. In fact, you got my favorite person award for the day! I added myself as one of your followers. Thanks so much for the wealth of your knowledge! LOVE the blog! Love the cakes!! Love the ideas! love love love! hahah
    ~Kin

  29. I love this post. I love it so much. love. love. love.
    also, one time I made a cake and it was one of the ones where you slice a normal cake in half so you’ve got two very thin layers. and because the cake was pretty soft, I used a really long string of dental floss to cut the cake, instead of a serrated knife (I’ve never gotten good results with those). a little hard to penetrate the cake at first, but then the floss just glided through, very evenly. just another tip!

  30. Abby (no. 14) and Deb–Before I moved back to NYC, I always used masonite boards covered in colored/embossed foil. I had three or four boards in the cake sizes that I used most often and bought boxes to match; one could buy masonite boards (as well as plain brown waxed cardboard rounds and squares) and either cut by-the-inch or full 6-yard rolls of waxpaper-backed foil (there were dozens of color/pattern/surface options) at several baking supply houses. I also cut many a interesting shape myself–sometimes it’s nice to have more variety than gold and silver. I didn’t find it a big deal to ask for the boards back. Now that I’m in NYC again, I find it is easier to not store more things than I have to.

  31. I knew the smear of buttercream to fill in the cracks and level out any bumpy bits was useful! Didn’t know it was called the crumb coating though, now I am secretly pleased that I have been using a proper baking technique rather than “making a mess” like my flatmates claimed. Thanks! :)

  32. That was so informative and your cake looks divine! A baking tip I learned a while ago from a pastry chef was to use mayonaise instead of oil in any cake recipes to add an immense amount of moisture. Have you tried this trick and if so, how does it compare to using your syrup combination/trick for the moisture?

    Thanks! Lisa

  33. This looks so great. Yeah, once again, I used your wedding cake blog to make my wedding cake this past january. Thanks for all the tips.

    In terms of cutting layers, or “torting”, I used a serrated knife as a guide, and then fishing line to cut through the enormous 14 inch cake. It worked really well, especially for a novice. The thing to remember is that you ahve to keep the fishing line taught or else you will loose some precision.

    Also, I do love me some swiss meringue buttercream. Heating the whites to 140 is a great way to circumvent that 5 minutes of uneasiness when it looks like your buttercream is not going to come together.

    Yeah for cakes!

  34. Just wanted to let everyone know that if they wrap wet paper towel in aluminum foil and secure that around the cake pan they work the same as the cake strips. For those of us who don’t bake enough cakes to bother buying them (or never think of it until they are making a cake for the next day) they really are great. I rarely ever have to level my cakes anymore and I no longer get the nasty ring of over cooked cake because the center took too long.

  35. 1. Very good cake lesson! I approve. That is what I do when I make wedding cakes, or any stacked celebration cake. I crumb coat my cakes while they are still pretty cold from the freezer. It helps the crumb coat set up faster, and it helps reduce crumbs.

    2. I approve of your chocolate choice. Valrhona is by far the best I have EVER used for baking. (I is also good to eat as well). I make some really fudgy brownies with valrhona, and top it with a butter chocolate ganache.

    3. Another trick to level-out-of-the-oven cakes is to mix them as little as you can manage. The less gluten you develop the less likely it is to erupt in the center. One of those things I leaned in my Cakes and Quick Breads class. It seems to work pretty well for me.

    4. I love my freezer too. I have a second on in the garage for cakes, and other things.

  36. Thanks so much for the tips…I’ve been baking homemade cakes for nigh on to 44 years … Gosh, I’m OLD! But I’m still always looking for good advise!

    I have one recipe from the Cake Bible…The Chocolate Angel Food Cake recipe! Awesome! I’ve had that recipe for years after I had borrowed the book from the library! Now, I need to buy it!

    Thanks again!

  37. Great tips, and the cake looks gorgeous. I have to say, I have the Cake Bible and rarely use it — my go to book for special occasion cakes is Dede Wilson’s Wedding Cake Book — multiple flavors (including Spanish Chocolate (a grated chocolate and ground almond cake I used for my own wedding cake) and lemon buttermilk (used for a friend’s wedding cake). OTOH, Rose’s recipes and tips for basic decorating (like her chocolate plastic recipe) are invaluable.

  38. The cake is beautiful! Thanks so much for all the tips. They are super helpful. I am planning on making my daughter’s first birthday cake soon. I want to make a two tiered pink cake. Do you recommend using cake board between the layers or using rods? Thanks!

  39. What a FABULOUS creation and what a useful post, too. I too am a compulsive cake baker for birthdays and I always jump at the chance to make celebration cakes. I will definitely refer to this post for my next one! Thanks so much.

  40. This IS the best chocolate cake ever! I made this and your white cake for my parents 50th wedding anniverary. Yours were much more professional looking than mine, but they sure were delish!

  41. Ginny — You’d need both dowels and cake boards for a tiered cake — I can’t imagined how else it could be done. Wilton’s site would be a good resource for this kind of information.

  42. This is the most helpful post I’ve read in QUITE some time. Thank you tremendously! You’re absolutely right about how these little things make such a difference in your baking. I’m about to embark on making my friend’s wedding cake. I’ve already printed out this post so I can tape it to my kitchen cabinet during the process. The photographs are beautiful as well, by the way. Reading your blog is such a joy. Thank you!!

  43. Thank you soooooo very much for all the helpful tips!!!! I love baking, and often end up with uneven layered cakes. I have my credit card in hand ready to order the Evenbake Cake strips. I agree with you. There’s nothing like a home baked cake.

  44. Amen Sister! I believe in home-made cakes. Every time I go to a party and there is a (shudder) bakery cake I think “why didn’t they just ask?” You have done us a great service here today. Thank you. and while I’m at it, thank you for all of the smitten kitchen goodness!

  45. That cake is beautiful!! Your father in law is very lucky to have you as a daughter tin law, not to mention your mother in law being lucky too!! An your parents must be so proud of the wonderful person you are, and all that you give of yourself.
    I will be 60 tomorrow, I could only dream of a cake like that!!
    All the best to all of you!!

  46. Oh please post the recipe soon! I’ve got a commission to bake a (chocolate with chocolate frosting) cake for a retirement party and I wouldn’t mind trying something new.

  47. Thanks for this great, comprehensive post! Thanks for the frosting base coat. Who knew? That’s a wonderful tip!
    Thanks, Courtney, for the tip about “home-made” baking strips. Thanks, Kelly, for the thoughts about not overmixing.
    I noticed that the cake recipe given calls for buttermilk. Buttermilk is the home baker’s best friend. Buttermilk biscuits. Buttermilk waffles and pancakes. Buttermilk in scones and muffins. IMO, buttermilk is what guarantees a moist baked product that stays moist!! Over the years I have reduced my layer cake recipes to those that contain buttermilk.

  48. Sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree with you on the best chocolate cake recipe you’ve done. The chocolate cake part alone of the one you made with peanut butter frosting for your husband last year and which I have now made for three different birthdays is by far the best. Seriously, that cake … oh dear, now I feel sad, it’s been gone from me for two months at least and … and … I have no good reason to make it again for two more weeks! But then it’s my three year old’s birthday, and she wants chocolate cake, and guess what she’s getting. I’ve tried your other favorite (not the wedding cake one, though, I can’t justify not making the first one again at this point) and the cake for your husband’s birthday last year was better by far.

    Sorry to be all argumentative on your post and all. I know, it’s totally combative and unreasonable of me.

    By the way, your hair looks FABULOUS today.

  49. Many thanks for the helpful tips which come in very, very handy for a novice baker like me. By the way have I said that I absolutely love your blog. Have tried a few of your recipes and they have turned out GREAT!

  50. Erica — So contentious! Just kidding. So, love the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (duh) but I felt that the chocolate layers themselves, stand-alone or as a layer cake like this, didn’t have nearly as good chocolate flavor as the Double Chocolate Cake or this one. Certainly not bad, but you know, I think those two are the best. And how did you know about my hair?!

  51. Hi Deb! Thanks for all the helpful tips on cake baking (I love baking cakes and this is some great advice to keep in mind!). I have a question – when you say you used a ziploc bag for piping, it looks like you have some kind of attachment for it? Would it be possible to make the piping bag for icing with just a ziploc bag, or is there somewhere I can get that nozzle attachment? Thanks!

  52. HI Deb,
    First let me say you are really an inspriation and guide to me as I am going to make my own wedding cake. At the moment (while there is still time to hire a baker easily) I am doing a full scale mock up of my cake. I’ve got two of the tiers baked and in the freezer (can’t fit the 3rd unfortunately!) I am planning on filling and frosting with buttercream before covering the outside with chocolate faux bois. Am I reading right that you are saying I can frost the frozen cake just fine with out defrosting? (obviously frosting at room temp!). How long should a frozen cake stand at room temperture before serving or frosting if I assume incorrectly?
    Thanks!
    Mary

  53. Angelina — Our photo information is in this post.

    Megan — It is a coupler, and it holds the piping tip. It is available at any baking supply store, and many cooking supply stores.

    Reigne — Tip 9 links to a place where you can figure out your pan size conversions.

    Mary — It depends on the kind of frosting. It cannot hurt to try a patch and see if it works just fine when still very cold. If not, let it sit at room temp for an while before frosting it. There is not a set amount of time; it will have more to do with the temperature of your kitchen.

  54. hi deb! i know i’ve seen this before on your site, but can’t find it now…. what baking store in NYC do you go to? my sweet little spanish grocery store in queens doesn’t have parchment paper or baking chocolate! seriously!! barbaric. thanks for all your great advice!

  55. Hi Deb!
    I’m newish to your site but I Love it! I tried your gnocchi recipe and I cant get my husband to stop begging me to make them again! We love them and they were so easy!
    Do you maybe have a chocolate cake recipe that doesn’t use coffee? I don’t like coffee and don’t drink coffee, but I sure LOVE chocolate cake! And I have a pretty new cake stand I’ve been dying to use! I’d love to see a tasty moist chocolate cake recipe without coffee.
    Thanks for the delicious food ideas!

  56. Coffee is often used in chocolate cakes because it enhances the chocolate flavor without making the cake taste like coffee. If caffeine is a concern, you can use decaf. If you just don’t want coffee, period, you can swap it with water, but you might want to step up the other flavorings to compensate.

  57. This looks amazing. I do have a quick question: could you subsitute a cooking spray like Pam for the butter in the cake pan?
    thanks!

  58. I guess this week was the cake making weekend… I was also asked to make a “baby shower” cake… the 2nd time I am asked to make a cake for a big audience… people loved it… I am by no means like you… I use Rose’s book as well though.. your tips also inspired me.. I am not very experienced in frosting/icing… and the crumb layer will help me so much… I struggle with those a lot…

  59. Courtney — If you use a Pam butter/flour spray you can. Otherwise, no.

    Gina — My email address is not bouncing, try again. That said, I am not the person to ask about copyright issues. I am not an expert and not particularly comfortable advising as if I were. There are lots of web resources that can better answer blogging copyright questions. (Can you tell that I get a lot of emails about these things?)

  60. This looks amazing – and way beyond my baking skills or patience.

    Can I bribe you to the sunshine drenched shores of Australia to make my wedding cake? (kidding, but seriously…)

  61. Hi Deb,
    I’m using 3 different frostings.. from the Cake bible- praline silk merangue buttercream, a white chocolate ganache (from Dorie’s baking book) and the cream cheese frosting from Sky high)

    If you’ve not used these before and I do a test patch, what exactly am I looking for as signs of success.. or failure?

  62. no problem deb… I actually did some research and I think I got what I needed… i actually thought you do get “lots” of questions and didn’t want to ask in the first place… I usually post knits and didn’t have to post recipes from books… but I get asked for my recipes so much and some have portions from books. I will look into it and see if it can be done without taking credit…
    well instead, I will compliment you on your wonderful cake… and your nail polish.. I am impressed that you even had them to start with :) these days I bite my nails and chase toddlers when I am not in the kitchen or knitting.. I better start getting a manicure to get ready for the spring…

  63. What great tips. I’ve made a wedding cake and covered a few of the things you advise, but the trick for keeping a cake moist is priceless. Thank you! My next layer cake will be even better! can’t wait.

  64. Here’s an easier question for you :) Do you pre-cut your layer cakes after you’ve assembled but before you frost or do you prefer to cut them once they’ve arrived?

  65. This is so amazing and helpful! I will be baking a friend’s wedding cake soon and it will be a real challenge for me as although I’m a regular baker, I’ve never done anything with multiple layers or in such a large quantity – your post has been v inspiring!

  66. I am making my first celebration cake for my husband’s 40th birthday on Saturday–I was planning all along to make the Double Chocolate Layer Cake, but your comments about the cake crumbling have freaked me out a little bit! I looked at the allrecipes.com conversion chart to try to scale this cake to 2 10-inch round pans, but wasn’t able to find any conversions based on 12-inch square pans.

    In your respected blogging opinion–Double Chocolate Layer or this cake? And if it’s this cake, could you point out the appropriate scaling info? Thank you!

  67. Hey Deb! i’ve always had trouble leveling cakes. Never mind the domes, because i cannot cut them even enough. When stacked (especially 3 layers), they look crooked.

    I have trouble splitting a cake layer in two. First is that the crumbly waste and general flimsy-ness. Should i freeze before cutting? Second, I don’t like using the silly toothpick/barbeque skewer in the middle of the cake. I usually miss and create unsightly holes or i miss it when cutting the cake all together and end up with another crooked cake. i’m thinking next time i’ll a guide by setting the cake to height between two upside down cake pans and cut even to the cake pans.

    one last thing- do you guys like the edges of the cake? do you think it get in the way of the consistency of your cake texture or is it a good thing? so, i cannot make up my mind whether to trim or not.. this is a on-going debate in my head… i’m wierd. i know..

  68. Jeni — If you have trouble splitting a cake layer in two, bake it in two pans for half-height layers and save yourself the drama. As for the edges of the cake, if they’re not tasty it’s probably because the cake was overbaked or it’s not a great recipe. I have never cut off the edges for taste reasons on any of the recipes on this site.

    Mary — I mentioned in the recipe notes that I think this recipe is better suited for larger cakes. A 3-layer, 9-inch round version of this recipe is available here. Perhaps you can scale that instead.

    Just an aside: I seem to be getting a lot of scaling questions and honestly, I’m flattered that people seem to think that I have all of these things in my head, but I most certainly do not. Perhaps some cobwebs, maybe… If I were answering the question for you, I would go to that exact chart I linked in #9 or I occasionally use the base area of cake pans to scale things. But do that only if you are confident in your math skills.

  69. A really good tutorial with lots of good tips. The cake looks really amazing – so far superior to the store bought for sure.
    Hey…. 60 is the new 40.

  70. FINALLY! Someone puts all this info in one place. I wish I had seen this three years ago when I was starting to do cakes. When I do them, I add one extra step: after freezing the cakes, when you first put it on the cake board (lined with wax or parchment paper!) I take a pastry brush and gently brush off some of the crumbs.
    Also, you can check out Toba Garrett’s books about using a mixture of cake crumbs and buttercream to act as a very good spackle for filling in any holes in your cake. It works like a charm!

  71. I took a cake decorating class a few years ago and the instructor had one of these icing tips. It’s about 2″ wide and has about 1/8″ opening. You have to sacrifice a piping bag to use it but it makes getting that base coat of icing on a cake so much faster and you know you’re getting a fairly even layer all around.
    Here’s a ‘in action’ shot and how to:
    http://www.wilton.com/decorating/icing/using-decorating-tip-789.cfm
    and a link to buy:
    http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?id=3E30C1CD-475A-BAC0-5CDB07AA69762110&killnav=1

    BTW I don’t work for wilton or anything this is just one of my favorite gadgets.

  72. Gorgeous cake! Two questions:

    1. Is the cinnamon desperately important?
    2. Is it OK to use hershey’s cocoa? Do you have any particular preferences?

    1. The cinnamon can be skipped, of course. I actually use Hershey’s cocoa for this because I the recipe for the first time when making a wedding cake and considering the expense of better cocoa, thought it would be worth seeing if it would be good enough with the cheap stuff. It was more than good enough and so on this recipe alone, I still use it.

  73. Happy Birthday! And many more . . . . . and yes, we are of the same school of thought: all cakes, but esp birthday cakes–absolutely only homemade!!!
    Thank you– it is such a joy reading your blog :)

  74. The cake looks delicious!!! My mom used to bake cakes for people when I was younger, she used to wet old towels & pin them around the pans while baking to make them come out flat, worked like a charm!

  75. Sorry, another question! When you freeze your layers, do you allow them to cool completely first, or go straight from oven to freezer? I’m guessing the former, but wanted to check. Thanks!

    (And I must say, I returned from lunch seriously craving a huge slice of chocolate cake (thankyouverymuch pregnancy) and this post has about done me in!)

  76. Q: How does the freezer affect the cake flavor/texture? I’m a little skeptical, partly because official wedding cakes are famously mediocre and that’s one of the tricks they use. I haven’t had much luck moistening up cakes myself, but I might’ve been too scanty with the syrup.

    p.s. to everyone: I recommend NOT cheaping out and trying to make your own Magi-Cake strips from damp paper towel and sheets of foil. Trust me.

    1. Most wedding cakes are famously mediocre because they use shortening instead of butter, vanillin instead of vanilla and god-knows-what-else to keep their costs down and transportability/shelf life up. Shudder. They’re also usually thrown in with a single wedding cost, and rarely shopped for at a choice bakery. And, uh, understandably so. The good ones cost a fortune.

      The trick to freezing a cake so that nobody will ever know it is to wrap it extremely well (I suggested/suggest 3 layers of plastic wrap in differing directions to ensure there are no possible gaps) and not to keep it in there too long. In my freezer, I never have cakes in for more than 10 days because I know it might pick up a dull smell after that. Get to know your freezer and you’ll know the max in it. (I am sure you can go for longer in better freezers. Even in the worst one, a week should be fine.)

  77. I have a question in regards to Tip #8: Do you think that I could make the Peanut Butter Frosting for the Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake? Would this frosting do well being made a day or two in advance?? If anyone has some insight on this it would be GREATLY appreciated.

    P.S. The cakes are already in the freezer and I can’t thank you enough for all the cake tips you took the time to post. I LOVE THEM! :)

  78. Thanks for all the tips! Wow … this is seriously the best advice I’ve read for baking cakes. And this cake. OH MY! I will definitely be making this soon. I also wanted to mention – I LOVE that you include links to the recipe you did a year ago, two years ago. Because of that, I found the “Home-made Hostess Cake” recipe a few weeks back. I made it once for my husband’s office .. then a few days later made another one for my kids’ teacher’s 40th b-day. EVERYONE raved about the cake! It’s a clear favorite in this house! Thanks so much!!

  79. Hi Deb,
    A link on a friend’s Facebook led me to this site the other day, and since then I’ve been so engrossed in your recipes and tips, that I’m in real danger of not getting very necessary things done!
    I tried baking my first chocolate layer cake for a birthday last summer–I think it was the Ultimate Chocolate Cake on the BBC Good Food website. The birthday boy wanted to taste coffee in the cake, so I increased the coffee (not the liquid) exponentially. The result was not a cake that tasted of coffee, but one that tasted even more intensely of chocolate. It was delicious, if I do say so myself, and 4 people demolished the whole thing. But oh how I wish I’d found your blog before I made it! I tried to handle the layers when they had only barely cooled, and the result was was a clumsily homemade appearance. Now I know to freeze the layers first and to apply a base coat of frosting. Thank you. :)

    One question, though. The recipe I used called for baking one fairly large cake and then cutting that in half horizontally to make the layers–is that easier to do once frozen as well, or should I make them in ‘sandwich tins’ separately?

  80. Jenn — I mentioned in comment 122 that if you think cake layers will be hard to split, just to bake them separately. I couldn’t imagine even thinking about splitting a 12-inch square cake, no matter how sturdy the recipe. I don’t think a 9-inch (especially with a 12-inch serrated knife) would be particularly hard.

  81. I’m going to have to agree with Erica. The chocolate cake in your PB cake recipe is the best you’ve posted. Then the double chocolate. This one is a distant third. It’s still a good cake, but the flavor is a bit… lacking.

  82. OMG! That chocolate cake looks INSANELY RICH!!! I’d definitely give this recipe a try! :D Do you think this recipe would make a great cupcake recipe as well? I’m still looking for THE chocolate cupcake recipe and still haven’t found any.

    Love your site btw! Superb looking photos :)

  83. I love to bake Birthday Cakes as well. I do use the freezer also. It’s best to frost when the cake is frozen. This is such a beautiful looking cake you made for him.

  84. I always bake my cake ahead and freeze them. I put a cake board under them then wrap them and pop them on sheet pans in my deep freeze. I find cake easier to layer, ice and assemble frozen. I usually ice my cakes late night before the occasion and the cake frosted and thawing is perfect to set it and keep it nice and fresh. I think I have been doing this method for about 17 years. Tried and true I swear by it.

  85. I have a recipe that calls for a syrup to be poured over the cake while it is warm but because I am making a layer cake I need to trim/flatten the top of each layer to stack evenly. If I pour the syrup and then trim when the cake has cooled I am worried that I will be trimming away most of the flavor. If I cool then trim then syrup I am afraid the flavor won’t be what it is supposed to be. Do you have any advice on the order of this?

    I have a cake splitter and I couldn’t level a cake without it.

  86. Can I put the syrup on a cake after it has cooled or does it need to go on when the cake is warm?

    Sorry for commenting again but I think my question got buried in the rest of my blather.

  87. Man, if only this post were around last November when my dad hit his 60th, and for my sister’s recent baby shower! (Though not to brag, my family had no complaints.) But just like your pancake tips, I will be liberally stealing borrowing (heavily) of these tips for the next baking occasion. Many thanks!

    PS – If it hasn’t already been mentioned, Broadway Pandhandler on East 8th between Broadway and University Place has been of help regarding baking supplies.

  88. I was wondering, I noticed that for the cakes that you’ve baked square, it was easy to cut off the sides that usually turns the hardest first when baking. Do you have any suggestions when it comes to baking round cakes that gets crusty at the side?

    Thanks!

  89. You are my hero! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’m so excited about building a cake for my boyfriend’s 30th and this article was exactly what i need, plus i’m New Yorker and I’m going to the cake place today!!!

  90. I made this cake for a friend’s birthday this past Friday and even though a crazy number of shenanigans could have had this thing ending up in the cake wrecks hall of fame (the 1st half of batter burnt out my hand mixer, I only had enough buttermilk for half the batch, and had to stay up until three baking because I only had one working cake pan for reason that are too boring to recount here) it was pure unadulterated magic. If you weren’t married, also a woman, I’d be in love with you for this recipe alone – people were like, this looks like you bought it! but every recipe I’ve tried on this website works. It’s unreal. And I’m usually the worst when it comes to baking – I’m much better with just regular cooking, so this is a revelation, and I’m going to keep baking cakes now in the hope that my sister might actually let me make her wedding cake next year. Big words, but oh. It’s so weird to have confidence in myself for something as intimidating as baking and icing a three layer cake. Here’s a picture of the finished product – I think I’m going to frame it, I’m just so proud! Thank you!

  91. this cake looks great! here is a little trick i figured out the other day that can apply to most cakes: if you save the parchment paper scraps from cutting circles out to line the pans, you can use them to protect your cake plate/ board. simple, and obvious, but pleasingly efficient…

  92. This is so good of you to share these tips in such great details! Baking a bday cake with multi-layers is always a daunting task to me although I do like to bake in my spare time! Thanks for this post, if I can find a little more confidence in myself, I’ll definitely try out your tips.

    A question if you don’t mind – how do you make “crumb coat”? Is it just a thicker version of a regular frosting? Thank you again!

  93. Deb–let’s say you’re making a layer cake with buttercream frosting, and you’d like to sandwich a layer of raspberry preserves AND a layer of frosting between the layers. Which goes down first–the preserves or the frosting?

  94. I love to bake cakes and I am only 9 years old1! I love to bake two layer cakes and it rocks when you see the final touches and details!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  95. Hi Deb – I just wanted to say a huge thank you for the tips you gave in this post. I made the giant chocolate cake for a family event and it turned out perfectly thanks to your advice! I’m pretty new at layer cakes and let’s just say a little bit clumsy so it was quite a feat for me. Thanks again!

  96. Deb, It’s the same time of year you made your first wedding cake last year that I am embarking on mine in 2009. For 75 people, chocolate/chocolate cake. I think one person asked my question before, and you suggested raeding through your 10 tips for better layer cakes post (which helped!) but I still haveahve to ask one thing on timing: You baked the layers of cake the week before and froze them… 1) WHEN did you take them out to fill with layers of filling in between (how long before wedding day? 2) did you crumb coat the cakes while frozen? I guess in general i’m interested in knowing how long cakes assembled in their layers (each tier-size together) defrosts then? THANKS SO MUCH you are SO inspiring!!

  97. Deb, thanks to your suggestions (on the best birthday cake post) I ended up making this cake and the sour cream chocolate frosting, both of which are delicious. Or at least the crumbs and blobs I’ve tried are. The cake is really intense, sort of like the cookie part of an Oreo!

    For anyone else making this: I did some math and halved the recipe, figuring it would fit into two 9-inch round pans, and it did…just barely. I’m glad my pans are 2 inches deep because if they weren’t I think the cake would have overflowed. Next time I would probably put a bit less batter in each pan and use the rest for a couple of cupcakes or something.

  98. When my dad turned 75, we had to fly to his town to see him, so we asked if he wouldn’t mind terribly much getting his own cake. He said it was no problem. When he brought it out at the party, we saw what he had the baker write: “Bob – Happy 75th – You’re the Greatest!” We all got a huge laugh out of it. That’s my dad, RIP.

    1. Yeah, that’s how I usually approach the math. But keep in mind they’ll be very tall layers, as tall as the 12-inch cake plus extra because 128×2 is <288 — not a bad thing if you want a big ta-da. You’ll be safest with pans with 3-inch sides.

  99. I just had to leave a comment on this post and tell you how invaluable it was for me when making my son’s birthday cake in September. I used every single one of your tips which helped immensely. Also, after two failed attempts at buttercream, I used your swiss buttercream recipe and it came out absolutely perfect – perfect consistency as well as volume to frost three layers. Thank you so much for the information – love the website. (you can find a picture of the final product on my blog). Happy cooking!

  100. OK, I made your cake – it is amazing! I’ve been trying several. I’m fairly new at baking, and will be making a 50th birthday cake for a dear friend (and 75 guests) in two weeks. It will be three 2-layer cakes stacked (using cardboard and dowels between each) and shaped like a teapot, which for presentation purposes will be covered in fondant. This is definately the cake recipe I will use! Couple of questions before I embark on this journey: Since I anticipate a lot of assembly time, I’m doing that the day before. I plan on using a raspberry (chambord) flavored simple syrup to mosten the layers. That shouldn’t be a problem, right? Also, I think I’m using half of this receipe for each of the 14 inch layers, does that sound right? Thanks for this blog – I’m totally psyched about this adventure, thanks to your expertise!

  101. I’m going to make this cake but don’t get one thing. There’s a picture (step 7 coating) with white icing, but in preparation instructions nowhere is a part for icing exept Ganache. Does it mean this cake comes without icing?

  102. So much cake! It does fit just barely in a 6 quart kitchenaid – but with many many pauses to push the dough back down while adding the butter/buttermilk to the dry ingredients. I haven’t had any of the cake itself yet (it’s for a party tomorrow) but the batter was excellent!

  103. Deb,
    I really found the tips helpful. Your cake looks amazing. I am wondering about buying boxes for transporting my 3 layer cakes. If I am making 8 inch three layer cakes and I get a 10″ cake board to put them on how high should the box be the transport them in? It seems like 5 1/2″ might not be hign enough…what do you think. It looks like I am going to have to buy in bulk quantity so I want to get the right size since the shipping $ is high. I live in Santa Barbara, CA and I am not sure if there is a cake baking supply anywhere close. Thank you.

  104. Wow, this post is infinitely helpful. Reading about glazing with sugar syrups (which I never knew existed for cakes, silly me) has just brought to memory a terrible cake I had at a wedding at this exactly explains what went wrong! The cake was like eating a wet sponge and water actually seeped into our mouths with the first bite. And it was cold. And on the way home we stopped for ice cream to erase it from our memory. Perhaps the cousin-turned-exceedingly-bad-chef that created drowned it? Thank you for giving some kind of explanation to this previously unanswerable situation!!!

  105. Deb, thank you so much for this post, which has helped me tremendously. I’m still confused about the freezing part, though. When do you pull the cake out of the freezer to frost it for a dinner party? And do you have to do anything special to defrost it? I’m going to try freezing a cake overnight so I can frost it nicely for a dinner party, but I want to make sure I don’t accidentally serve still-frozen cake!

    1. Depending on the size of the cake and the warmth of your kitchen… Mine are generally almost completely defrosted by the time I am done frosting them. Your defrosting time may vary, but it is never as long as you’d expect. Give it an hour or so on the counter once you’re done and you’ll be more than covered.

  106. I tried the bake even strips but it seems to never work for me…I still get the bump in the center. Am I doing something wrong?

    1. Maysem — It will depend on your recipe. Some cakes dome a lot and not even bake strips will flatten them out. They’ll only reduce the dome. You should try combining the strips with lowering the temperature in your oven, which I noted worked for me.

  107. Hi Deb
    I am making a cake for my cousin’s graduation and want to try out your lower temperature/longer time trick to reduce doming. How much longer should I be expecting to bake it for? I’m going from 350 degrees down to 300. The recommended time (at the regular 350 temp) for 8″ pans was 32-36 min. I am so glad I found all these tips! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
    -Kadee

  108. Hi Deb,
    Regarding the flash-freeze method, a) does the cake need to be completely cooled after being baked before it’s put into the freezer for 30 or so minutes? b) when frosting a frozen cake, is it okay to coat the frozen cake with syrup? c) after frosting the frozen cake, what is the best way to store the cake if I want to serve it the next day (filling is citrus curd and swiss buttercream)?

    1. I let mine cool first, but I’m not positive that it is absolutely necessary. You’ll need a cake to be at least partially defrosted for the syrup to absorb well. Citrus curd has to be refrigerated, so the whole cake should go in the fridge. It will be fully defrosted by the next day, barring some freakishly cold fridge which I doubt anyone has.

  109. Thanks so much, Deb! Sorry but another question ~ I baked the pistachio cake and it was so delicious right after it’d cooled… perfectly moist. I know this because I leveled out the top surface and DEVOURED the scraps. When I triple wrapped the discs (plus put them in a freezer bag) and left them out at room temperature overnight, however, the cakes tasted drier the next day after I’d frosted them. Granted the frosting process took me several hours because I got distracted… I used a bit of water + amaretto as moistener, but not all that much. Did I level out the cakes too early causing them to dry out inside the plastic wrap? After frosting the cakes, I want to put them in the refrigerator, but I’m afraid it’ll cause further drying out. Any idea of what I did wrong? Thanks again =)

    1. Jen — Some cakes just get drier than others faster. Cake with nuts fall into that category as do “white” cakes, cakes without egg yolks. That said, taking your cakes out the second they are done (not letting them overbake for even a minute or five) can help keep these cakes more moist longer. Using a lot of syrup can help too.

  110. Thanks for all of your great secrets! I had heard some of these but some were new ideas to me that I can absolutely use. I did want to ask though… when is it necessary to use some kind of board between layers of cake? And also… I have been just using store bought cake mix and 9″ sqaure cake pans for most of what I have made so far… my cakes are coming out really thin because I’m assuming the batter has to spread out too much because the pans are so big. Is it possible to use 2 boxes of mix in one pan? How would the time and/or temp be adjusted for that? I would appreciate an email back if you can help at all!! Thanks again!

  111. First–love the site! There’s nothing like a thoroughly tested, detailed, “personally” recommended recipe to give a newbie confidence in the kitchen!

    Question–(with apologies if this has already been addressed! I tried to search the comments but didn’t find this specific query…)
    I’m planning to bake your Ding/Ring/Dong/Hostess cake in two 9″ springform pans, and cut into four layers to make the Dorie Greenspan “White Out” version. Should I cut the layers (after cooling) BEFORE I freeze them, or AFTER? Many thanks!

  112. Hi–I am baking a cake for my neighbor’s graduation, and I am wondering how many this cake will feed? You may have written that information somewhere but I can’t seem to find it. Thanks!

  113. I have a quick question re:syrup. I scanned through the comments and didn’t find what I was looking for. Is it better to put the syrup on the layers before freezing them, or partially defrost them first? This is the first time I’ve frozen a white cake and I’m worried that it’ll be too dry.

  114. Hi i love your site! and i was just wondering i’m making a german chocolate cake and i was just wondering, you said i could freeze the layers in advance, that wouldn’t make the layers soggy at all? and should i let them defrost pre decorating or just go at it while they’re still frozen? also for the crumb coat do i use the frosting i’m using for the cake or use a chocolate buttercream for the crumb coat and the german chocolate frosting for the oustide. Thanks so much!

    1. nika — Freezing them will not make them soggy. You can decorate while still frozen; cake layers defrost very quickly in a warm kitchen. You can crumb coat any frosting.

  115. Hi Deb,
    I know this is super late on this post — but I was wondering how far ahead you can frost and finish completely a celebration cake. I am going to use the Instant Fudge Frosting on the best birthday cake and am making it for a party Saturday night and want to know if I can completely finish it 24 hours in advance or if I should wait and frost it right prior to the party! Thank you so much!!

  116. Hello,
    Stumbled on your site while looking for cake recipes… Brilliant and I feel so much better with my upcoming cake project!
    Quick Question: WHat can I use instead of the brandy in the ganache? I cannot use alcohol in my recipes and I guess I need to use something?
    Thanks :)

  117. Okay, so I’m trying to get on board with the “freeze layers” idea so I can make the cakes several days before I need them. I totally get how to freeze them and package them for the freezer, but what about the thawing process? Do you take ’em straight from the fridge and leave them on a counter for a few hours? Or put them in the fridge for a day or two? The only attempt at freezing I did unfortunately didn’t turn out so well. I put the cake in the fridge for about 24 hours and it was super-easy to torte into 2 layers, but the cake itself just didn’t seem to be the right texture. I guess still slightly frozen maybe, but some parts of it seemed gooey?? It was weird. I need to know the “right” way to thaw a frozen cake layer. Please help!!

  118. I’m sure you’re asking Deb, but I have always thawed them for a day in the fridge, so that I can fill and frost when the layers are cold (and, therefore, if made with butter, hard – but not rock hard). Then after frosting I let it come to room temp on the counter before serving. Usually for most family events that involves filling and frosting in the morning for an afternoon or evening thing.

    But the reason I am commenting, is actually that I made the three layer 9 inch version of this cake with the brandied chocolate ganache(divide this recipe by 4 for filling only for a 9 in 3 layer) and the vanilla swiss buttercream, and it was a work of art. Thanks, Debbie!!

  119. Hey Deb! First – I love this post, so informative in a not so preachy manner :)
    Second – Please. I need you to rescue me and immediately too…I have been baking for about an year and make decent cakes. But I have a couple of recurring issues that I do not know how to take care of. Hence this message to you.

    1. My cakes, except maybe chocolate, always smell faintly of eggs. Not that they are inedible or smell like an omlette, but its there. And that makes me uncomfortable. I use pure Vanilla extract, maybe sometimes more than the recipe says, just hoping I can curb the egg smell. But it is still there. (i use a hand held electric beater). I read somewhere that using a little bit of almond extract helps in curbing the eggyness. Any comments on that??

    2. My cakes are fine, soft and nice. But when they go into the fridge, they become hard (I don’t mean rock hard), but certainly firmer than they were at room temp. Is that a usual thing?? What can I do to maintain the soft texture. I have brushed my cake layers with some kind of sugar syrup, and those cakes are fine. But I would like to know if there is any other way, as my husband prefers the not so syrupy cake.

    And yes, I loved the idea of crumb coating!!

    I would really really appreciate your response on this one. Its our anniversary this Sunday, and I have plans of a nice super soft cake. I hope I get to hear from you soon! Thanks a ton and please keep up the good work to help people like me :)

    Have a great day!
    Ambika.

    1. Ambika — Glad you’re finding the post helpful. Are you using cake recipes of mine? Those are the only ones I’ve tested. It can be your eggs, or it can be the recipe. If the cake is drying out in the fridge, it’s the recipe.

  120. Hey Deb, I haven’t tried any of your recipes yet. I think I should give one of yours a try and then see if its the eggs that are creating trouble. Thanks for replying!

  121. Love it all, thank you for all the tips. I have questions though. I found your page because I’m planning to make a layer cake wherein each layer is made to look like a book. These will be slim, large-format volumes because they’re all kid’s books. Now, I want to use the chocolate recipe above and I am delighted that you specify that this mixture makes a sturdy sponge as I would prefer to stack the ‘books’ a little untidily, with some corners overhanging. However I’m not sure what you’d recommend regarding the icing: I want to use royal icing (roll-out) as I plan to paint on it (I am going to paint the titles and authors onto the spines; however the surface of the cake will be covered by an edible photo of the cover of my daughter’s favourite book). Would that be a mistake?
    Also I am terrible at working in cups – can you give me the weights…?
    Thanks a HUGE picnic of yummy things…

  122. Hi, I have a question. I’m looking for a chocolate cake for a birthday party but most recipes I find include coffee. There will be kids, so I was wondering if I could admit the coffee, or use a substitute? Thanks

  123. Hi Deb,
    I know you originally posted this two years ago, so I’m not sure if I’m too late to comment but I have a question about freezing cakes. I made the chocolate stout cake yesterday and froze it. I made it into two 9 inch rounds and plan to ice it for a party next weekend. I know I can keep it frozen to level the rounds but should I allow the cakes time to thaw before I assemble and frost them? I read in Joy of Cooking that you should thaw cakes in their wrapper so the condensation will form on the wrapper and not the cake. If that’s the case should I level them and then re-wrap them till they thaw out a bit?
    thanks in advance for the help!

    1. I don’t like to thaw cakes with the wrapper on because the plastic then becomes damp and pulls off bits of cake with it when you unwrap it (or it can, depending on the cake). I tend to frost and fill cakes either right from the freezer or only partially defrosted. My kitchen is very warm and it’s usually defrosted by the time I’m done, or within an hour or so after, depending on the size of the cake.

  124. i don’t have time to read through all the comments and see if the answer is here, so i hope you don’t mind. . . i have 2 9-in cakes in the oven (hopefully baking evenly), and i plan on splitting each into 2 layers. is it better to freeze them first, then split later? i feel like that will be fresher but. . . i’m turning this into an ice cream cake so it will probably be easier to split after they cool and then freeze. what would you suggest? (oh, it’s going to be a peanut butter ice cream filled chocolate cake, topped with your chocolate peanut butter glaze. fingers crossed!)

    1. Hi elyse — I usually split them later. I want to minimize their exposure/drying out. I can cut right through cakes still frozen with a good serrated knife.

  125. to clarify on the above, i do realize that it was highly unlikely that you would reply to the above during the 30 minutes my cakes were in the oven. typing up the question led me to the answer myself. split, then freeze. thanks for all these great tips!

  126. ~Deb~
    I’ll be making my own birthday cake this friday (as my birthday is sat.) and had a question about the crumb coating. Is that first layer of frosting a different kind than the ‘general’ layer of frosting? And if so, what is a good recipe? I’m thinking of making a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, in case that makes any difference.
    THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!!!
    ~Leah~

  127. Thank you so much for your tips and the chocolate cake recipe (used the one from your wedding cake). It helped me to make the most amazing (and delicious!) princess castle cake for my god-daughter’s birthday. It came out looking homemade, but professionalish and tasted delicious. Without your hints, tips and writing about your trials and final success with the Swiss buttercream frosting I wouldn’t have been able to complete the cake with such success. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  128. Hi Deb, I made the Best Birthday Cake this past weekend and it was ohmigod good! I have a question about frosting multilayer cakes (this is only the second double-decker I’ve made; the other was the deliciousness in Ina Garten’s At Home cookbook… also outrageously good). How much icing do you shoot for in between layers? On both cakes I got nervous that I would put so much icing in the middle that I wouldn’t have enough to do the rest of the cake, ended up skimping on the middle layer of icing, and having some leftover and wishing I hadn’t been so stingy in between layers! Do you have a rule of thumb, a measurement, or do you just eyeball it?

    Thanks!

    1. A good recipe will give you an estimation. I always forget to measure and let people know. It varies by frostings too. A light one, like a whipped cream, you’ll want more of but a heavy ganache, less.

  129. I had read this entry a while back and it came to mind when I was thinking of ways to do a wedding in Miami for under $5000. I was planning to just bake my own cupcakes, you see (using your Car Bomb recipe because those are just too delightful and perfect). The second I told my brother-in-law this plan, he offered to just pay for a cake (of course, he didn’t let me get to the Car Bomb part). I may just get cupcakes to spite him (no, no, don’t bit the hand that feeds), but your advice will certainly be tucked away in the corners of my mind for the next time I need to bake a cake in advance. Or, you know, if I just want some cupcakes in the freezer “just in case.”

  130. Hey Deb, I was wondering, how many people did this cake serve? I’ve been asked to make a birthday chocolate layer cake for 100 people, and I am scared, and have no idea how big it should be!

  131. Hey! the cakes you make are great! But i just have a question about the crumb layer/masking. Bear with me! i’m only 15 years old, aspring pastry chef :)

    1. Does the masking layer have to match colours with the outside layer (e.g. ganache), like will it show?

    2. Once you’re done with the masking layer, do you immediately spread on the outside layer (e.g. ganache) or do you chill first. And if you do chill, will the ganache and the masking layer mix? so it becomes like a different colour? (e.g. if masking layer was buttercream, the texture is soft so it might mix with buttercream).

    1. Hi Bianca — 1. It should match. It is supposed to prime the cake for the final layer of frosting so it’s very likely to show a bit. 2. It helps to chill the masked layer so it sets and then add the final coating.

  132. Hi Deb! Thank you, thank you, by the way…for all of the help this site has been at times like this…3:45 a.m. when only one layer(11×15) has been baked. Even as batter, the hubby fought me for the rights to the spatula. Who knows how I will beat him off long enough for the finished product to actually make it to the party (he requested the giant thing, after all)! You have never let me down.

  133. Ooops! I wanted to ask how many normal size (not weddingbad cake size) servings this cake made. I read every comment and didn’t see it anywhere.
    Thanks again!

    1. It’s really about how you cut it. By wedding standards (which you said you didn’t want, but which I feel are accurate for cakes this tall), a 12-inch square would make 72 2″ x 1″x whatever height it was (probably 5 to 6″ tall) slices. Other estimates would say 60. If you want 2×2-inch slices, which would be colossal with this height, you’re looking at 36 slices.

  134. im about to bake a layer cake this weekend and came across these wonderful tips. thank you so much for this. i’m also ready to invest in some proper cutlery and did an amazon search for the above mentioned serrated knife since you said it was cheap but it’s over a hundred dollars on amazon.com! http://www.amazon.com/Friedr-Dick-Exclusive-2-Inch-Utility/dp/B000H7V6KY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1308264484&sr=8-2 is that really considered cheap? or am i looking at the wrong knife? thx-miss j

    1. I can never find the inexpensive one anymore but F. Dick has two lines, the fancy one that you found and a simpler one, popular in cooking schools. Mine’s from the inexpensive one; I think my 8″ bread knife was about $55.

  135. Hi Deb! Love your website!! I’m making this cake for my boyfriend’s grandmothers 90th birthday. Few questions: does the alcohol really come
    Through in the frosting? There will be children there and elderly people and I want to make sure it is liked by all. Can it be omitted if not? Also, I bought the 12X12 pan required for the recipe. Since the pans so big, did u notice the outsides get hard when baking? (that usually happens to me with round layer cakes) or is that why you recommend the bake even strips? Did u use both methods for this cake? (bake even strips and lower temp oven)? Thank you.

  136. Also Deb, how soon in advance can I make this cake? The party is Friday afternoon and I’d like to make it Thursday morning. I’d like to make it exactly as you did, except with raspberry sauce in the middle as oppose to frosting.
    If you don’t think this chocolate frosting would hold up, what about the Swiss buttercream?

    1. Jovana — The frosting doesn’t do great in advance, not because it doesn’t keep, but because you’d have to rewarm it to resoften it and the chocolate is likely to split and become oily. But, a frosting like this keeps the moisture in well so if you want to make and frost you cake, it will probably keep well for over a day until you need it.

  137. Texas Greeting Deb:

    I hope I have not messed up (fingers crossed – and putting it gingerly). My son’s 40th birthday is coming up – He works out of town and I decided to bake all of his favorites for his celebration. I baked a coconut cake (SKY High), Pina Colada cake (Sky High) and favorite cheese cake. I have frozen each layer to work with later. CHALLENGE – Yikes! I did not flash freeze each layer. I did completely cool each layer; and wrap each layer in plastic then foil……What is the best way to defrost and frost the cake to avoid mush or do I need to start all over? How can I tell if the cake will be dry? Any other pointers is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you
    JV

    1. I haven’t experienced mush from defrosted cakes. Sometimes I let them defrost unwrapped, most of the time, I leave them wrapped until they’re mostly defrosted, then remove the wrappings. All should work fine. The cakes I’ve shared here shouldn’t be dry, but I know that Sky High does favor egg white only cakes which bear a greater risk of drying out. For those layers, I’d brush a flavored simple syrup generously over them before filling and frosting them.

  138. Thanks so much for all the tips! For the crumb coating/masking, do you just use some of the frosting that you will be using for the rest of the cake? Or is there a specific recipe you should use for this? Also, as far as freezing the layers (flash-freeze), do you place the layers in the freezer right when they come out of the oven or should you let them cool completely?

    1. Meghan — You use the same frosting. It’s good to work from a small dish of it, however, so you don’t get crumbs in the larger amount of frosting you’ll use for the final coating/decorations.

      sarah — Thanks, fixed.

  139. Hi Deb – I’m wondering if the chocolate frosting you used for piping/decorating the ‘biggest birthday cake’ is the same chocolate frosting that you used for frosting it. In the photos, the chocolate ‘kisses’ that you piped on the cake look darker than the main frosting. Did you darken up the main frosting to use for piping? If so, how did you do this? Or is the frosting the same and the texture difference makes the little piped kisses show up? Thanks!

  140. I just made a basic quick buttercream, with powdered sugar, butter and milk. A quarter recipe or something equally small. I can’t stand that stuff that comes in tubes — there’s never enough and it tastes so bad on a cake you’d slaved over!

    1. Lisa — It’s been a while so I don’t remember for sure but I probably added a tiny amount of ganache or a little bit of cocoa powder.

  141. about how long does it take for a frozen cake to thaw? i’m thinking of making your best yellow cake as 2-9inch layers, freezing, and thawing/frosting before a party. how far in advance of cake eating should this be done? thanks!

  142. I would like to make this for my mom since she loves everything chocolate…BUT she doesn’t like raspberry. Can I layer the cake less the raspberry jam and just the ganache? I believe this is what was done for the wedding cake? Thanks!

  143. Well today is my daughter’s 4th birthday, and I feel blessed to have ran into this website. I want to start making my own birthday bakes for my children, because it can get very expensive, and homeade makes it even more special. These tips will help me so much. I kept this website on my favorites list, so I may come back if I have anymore questions.

  144. Is there any substitution for the Brandy or Cognac? We live in a “dry” county and don’t have easy access to a liquor store … suggestions? Thanks!

    This cake looks amazing … I’m looking at it for a groom’s cake for my daughter’s wedding.

    1. Coffee would be delicious. Or one part coffee, one part water. Or vanilla extract and some water to make up the balance. That said, 99% of ganache frosting recipes don’t have brandy in them so if you search about, you should find one with booze-free proportions. Good luck!

  145. Thanks for the tip! Is this ganache thick enough to pour over an iced cake? Like ice it with a lighter colored chocolate and then pour the ganache over it to let it “spill” over the sides. Garnish with some whole fresh raspberries on top and scattered around the base.

  146. I emailed you but then saw you prefer we comment – sorry!

    I’m going to be making this cake tomorrow, probably scaling for a 10×15 inch jelly roll pan. The recipe says each cake pan should take 5 1/2 cups of batter. Seeing as a 9×13 takes 15 cups of batter, I’m wondering if this is a typo? Do you think a 12 inch square takes more like 15 cups batter?

  147. Without making it again, I cannot say with absolute certainty whether it is or is not a typo, ugh. But, I just played with the numbers a little and I think it might be. I think the cake might have yielded about 17 to 17 1/2 cups batter, which would have been 5+ cups per layer for a 3 layer cake (what I’d made last time I’d used the recipe) and not the 2-layer cake I actually made in this post. Hope that clears it up a little! Good luck.

  148. This cake looks awesome! I actually ran into your site because I was looking about info on freezing cakes. I have a deep freeze and was wondering if I could stack cakes after frozen or if they would smash the cakes below destorting their size but it looks like from your picture they can be stacked with no problem? Any thing to add??? I have a wedding for 500 so am in need of freezing instructions!
    Thanks and I LOVE your site!!!
    Julie

  149. Can I freeze cake layers that are supposed to be soaked (especially soaked in things that don’t freeze, like alcohol)? I’m making a tiramisu cake and I’d like to bake things ahead. However I’m concerned that if I freeze the layers *before* I soak them with coffee/liquer, they won’t be as absorbant. I’m worried if I freeze them after soaking the liquer will prevent them from freezing properly or evenly. Thanks in advance!

    1. I think either will work. Just because it doesn’t freeze solid doesn’t mean it won’t stay fresh. If you freeze it before brushing the cake, however, you might want to let it defrost enough that it can absorb liquid before continuing.

  150. Hi Deb! Thanks for all of your tips! I have a question…I am planning on making a cake for my wedding (note: not a typical “wedding cake!”) and was hoping to make a 9″ tower cake (or 10 inch?). What is the max amount of 9″ layers you would suggest layering without any added support? I was hoping to do 5, but I’m not sure if that is crazy or not. I am simply looking for one cake that we can cut that will make a nice little “centerpiece” on the cupcake/cookie dessert table. Thanks so much for any help you can provide!

  151. Hi Deb,

    I’m going to make this cake next week and just have a couple of questions about the frosting – Is it a very bitter frosting? What per cent chocolate did you use? Does it taste quite buttery? If I were to omit the liquor, would I substitute it with something else, or would I just leave it as is? Personally, I’d love to keep it in, but the person who I’m making it for objects to alcohol and chocolate (only in the same thing, I have no doubt that he will have a glass of wine…MAYBE two, I dunno.)

    Sorry about all the questions! And thanks for the invariably brilliant posts!

    Bell

    1. Actually, your timing is perfect as I just made this cake again for Thanksgiving, but I made it with the Instant Fudge Frosting, which is more of a lovely chocolate buttercream. If you’re looking for more of a classic chocolate cake frosting, use that, and double the yield. (You’ll need to do it in two batches as most food processors will only hold one batch comfortably.) The ganache that is printed here is very good, but it does use bittersweet chocolate. I think I used 72% but you can also use more of a semisweet, or 60% if you’re concerned about bitterness.

  152. Hi Deb,

    I have a few questions as I am about to embark on a Wedding Cake Adventure myself!

    1. Did the 2 2/3 cups of coffee make it taste alot like coffee or do you hardly notice it when it’s baked? IF it does taste alot like coffee can you recommend a subsititute?

    2. I want to use the ganache for the layers but icing the cake with a yellow buttercream. How do you suggest I go about doing this?

    Any advice you have would be so greatly appreciated!

  153. I have made this cake 4 times now … EVERYONE loves it!! I made it for my daughter’s wedding for the groom’s cake and it was a complete success! I iced the cake with a swiss buttercream, I altered the recipe to make it chocolate by adding cocoa … my daughter says it’s like eating chocolate butter! I do have to admit, it was delicious!

    Courtney … I used ganache and raspberry filling between the layers but then iced the cake with the chocolate swiss buttercream. I then used a thinner ganache to pour over the top and had it look like it was spilling over the edges and look like it was dripping down the sides. I then put fresh raspberries around the bottom of the cake and on the top in clumps (like some clumps of 5 berries). It was really pretty! I have a picture if you would like to see it.

    My family says this is the BEST chocolate cake in the world!

  154. Un-dutched cocoa powder – Where do you source this? I’m in the UK but see it varies in price and wonder if it also varies in quality – I struggle to find branded ones. Can you help? Thanks

    1. I usually find non-Dutched cocoa to be less expensive. Don’t have a choice brand. It’s often labeled as “natural” cocoa in the U.S. Hope that helps.

  155. I’m a self taught cake decorator, and had a question about icing the cake.
    I’ve had problem in the past of after I put the icing on, and then put the fondant on the cake isn’t smooth/flat like the cakes I’ve seen on TV, it’s usually pretty bumpy.
    You can see some of my cakes on my website, they don’t look horrible but don’t look great either. I see them on Cake Boss, and Ace of cakes put it on pretty thick.
    Any tips?

  156. Honestly….You should take classes and clean your work before you attempt to teach other people techniques you are obvioulsy not proficient at. It only tells people you are just looking for attention by teachin them things that are not correct. It looks bad on you.
    Beginners might not see this but once a person has experience..you can see that you are not qualified to be teaching this..

    Sorry..sometimes people need to hear the truth.

  157. wow. (in response to the above comment.)

    question: i am making my first ever layer cake for my daughter’s first birthday. i will be topping it with strawberries and whipped cream rather than icing, so i’m not going to decorate it today. we’ll be eating it tomorrow. should i put the layers in the fridge or freezer? how long does it take the layers to thaw? i suppose i could just wrap them, leave them at room temperature overnight, and then flash freeze if i think i need the extra firmness?

  158. I am undertaking a cake project. I need to use my 18 x12X3 pans. I am using your cake recipe (which is delicious) can I stack 3 layers on top of each other without doweling them? I need to go 6 layers high so the total project will be 18L x 12D x 18H

  159. Thank you so much for these tips! I just made my very first layer cake and assembling/frosting it was an absolute breeze because of you. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results and can’t wait to slice into it :)

  160. Hi Deb,
    First of all, love your blog. I have a question…I have to bake 6 triple layer cakes for a friend’s son’s wedding next Saturday and know that there’s no way I can make them all the day before. Also, I am making 4 different varieties…2 Carrot Cakes, 2 Italian Cream Cakes, 1 Lemon Cake, and 1 Chocolate. I’ve never made cakes ahead and frozen them and am concerned that they will dry out or just not taste the best. I’ve read the above post with your tips, but am still a little unsure. With the types of cakes I’m baking, should I just triple wrap and freeze the layers and frost the frozen layers the day before the wedding, then store in fridge until transporting them? Or do you think they should have a simple syrup applied before freezing? I’ve never used a simple syrup on a cake before so, again, I’m unsure how the cakes would end up tasting. These are very good friends and I really want the cakes to be delicious for them. Please help. Thanks.

    1. I think the syrup can go on before or after freezing, but it will absorb better if the cakes are fully defrosted. I frequently frost and fill cakes while they’re still frozen, then just keep them in the fridge (or at room temperature, if nothing needs to be chilled) until they finish defrosting. For the fridge defrosting, I’d give it overnight. At room temperature, I usually find that the cakes are 75% defrosted by the time I’m done frosting and filling them! Hope that helps.

  161. So, with the sugar syrup, if you put it on before you freeze your layers, would it still have the same effect if frozen and then defrosted? Or is it really a solution for keeping fresh, unfrozen cakes moist?

  162. I was a little nervous to make a layer cake for my boyfriend’s birthday. I love your blog and know you are well-versed in bday cakes so I did a little searching. This entry on layer cakes is EXACTLY what I was looking for! You saved me! My cake turned out great thanks to you!!

  163. I made this cake for my boss’s baby shower…she loved it so did my other co-workers! I love all your recipe and hoping that your cookbook is under the tree this year for Christmas! Thanks for your delicious recipes!

  164. Well, I wish we could comment on comments but since we can’t, I just have to say, in response to Amanda (or is it a troll? Not sure…) if you don’t like it, don’t read it. Woman has a major blog following, her own cookbook that has 2 PR tours due to demand and, at least in this girl’s experience, tips that are super helpful and lead to great results. Granted, I’m not cooking for the Duke and Duchess but clearly you are. Also interesting that several of these same cake tips can be found in my Mom’s 1960’s era Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. But they clearly didn’t know what they were talking about either, right? Sorry. Deb-you’re clearly above the fray, but I had to say something. I mean, honestly-like someone has a gun to the girl’s head, forcing her to read blogs by cooks she deems sub-par?

    Sorry..sometimes people need to hear the truth.

  165. Wow that’s just magical. I love the gadget-free advice on leveling! Buying so many tools can get expensive and how much space can you really make in a NY apt!

  166. Can you tell me which knife exactly you use for leveling? I followed your link which led me to a 7.5 inch knife for $14. I looked up other F. Dick knives that cost closer to $100.

    1. Erin — I am not sure it is still available. F. Dick for some time had a less expensive line of knifes intended for cooking schools. That’s what mine is from. It’s not easy to find these days.

  167. Well, I followed all of your tips and your recipe (used a simpler ganache frosting) and baked a hugely (and huge) successful cake for my husband’s 50th birthday. I can’t thank you enough! I’m a complete amateur. I usually make (gasp) cake mix cakes! Even after buying the pan and those bands to wrap around it, i saved a bunch of money making something myself. Thanks again.

  168. Hi there! This article couldn’t be written much better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I will forward this information to him. Pretty sure he’s going to
    have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  169. Hey Deb! I’m making this cake this upcoming Thursday on August 1st and I am TERRI-BLE with numbers let alone conversions! Do you remember what the halved measurements were?? I’m so worried about conversions online that I wanna try to see if you had those numbers lying around somewhere before I tried. Thanks!

  170. I have some questions about simple syrups and freezing.
    Do you brush the simple syrup on when the cake is warm?
    Does the cake need to cool down before you freeze it?
    Does the (cool down) answer change based on whether you use a simple syrup?

    I love your site and your book is amazing!

  171. Do you have any advice about halving the ingredients to make the frosting in two batches? I’m planning to make this cake on Sunday, but as I review the recipe I’m getting a little nervous. If it weren’t baking, I’d just wing it, but I’m not sure how to be precise about having amounts like 5 1/3 and have both batches turn out the same. How did you handle it?

  172. Used these tips this weekend for a modified version of the Pistachio Petit-Four cake (subbed almonds for pistachios and raspberry preserves for apricot) for a birthday party and it was such a hit! The layers stayed so moist, even with two days in the fridge. This weekend I’m doing a two-layer 11″ x 15″ sheet cake and I’m pretty terrified about getting even layers (and the ability of my Kitchen Aid to handle all that batter, but that’s a different story). Is there a size at which you feel like a heating core is necessary? I know you didn’t use them for the wedding cake, so I think I’ll just go with the lower-temp technique, but I’d love your recommendation. Thank you!

  173. Debra,

    I was wondering if delicate chiffon cake will respond well when its frozen for a week and then defrosted.. Have you had any experience with it…
    Mainly I am referring to Martha Stewart’s chiffon cake with strawberries…

  174. Wow! I made a half-batch of this for a birthday and it was spectacular! I used blackberry jam instead of raspberry and cheap bourbon instead of cognac, and it turned out wonderfully.

  175. I have a question. I baked a cake about 3 weeks ago, wrapped it and froze it. I just realized that I must have gotten in a hurry and I didn’t wrap it good enough. The sides were left slightly open. Would this cake be any good or would it be safe just without moisture or do I need to just discard. Thanks in advance

    1. It will be just fine. If you’re worried, you can brush it with a simple syrup after it defrosts (flavored with anything, from lemon to vanilla, or none of the above) for extra moisture.

  176. No, it didn’t look like that. But if they use the same serrate on that that they do on their bread knives, go for it. I really still love that knife most of all, even 5 years later.

  177. Deb,

    I have the same concern as Catherine. I will have to bake the cake in two batches and I am worried about the height of the cake not being similar. The reason I need to do this is because I only have one pan of the same size.

    Another question. Does this process sound right to you? Bake cake layer 1 – make frosting – freeze cake layer 1 – bake cake layer 2 – freeze cake layer 2 – apply crumb coat – freeze layers – apply final coat – refrigerate for 12 hours – eat. I am also planning to add the syrup before freezing them.

    Should I be making the frosting when the second cake layer freezes instead?

    Also, how many cups of batter for each layer for a two layer cake?

    Thanks in advance.

  178. Hi Safrina — I wouldn’t worry that much about the heights; using the same recipe and ingredients, they should be about the same, or within 1/4-inch, which if it bothers you that much, you can just level it off. Your schedule sounds great. I’m a bigger fan of getting the baking out of the way one day, doing the frosting another, and keeping the layers in the freezer (well wrapped) until needed. The recipe says in Step 3 that “each pan will take about 5 1/2 cups of batter.”

  179. Okay sorry, last question. Why does some Ganache recipes use butter while some don’t? My research tells me that butter adds shine and makes it smoother? But what if my chocolate (compound chocolate) is 45% cocoa and has vegetable solids, then do I still add the butter as recommended in your recipe?

    1. Safrina — Butter adds richness and some (as you mentioned) say it adds shine. If you’re not using a dark chocolate, I might not add butter.

  180. I have a question. Someone asked me to make them 6 Oreo cupcakes and 6 peanut butter cupcakes. I know how to make the these in icing but my question is when people ask for this are they wanting jus icing to be be flavored or the cupcake too

  181. I’m in love with your recipes.

    As I have a lineage of diabetic aunts and uncles, I sometimes reduce the sugar content in recipes drastically. But I fear that it might affect the moisture of the cake. Is it okay if I reduce the suagr in this recipe to 4 cups instead of 5? 5 just sounds colossal to me!

  182. I made Giant Chocolate Butter Cake cake layers but I must have misstepped in some way as they were flat. Am still scratching my head about that one. Maybe not enough aerating? Not sure. I took them to work cut-up as brownies. So, I tried the linked Double Chocolate Later Cake, ratioed up to the 12′ pans I’d acquired for the first, and I have to say it came out for me like a dream. Amazing cake recipe! Amazing cake! Nice crumb, great flavour. I used the strawberry filling recipe from that recipe but really liked the brandied chocolate recipe for the icing from the first. So many rich flavours! I definitely will be using these recipes again (am the baker in the household). In the end then, my cake was a mix ‘n match of the two recipes but it turned out wonderfully. Was a wonderfully large and tasty cake for our mother’s 81st. I decorated it with geometrically arranged purple (her favourite colour) coloured sugar and some other tasteful doodads. Thanks!

  183. Excellent flavor, texture and moisture! People raved about this cake. I made this for a 50th birthday in an 11 x 15 pan. I prepared half of the recipe, poured into the pan and baked at 325 with a flower nail in the center. it did take approx 50 minutes. Then repeated to make the 2nd layer. Since I’ve done the math already, here it is!
    2.5 c + 2T+ 2t flour
    2.5 C + 2T + 2t sugar
    1 1/3 C cocoa
    1 T + 1/4 t baking soda
    3/4 t ground cinnamon (I didn’t use this)
    3/4 t salt
    2.5 sticks + 2T +2t butter
    1 1/3 C buttermilk
    3 eggs
    1 1/3 C coffee

  184. Deb, I was reading your comments about leveling cakes and preventing the need to do so and wondered why, if cakes tend to need less when baked at a lower temperature for a longer period, the recipes just don’t use the lower temps and increased time?

    1. Vanessa — It’s not an exact science. Lower temperatures with some cakes can sometimes reduce doming. But not all cakes even have big domes; this one hardly does so there’s less of a need to fiddle with the time/temp. Nevertheless, you’re probably always going to want to level, just a little, for a neat, professional look.

  185. Deb- thanks for your reply. I guess I’m hoping to avoid leveling because I’m not very good at it! Is there a type of cake in general I could use the lower temperature method on?

    1. Don’t be scared of leveling. Just get yourself a long serrated knife. It’s totally doable. It’s even easier if the cake layer is partially or mostly frozen. This cake doesn’t dome that much so there’s no great need for a temperature reduction.

  186. I need to make this for a party that I will be doing all the cooking for myself with no help. Can I make this on Friday for a Sunday Party? I probably will have enough refrigerator space at least until the morning of the party and a cool basement. Also I am going to use a peanut butter filling (think funny bone) what can I use to flavor the ganache do you think the brandy will still work?

  187. Help! I got big ol cracks in my cakes when they baked, and then they collapsed into themselves a bit. It’s not a tragedy but I don’t think that’s the idea. I suppose my leveners are off? Here’s what I did: I halved the recipe here (birthday cake 12″ squares) and the batter fit nicely into two 9″ rounds. Negate cinnamon. All-purpose flour. Using a non-alkaline cocoa (Ah!Laska brand). Fortunately this one’s a tester for a party next weekend so I get to try again! Any ideas what I can try? Maybe just a measurement issue?

  188. It’s hard for me to say exactly, but you should not swap a Dutched cocoa for the non-Dutched (natural) cocoa suggested here. It does indeed throw off the chemistry of the cake; one is acidic and the other is not, and when I hear about “cracks” and “collapsing,” my first guess is that something went wrong with the chemistry/leaveners.

  189. Well, I made the cake for my son’s high school graduation party; I did three layers (thanks Katharine L for the math). Baked them in a 2 inch wilton pan. Filled it with a batch and a half of the peanut butter frosting from the chocolate peanut butter cake on this site. It made a massive 6 inch high, felt like 20 lb beauty! At one point I thought there would not be enough ganache but there was more that enough. The only change I made from Deb’s recipes was I used marscapone (spelling?) instead of cream cheese in the filling. IT WAS THE BOMB!

  190. I think the easiest way to level cake layers is to drop the baking pan onto the counter several times. Prepare pan, prepare batter, put batter into pan, lift pan 8-10 inches above the counter and drop it. It will “smack” onto the counter and you’ll see air bubbles pop on the surface of the batter. Continue doing this until you don’t see air bubbles. You should get a smoother, denser cake.

  191. I’m loving your blog! I’m freezing tons of cakes for a big project I’m working on. How long would you says sheet cake (12×19, it’s a hotel pan so a funny size) needs to defrost? Should a day in advance be alright!? Thanks so much!

    1. Sarah — It really depends on whether you’re doing so in a freezer or fridge, and how thick of a sheet cake you mean (some are all of an inch or so thick, some are 2 or more inches tall). For a thinner one, I think half a day in the fridge or a few hours at room temperature are all you need.

  192. Deb,

    Do you think it would be fine to bake this in two 9×13 pans? The volume is slightly smaller, so could I just bake the cakes for a bit longer to compensate?

  193. Another question for you, Deb: if I had square 12-in pans, my oven is not big enough to fit both on a single rack. Would you recommend dividing the oven into thirds and rotating the pans halfway through baking, or just baking them separately?

    1. Ilona — You can do either. I do find that it increases baking time to have two big pans in at a time. I often just do them one at a time, anyway, but my ovens have historically been small and dinky; I didn’t want overburden them.

  194. Thanks for your quick response, Deb. Just another question, then: if you do bake one layer at a time, I assume that you don’t make all the batter all at once (i.e., you halve it)?

    1. Ilona — I do. I probably shouldn’t? 90% of the time, I’m making layer cakes with more than 2 layers and I almost always only have one pan. I just bake them, unmold as soon as I can, wipe them out, regrease them and bake the next layer. So far, nothing bad has happened. I could imagine the possibility of second layer being a 1/8 inch thinner at most? But I’ve never noticed it happening. Such a thing could always be adjusted when you level the other layer if you want them to be exact.

  195. Really! Well that’s fantastic to know, it’ll save me tons of washing – do you put the rest of the batter in the fridge while you bake the first layer?

    (By the way, I ended up baking these two at a time, not having read your post soon enough. They fell a bit in the middle and look a little lumpy and bumpy, but no problem – I’ll even them out and frost them, and noone will be the wiser. Tastes wonderful – I’ll be filling it with the raspberry filling and ganache from the “double chocolate layer cake” recipe. Thanks for another winner!)

  196. *hugs Deb* Seriously, this post helped my nerves. I’m making my girlfriend’s Wedding cake next October and I’m already going in overdrive with planning.

    Question in regards to frosting: should you frost the cake the day it is going to be served or can you do it the day before and freeze it? I’m using your swiss buttercream recipe on a chocolate cake with layers of raspberry and ganache.

    Thanks again!

    1. Michele — You can frost it the day before (and should! much easier) and keep it in the fridge. You can keep an extra bag of frosting on hand (even at room temperature; I do) for the next day when you stack the cakes or need to put finishing touches on. Or touch up smudges, which happen…

  197. Sorry, I feel like this beats a dead horse but I’m confused about how you approach the simple syrup after reading through all the comments. If it’s best to apply the syrup after the cake has defrosted, but you usually frost and fill cakes while they are still frozen (as per post 276), when are you actually putting on the syrup?

    When do you like to cut to level and shape the cake? Before or after freezing? If after, does it help to do it while still frozen? Thank you!

  198. Have you ever made this with decaffeinated coffee? I am making it for my 4 year old this weekend. Curious if it makes any difference at all. I just don’t need to make them any more crazy than they already are:)

    1. Sugarmama — Yes, I use decaf all of the time for it. Tastes the same. I feel like a coffee expert would warn here that decaf still contains trace amounts of caffeine, but you probably already know that.

  199. Hi Deb,
    I made this cake last weekend. It was very good, but there was this thin, dense layer throughout both my layers (sorry to use layer twice; this second time I mean layer as in, this was a two layer cake). I looked around the web and saw a comment that this can be because there is too much levening in a batter. And I noticed that the amount here, 6 and 1/2 tsp baking soda does seem like a lot compared to other recipes. E.g., double chocolate layer cake has 2 tsp soda for two 10-inch layers, a cake more than half the size of this one. https://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/07/you-are-owed-chocolate-cake/ On the other hand, that one has 3/4 tsp baking powder, so maybe that makes up for the difference.
    Anyway, I’m guessing the quantity is right, since you’ve clearly made this a couple times, and a bunch of other people clearly have, too, and no one has talked about this issue. So, do you have any advice for me about why I might have gotten this layer? By the way, I think I left it in a little long. It was great, but the edges were really pulled away and a bit crispy.
    Thanks!

  200. I have just started baking my own cakes to decorate as i was buying them and it is costly and they don’t taste very nice. I was in dire need of all this information that can only come from someone who has learned the hard way.
    May you be truly blessed for sharing this with us. I live in South Africa and it is very dry most of the time even in the rainy season so the syrup tip was especially welcome. Thank you very much for sharing these wonderful tips with us.

  201. I love your SOH and your cakes, thank you! I’m making my son’s first birthday cake. I want to freeze the layers. If I ice, sorry frost, them whilst still frozen about how long does it take for the cake to come to room temperature? I’m doing a 2 layer 9inch cake. Could I frost the frozen layers the day before and leave the cake in the fridge overnight to thaw?! Thanks!

    1. Caryn — How long it takes to defrost will have to do with how big the cake was, how thick, how many layers, how cold your freezer is… but in general, a few hours should be all it needs.

  202. Do you know I searched for the word ‘freezer’ and it appeared exactly 32 times on this page? Well, I just ruined it because now its 33. Anyway, I was wondering if I can make a cake, put on a crumb coat of buttercream, and then freeze it for a week? I would do the final frost and decorate the night before.

    1. Shana — I’ve never frozen a cake WITH buttercream on it, so I cannot say for sure. I’d expect a swiss buttercream to freeze okay, but I’m not as positive about the texture of a quick one (butter/powdered sugar) once defrosted. I’m not sure it would still have the crumbs locked in once it defrosted; it might just absorb.

  203. I never, ever comment on articles like this on the Internet and I have never seen this site/article before. Thank you!! I haven’t even read all of it yet, but I have to say thank you for the tip of the strips of waxed paper. My daughter and I did a birthday cake and we went through so many cake boards because the first one got covered with chocolate. We had to transfer the cake and it cracked. I was thinking the whole time while reading this article, “yes, but how do I get the massive 12 inch cake round off the cake board I’m decorating it on to the final serving platter ….” And I don’t need to!! You’ve told me how with the strips of paper. It’s just genius. Totally genius. (Speaks the voice of experience lol). My daughter is the carving genius . . . she wants to be a surgeon so I guess that’s alright :) And I remember ages ago reading that if you want your muffins or cupcakes to have that domed top you give them a blast of heat, so it seems logical that to have a lower heat will do the opposite and give a flat top. I didn’t know it was a baker’s secret, it was more stuff up and wonder what I did wrong kind of thing. You have a lot of good karma for sharing this article!!

  204. I gave up on trying to make good layered cakes when I was a teenager. Every time I tried I had a leaning cake that I would use butter knives to prop up while I froze it so it wouldn’t fall any more. I decided that the best way to get a good layered cake was just to go to my favorite bakery and get one there. I do appreciate your tip about leveling the cake and freezing it before working on it. Perhaps it is time for me to try making my leaning tower of cake again.