How to Make a Layer Cake for Beginners

This easy tutorial for how to make a layer cake is perfect for beginners! Learn how to level the cake, fill the layers, crumb coat, and do a beautiful final coat. This tutorial is perfect for a birthday cake, a smash cake, or any celebration! 
 
A 3 layer yellow cake that is frosted with purple icing and decorated with colorful sprinkles. The cake is on a green cake stand and a piece is cut showing the inside.
 

Easy Layer Cake Overview

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Techniques Used: Crumb Coating
This layer cake tutorial is geared toward beginners. While I am someone who understands baking science and proper technique very well, making baked goods that look beautiful is not my forte! So I wanted to create a tutorial for how to make a layer cake that is easy to follow. 
 
Since I don’t have a ton of experience with this I invited my assistant, Kelly Haines, to help me out with this. Kelly is a trained pastry chef and has much more experience making beautiful baked goods. 

What Kind of Cake to Use for a Layer Cake? 

You can choose any cake you like to build your layer cake. I like to make at least 3 layers as I think the ratio looks best. 

My favorite cake to use for a simple layer cake is my chiffon cake. It turns out extremely moist, tender, and fluffy. Chiffon cake is also the perfect canvas for any flavor of filling or frosting.

Some other options would be to use a classic sponge cake, a rich chocolate cake, or even red velvet cake

What Kind of Frosting to Use for a Layer Cake?

Buttercream frosting is the most common type of frosting used for a layer cake. In this tutorial I used a classic american buttercream frosting. You can see that the frosting is not perfectly smooth and this is what will happen when you use this type of buttercream. It crusts over quickly and it is difficult to get it very smooth. That is okay though, but just be aware of it! 

If you want a perfectly silky smooth cake it is best to use a swiss meringue buttercream or an italian meringue buttercream. These styles of buttercream do not crust over the way american buttercream does and will give you the nicest finish on your cake.  

What Can you Use for a Filling in a Layer Cake? 

You can fill a layer cake with all kinds of things! If you like, you can use the frosting that you choose as the filling. Or you could use jam, curds, whipped cream, fresh fruit, or even pastry cream.

Cake filling options are endless! And changing up the filling is the perfect way to create different flavored cakes! 

How to Make a Layer Cake

Making a layer cake is a fairly simple process. The best way to understand it though, is to watch a detailed tutorial. I highly suggest watching our YouTube tutorial in its entirety to see the whole process. 

Step 1: Bake & Cool your Cake Layers

You will need at least two layers for your cake. I think three layers is the perfect proportion but you can stack as many as you like. 

You can also use any cake recipe you prefer, but the cake pictured is my classic chiffon cake! It is the perfect fluffy cake that works well with virtually any frosting or filling. This cake can be baked into three- 8″ layers or two- 9″ layers. 

Let the baked layers cool completely before moving onto the next step. 

Step 2: Level the Cake Layers

Once the cakes are completely cooled, you can level them. Take a serrated knife and hold it horizontally, resting on the edges of you cake layer. Seesaw back and forth cutting off the dome of the cake. The scraps are the perfect snack while you are building the cake! 

If you prefer, you can use a cake leveling tool, especially if you baked thick layers and need to split them in half. But I always use a serrated knife. 

Step 3: Fill the Cake Layers

Pipe a two layer dam of frosting around the edges of the first layer. This will help keep the filling in. Then add your filling into the center of the dam, or more frosting if you are not using a filling. Spread the filling out to evenly distribute. 

Now take the second layer of cake and place it on top of the filling, upside down. This will help keep the cake very level and even. Gently press down to secure. 

If this is a 3 layer cake, pipe another dam and add filling to the second layer. You could even do a different flavor of filling if you like! 

Continue building the cake until you get to the last layer. Place the last layer on top upside down and look at everything at eye level to make sure all of the layers are centered. 

Step 4: Crumb Coat the Cake

The next step is to crumb coat the cake. Start this process by piping a thick layer of frosting all around the outside of the cake. Now take a scraper and hold it vertically up against the side of the cake at about a 45 degree angle. Hold the scraper still and then spin the turn table toward you scraping off most of the frosting. 

Your cake will look like a naked cake at this point. And in fact, you could stop here if you wanted to go for that look! It is important to put the frosting that you scraped off into a separate bowl than your clean frosting because it will likely have crumbs in it and you will not want to use that in your final coat. 

How add frosting to the top and use the scraper to scrape that off. You can use the frosting with crumbs in it for the top. This coat of icing will be underneath the final coat so it is okay if it has crumbs in it. 

What is a Crumb Coat? 

The crumb coat is the first coat of icing on a cake. This layer is meant to lock in all of the crumbs so that the final coat of frosting will be perfectly smooth and beautiful. 

Step 4: Chill the Cake to Set Crumb Coat

Once the crumb coat is applied, you need to let the cake chill for a bit to let the crumb coat set. It takes at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator to set the crumb coat. You can also let it sit in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, depending on your timing for when you want to finish decorating your cake. 

Step 5: Apply the Finishing Coat of Frosting

Start the finishing coat the exact same way you did the crumb coat. Pipe a thick layer of frosting around the edges and use a scraper to smooth it out.

Hold the scraper steady, as you spin the turntable. This time don’t apply quite as much pressure. You cant to keep a nice coat of frosting on the cake and don’t want to pull too much off. 

After the first coat of frosting you will likely have a few holes and imperfections. Use the piping bag to patch the holes and then use the scraper again to smooth it out. You can do this as many times as you need to. 

Now add a thick coat of frosting to the top of the cake and spread it out. Hold the scraper steady against the top of the cake and then turn the turntable toward you dragging the frosting toward the center to smooth it out. 

Step 6: Add Decorations

Once you have your finishing coat of frosting completed, you can add your decorations. We choose to do a boarder of sprinkles around the bottom. Press them into the frosting with moderate pressure. We then a simple boarder of piped frosting around the top. 

This cake would be so perfect for a birthday, a smash cake, or any kind of celebration! 

How to Make a Layer Cake

How to Make a Layer Cake

Yield: 1- 3 Layer Cake
Prep Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours
This is the basic process for how to build a layer cake. This process can be used with virtually any cake, frosting, or filling. Use this for birthday cakes, smash cakes, or any special occasion cake.

Materials

Tools

Instructions

Note: The best way to understand this process is to watch the full detailed video tutorial.

  1. Bake your cake layers and let them cool completely.
  2. Use a serrated knife to level the cakes. Hold the knife horizontally and rest it on the edges of the cake. Seesaw back and forth to cut through the cake and level each layer.
  3. Place a small dollop of frosting on your cake stand and place the first cake layer on top to secure. As an optional step, place pieces of parchment paper tucked underneath the first layer to keep your cake stand clean. Place the cake stand in the center of the turn table.
  4. Pipe a two layer dam all around the first layer of cake. Add your filling in the center of the dam or use more frosting. Add the second layer on top of the filling upside down. Gently press to secure. Pipe another dam around the second layer and add the filling. Top with the third layer of cake turned upside down. Look at the cake at eye level and make sure all the layers are lined up nicely.
  5. To begin the crumb coat, pipe a thick layer of frosting all around the outside of the cake. Hold a bench scraper against the side of the cake at a 45 degree angle. While keeping the hand with the bench scraper steady, pull the turn table toward you to scrape off the frosting. Place this frosting in a separate bowl from the rest of your frosting because it will likely have crumbs in it.
  6. Apply a layer of frosting to the top of the cake (you can use your crummy frosting for this) and use a scraper to scrape it all off as well, leaving a thin layer. At this point your cake will look like a naked cake.
  7. Chill you cake in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours before applying the final coat of frosting.
  8. Start the final coat the same way you did the crumb coat. Pipe a thick layer of frosting all around the outside of the cake and use a scraper to smooth it out. This time, don't put so much pressure on the scraper because you don't want to pull too much frosting off.
  9. Use your piping bag to patch any holes or imperfections and continue smoothing out. You can do this as many times as you need to.
  10. Add a thick layer of frosting to the top of the cake. Hold the scraper against the top and hold it steady when you turn the turntable toward you to smooth it out.
  11. Add sprinkles and any decorations you like!

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