Before I started pastry school, I never thought about the method I was using to create layer cakes. I would typically create two-layer cakes (usually in 8-inch rounds) and frost in between them before moving on to the top and the sides. And while there is nothing wrong with this method, I recently learned a few professional tricks on achieving perfectly even layers and a well-iced cake every time. With most baking and decorating techniques, this may require a few rounds of practice before you are producing perfect cakes, but stick with it because you will be thrilled with the results.
Please note: It is recommended that you use a revolving cake stand as you build your cake. This is not a requirement and the procedure can be followed without one, but if you have the means to invest in one (and plan to make and decorate a fair number of cakes), it’s a worthwhile product.
Assembling a Cake
Making sure you are working with cakes that are completely cool, trim the cakes. Any ragged edges need to be removed, and a serrated knife can be used to gently cut across the top and bottom of the cake to create even layers. Drag the serrated knife through the top of the layer while holding the knife steady and rotating the cake.
If you desire, you can then cut your cakes horizontally into two layers. (i.e. 1 round cake becomes 2 layers, 2 becomes 4, etc.). This is more of a personal preference depending on how many layers you want to have, how tall you want each to be and how many fillings you plan to use. If you have cardboard rounds (or can create some), holding a piece of cardboard on top of the cake while you cut across will help keep the cake steady and allow you to cut straight through. Make sure you brush away any loose crumbs as you work to prevent icing from picking up crumbs and taking away from the clean look of your cake.
Position your first layer on the cake stand. Using your icing (buttercream is a popular choice) and a pastry bag, pipe a ring of icing around the edge of the cake. From there, you can fill in the middle with filling or more buttercream. Place a mound of filling or frosting in the center of the layer and spread with a flat spatula to the edges.
Continue to stack cake layers and follow the above procedure for each. Play around with using a variety of fillings with different cake flavors. You can even use cut fresh fruit in between your layers.
When you have stacked all your layers, you can begin to ice the sides and top of the cake. The order in which you do this is a matter of personal preference. For the top, place a mound of frosting in the center of the cake and push to the sides with your spatula. Be careful not to move frosting back and forth or lift the spatula because you may end up with crumbs in your frosting. Place some frosting on the side of the cake and spread evenly with your spatula. Using a rotating cake stand may be useful in this instance as you can spin the cake as you go. Spread in one direction to avoid crumbs.
Once you are finished, you can decorate the top and sides of the cake as you wish. You can use crushed nuts, coconut or other crumb products to decorate the side of your cake and use remaining frosting to decorating the top border or write a message. Check back soon for more tips on cake decorating and using a pastry bag.