Category Archives: Assembling a Layer Cake

Preparing a layer cake for decorating

Here’s a skill that every aspiring baker needs to master. The good news is it isn’t difficult, especially if you work with pre-made and pre-frozen layers. Take the crumbles and tears out of the process and it becomes, well, a cake-walk (sorry).

So then, armed with two frozen 9-inch layers, begin by trimming them to shape. Start with the tops if your baked layers are “domed” at all on top, since that will seriously foul up your structure. These layers are nice and flat so I’m not going to bother (though I would if I were planning to brush cake syrup onto them, which I never do, so then I guess I won’t). However since most cake layers emerge from the oven with a slight “flare” at the bottom, I’m going to trim those off.

Not all of the brown edge needs to come off, just enough to make the layers roughly square and even, like so:

Now then, seizing the closest available cardboard cake circle (ideally one with a wax top), trim it to size. But Joe, can’t I just buy one that’s pre-cut to size? Yes and no. I made 9-inch layers and this is a 9-inch circle, yet the layers emerged from the pan a bit smaller than that. In order to get the edge of the cake flush with the edge of the cardboard base, it needs a little customizing.

There we go. Don’t worry if the circle isn’t perfectly circular. It’ll eventually get covered with icing anyway. Oh, and did I mention you can make your own base out of scrap cardboard if you want to? You can.

So now, once that’s all squared up, take off your layers and apply a dollop of buttercream. This is will “glue” the cake onto the base.

Replace your bottom layer…

…and apply your filling. This can be anything you want. I’m partial to raspberry, but it can be buttercream, whipped cream, whipped ganache, cooked fruit…ze sky, she iz ze limit. If the cake is going to sit for a ling time, of if you’re concerned about it weeping into the cake, apply a thin scraping up buttercream as a barrier first. Spread the filling around…

…but be sure to leave about a half-inch of space around the edge. What for? Well, to ensure that your lovely filling doesn’t squirt out the sides of the cake and ruin the look of your icing, that’s what for.

To make extra sure, pipe a “dam” of buttercream around the edge, like so (notice my highly sophisticated pastry bag, courtesy of Ziploc):

Apply your top layer and push down firmly, until the buttercream oozes out between the layers.

Now it’s time to employ the master baker’s secret weapon: the Ateco revolving cake stand:

These things are not only amazingly helpful to a cake maker, they’re practically showpieces of industrial art. Just look at that cast iron beauty, will you?

Of course a stand like this is by no means essential. You can easily do without one, but if you aspire to make a lot of cakes, it’s an investment you might want to consider. Buy one new, or source a used one at a restaurant supply store, where it’ll run you about thirty bucks.

So then, plop down your assembled cake…

Then a large quantity of buttercream.

Then go at it with your icing spatula…

…pressing the buttercream out toward the edge…

…then down along the sides.

Don’t worry about being neat, however do be firm, since the object here is to press the buttercream into all the nooks and crannies to create a nice flat surface all around.

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve got the cake good and covered, start scraping the icing off. What?? You heard me, start scraping it off. You only want to leave the thinnest possible layer on the cake at this point. It’s what’s called a “crumb coat”. The purpose of course, to stick down any crumbs that might mar the final layer of icing, but even more than that to define the shape of the cake before you start decorating. Not only is it highly functional, it really takes the pressure off the cake maker, since it divides the “structural” and the “ornamental” phases of the cake building process into two separate tasks.

You’ll notice that the cold of the frozen layer will rapidly firm the buttercream that’s in direct contact with the cake. That’s good for a couple of reasons. First, because it glues the whole cake together into a cohesive mass. Second, because a nice firm cake means you can manhandle it a little more. Using your icing spatula, scape the top…

…then the sides:

Notice I’m not at all worried about getting a uniform coating on the cake. There are bare spots. But not to worry, the main thing you want to accomplish in this step is a nice cylindrical shape. The final icing (whether another layer of buttercream or a sheet of rolled fondant) and decorations will cover all that up anyhow. Now just stash that puppy in the fridge for an hour (or overnight if you’d like)…

…and let it chill until you’re ready to decorate it, which will be, you know, just after you polish off a couple of those beers back there.

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