Lessons in Layer Caking

The day before my wedding, when most brides would be getting their nails done, I spent 6 hours up to my elbows in buttercream and ganache. Yep, that’s right, I made my own wedding cakes. Not one, but six. Am I crazy? Definitely. But I also learned a lot. So for my first post I'm going to share with you my lessons in the art of layer caking!

1. Test and test again. I made 4 different flavors of cake; lemon cake with raspberry filling and vanilla buttercream, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and maple glaze, dark chocolate cake with mocha ganache and whipped chocolate cream cheese frosting, and chocolate chip cake with cookie dough and chocolate cookie pieces, chocolate ganache and vanilla buttercream. I did a lot of testing to decide on the flavors but the ones I tested multiple times definitely turned out the best. The carrot cake for instance, I knew I wanted to do from the start (my parents had carrot cake at their wedding) so I didn’t test it as much. I ended up having to make a third batch, when I was only planning on making two.

2. Spray and flour your pans. Use a good non-stick baking spray first and then coat it with flour and you will have no problems! Don’t use butter, don’t use oil, and definitely don’t skip the flour.

3. Wait at least 5 minutes before trying to get the cake out of the pan. And not more than 15. If you try too soon the cake will be too fragile and if you wait too long the grease that should help the cake release will harden to the pan and make things worse. I like to use springform pans, so once the edges are off I can set a second wire cooling rack right on top of the cake, and then flip it straight onto the rack. Works every time.

4. Have the right tools. There are a few tools that will make your life a lot easier; a rotating cake stand, a cake leveler, an offset spatula, a cake lifter (which I also use as a scraper), piping bags (even if you’re like me and not into intricate frosting designs, the piping bag comes in handy for keeping filling in their layers), a squirt bottle (for getting that perfect chocolate drip), and I also love my springform pans because I never have to worry about a cake getting stuck.

5. Double wrap, Ziploc, and refrigerate. I did a lot of experimenting with the best way to store cake layers since I knew I wouldn’t have time to bake them right before the wedding. I experimented with freezer, fridge, plastic wrap, tin foil, and Ziploc bags. I found the best method to be double plastic wrap, then zipoc so it’s nice and air tight, and then into the fridge. I baked the layers 3-4 days before I frosted them and they stayed super moist! For a longer period of time freezing does work too, I just think it dries the cake out a little more.

6. Make more frosting than you think you need. I thought I was making so much frosting. I mean I had buckets full of frosting. And in the end I still felt like I didn’t have quite enough of a few of the flavors. Especially if you’re trying to get a nice smooth finish, you’re going to need more than you think!

7. If you don’t have enough frosting, make it a naked cake. In my testing I had run out of frosting a few times and ended up making naked or semi-naked cakes (you know, the kind with no frosting on the outside) and they turned out great! So I wasn’t too worried when I was running low on the cream cheese frosting for the carrot cake. The cake was 6 thinner layers so the ratio of frosting to cake was still high and it ended up looking really cool to be able to see all the layers!

8. Buttercream frosting takes a while to get to room temperature. I made the frosting ahead of time too and store it in big 2 gallon buckets in the fridge until I was ready to build the cakes. I got the buttercream frosting out right away because I knew it would need time to warm up but it took several hour and a lot of stirring to actually get it to a good spreadable consistency.

9. Cream cheese frosting melts really easily. The cream cheese frosting was the opposite of the buttercream. It warmed up too fast and got too soft to work with. The layers were sliding all over the place and I ended up having to use some skewers to hold them in place until they could set up in the fridge.

10. A little chocolate drip goes a long way. The best way to make a cake look good and/or to cover up and mistakes is to add a little chocolate ganache drip. I like to wait until my ganache has cooled almost all the way and then I transfer it to a squirt bottle. The squirt bottle gives you a lot more control and makes it super easy to get a nice clean drip all the way around!

Next time, I'm going to tell you all about one of the cakes I made for my wedding, my Ben and Jerry's inspired milk and cookies cake. It's chocolate chip cake layered gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate cookie pieces, chocolate ganache, and vanilla buttercream frosting. You don't want to miss this one.