Even the most demanding pastry chef (I may or may not have two pairs culinary tweezers, X-Acto knives and a protractor in my kitchen drawer) can recognize the charm of an imperfect looking one Layer cake. Layered cakes are the best thing to bake at home: nostalgic, accessible and made with love. If someone offered me the option of a perfect baking cake or a slightly sagging homemade one, I would go for the homemade version every time.
However, there’s no reason not to make your layer cake look as good as it tastes – especially since it may be the centerpiece of the party. Now that you can bake a cake, here are six essential tips for decorating it.
1. Stack it evenly
Some cakes dome while baking. Stacking cakes with rounded tips means less stability and an uneven looking result. Go at eye level with your cake layer and then use it a long, serrated knife cut off the domes.
I prefer not to cut all the way through the cake in one cut; It is more likely that you will cut askew this way. Instead, cut the cake about a third of the way towards the center, then turn the cake a quarter turn and cut it towards the center again. Repeat this process until you have worked all the way around the cake. Finally, cut through the middle and lift off the dome. (It helps if you have a turntable – more on that below.)
Next, stack your top cake layer upside down, so the bottom of the cake is facing up. Now you have a perfectly flat, crumb-free cake top. Some people throw away the cake tops. I call it a perfect snack.
2. Invest in a turntable (the other kind)
I’m not talking about your vinyl. A cake turntable makes decorating cakes smooth in every way. The heavy cast iron Nace Version is the gold standard, however cheaper versions abound.
If you’re using a turntable, you’ll want to buy cheap too Cardboard rounds for under the cake. This way you can prop up the cake and transfer it to the serving plate (or box) without the risk of the cake cracking or collapsing. A smear of buttercream “sticks” the bottom cake layer onto the box. A folded, damp paper towel or piece of tape between the turntable and the box will prevent the cake from shifting on the table when decorating. Cardboard rounds also add extra height for the cake (I often glue two together) and prevent the cake knife from scratching your beautiful platter.
3. Use an offset spatula or a handy alt
Most bakers swear by it offset spatulas, large and small, to spread and even buttercream on a cake. A ruler, leveling tool and spreader in one, an offset spatula is well worth the investment.
Offset spatulas aren’t the only tools that can pull buttercream onto a pie, however. Bench scraper and even household rulers are common tools – especially for spreading buttercream evenly across the sides of the cake. After adding buttercream, place the long edge of the ruler or bench scraper flush against the side of the cake and place the bottom edge on the cake turntable or plate. Then drag the ruler around the cake or rotate the cake on the turntable if you use it to get smooth, evenly buttercream-coated sides.
(Added bonus: you can use a ruler to make sure all sides are even in height. Instead of inspecting the cake for evenness, you can hold the ruler parallel to the cake sides and measure the heights accurately.)
4. Cover your cake plate
If you don’t have a turntable, no problem – you can build your cake right on the plate. Place strips of to keep your serving platter free of crumbs and frosting Parchment or wax paper Put the cake on the cake plate and place it on the strips. The strips should be wide enough to reach the edge of the plate. After decorating, peel away the strips of parchment to reveal a pristine cake platter.
5. Add something
Sprinkles on a cake are always the right decision. But there are a few other ways to decorate a cake with almost zero effort.
Fresh berries, maybe dusted with something powdered sugar, always look beautiful and go well with chocolate and vanilla. To the chocolate cakeBuy a bar of chocolate and run a vegetable peeler down the sides for instant mini chocolate curls. To the carrot cakeDip long carrot peels in warm, simple syrup for about 30 seconds. Drain and roll up into rosettes.
6. Create a backup plan
We’ve all been through this. If, despite offset spatulas, turntables, and tutorials, your cake looks like a sloppy mistake, just pile the buttercream on top and use the back of one spoon to generate pillow-like vortices.
Let’s bake a cake!
Lisa Ruland is a recipe developer, pastry chef and Food writer lives in Washington, DC and Brooklyn.