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How to make a layer cake

Updated on February 1, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

What Is A Layer Cake

A layer cake is any cake that is made up of more than one layer. There are 2 layer, 3 layer, 4 layer and even 7 layer layer cakes!

The layers are most often made from the same recipe but sometimes a baker will use different types of cake for the different layers. For example, one type of layer cake has a layer of yellow cake, a layer of buttercream, a layer of crispy meringue, a layer of buttercream, and then a layer of yellow cake.

Generally a layer cake will be a circular cake made in eight or nine inch pans, but some are made in square or other fancy shaped pans.

Tips for a Great layer Cake - Every Time

The keys to a good layer cake are a good recipe and careful measurement of ingredients. Here are some other things to do:

  • Be sure to have ingredients at room temperature
  • Use cake flour not all purpose flour
  • Don't over-mix
  • Use standard measuring cups and spoons
  • Preheat oven to exact temperature
  • Don't overcrowd pans in the oven

Classic Yellow Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting
Classic Yellow Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

Steps To Making A Good Layer Cake

  1. Preheat the oven
  2. Grease pans and sprinkle with flour. Shake pan so the flour coats the pan completely, bottom and sides.
  3. Stir the flour and lightly spoon it into the measuring cup. Level off the top gently with a knife.
  4. Follow recipe exactly.
  5. Measure half the batter into each prepared pan and level top. Batter should only be about halfway up the sides of the pan.
  6. Bake until done.
  7. Let cool in pans for ten minutes, run a knife around edge to loosen the cake, and then turn out on counter to finish cooling.
  8. When the cake is cool, if you have time, freeze it for easier frosting.
  9. Slice off the rounded part on the tops of the layers to even them out.
  10. Place the first layer, cut side down, on the cake plate.
  11. Put about 3/4 cup of the frosting in the center of the cake and spread to the edges.
  12. Place the next layer on top, cut side down.
  13. Frost top and sides of cake with a thin layer of frosting. Freeze for about 30 minutes.
  14. Finish the cake by smoothing the rest of the frosting over it. Smooth sides and top.
  15. Decorate if desired.

How To Make a Chocolate Cake

Basic Yellow Cake Recipe

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup half & half
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract if desired
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 inch pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition, then stir in the vanilla and almond. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the cream. Do not over-mix. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly tapped. Cool 15 minutes before turning out onto cooling racks.

Basic Frosting Recipes

Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup butter

4 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate

1 pound confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup cream

Melt chocolate and butter in the microwave, or in the top of a double boiler. In a large bowl, combine confectioners' sugar, vanilla and 1/2 cup of the cream. Blend in the melted chocolate mixture. Add remaining cream, a little at a time, until desired consistency is achieved. Let stand until spreadable . Frosting will thicken as it cools.

Basic Cream Cheese Almond Frosting

8 oz cream cheese room temp

4 tbs butter

3 c confectioners sugar

1 tsp almond

1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat butter and cream cheese together until mixed. Add rest of ingredients and beat until fluffy. Add a little cream if needed to get the right consistency.

Common Causes of Failure in Layer Cakes

There are several things that may cause a layer cake to not be all that it should be. Some of the more common ones are:

  • Hard crust- temperature was too high
  • Sticky top crust- too much sugar, too short a baking time
  • Cracked top - too much flour, over-mixing
  • One side higher- oven heats unevenly, batter was put in pan unevenly and not smoothed out.
  • Soggy on the bottom- too much liquid, under-beaten eggs, under-mixing, too short of a baking time
  • Fallen-too much sugar, to little flour, too short of a baking time, cake was jarred during baking
  • Coarse- insufficient creaming of butter and sugar, all purpose flour was used rather than cake flour
  • Tough- too much flour, over-mixing, too many eggs
  • Heavy texture- too many eggs, over-mixing, too little leavening
  • Crumbly- under-mixing, too much flour, too much sugar, not enough butter, pan was not greased properly

Like anything else, making a good cake consistantly takes time and practice. Be patient, keep trying, and before long you will be turning out better than bakery quality cakes that you will be proud to serve.

Once you have the basic method down try other, more complex recipes to keep challenging yourself and to hone your skills.



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    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 6 years ago

      I need a yellow cake recipe, and went on a mad search, and found yours! Great, thanks!

    • profile image

      Pamela 6 years ago

      Question how many cups should I put in 9 in pan to make cakes.. My cakes usually burns or come out uneven..

    • profile image

      Rerrrr123467 6 years ago


    • profile image

      madeitwithlove 6 years ago

      I'm not sure what cake flour is. Here in England we use self raising or plain (all purpose). There is also the option of using 00 grade four which is extra fine and doesn't need sifting, each flour gives perfect results. I'm a great fan of layer cakes so it's good to see so much interest. Happy baking every one and a very happy, healthy 2012.

    • Journey * profile image

      Nyesha Pagnou MPH 6 years ago from USA

      Hey Drax, I can't wait to read "Life Cake":)...

      Marye Audet, Thanks a lot for sharing these ideas. I have made layer cake before but I can always use tips for achieving optimal neatness with it:).

      I also have yet to make my first cake with cake flour specifically as opposed to all purpose flour but I am surely going to start. I have heard the advice too many times to ignore it. Thanks for the reminder. Great hub. Vote up.


      Journey *

    • profile image

      shange 6 years ago

      i wish i had read this 2 hours ago

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      The freezing keeps crumbs out oh the final icing.. It is always an impotantcstep

    • profile image

      Tara 6 years ago

      Thanks for the info. What does freezing the cake before finishing icing it do? And I am making a red velvet cake with cream cheese icing, should I still freeze?

    • Megan Kathleen profile image

      Megan Kathleen 6 years ago from Los Gatos, CA

      Great hub! I especially appreciate your section on common problems and the causes. I am not a very knowledgeable baker (I just do what the recipe tells me) so when something comes out wrong, I can't figure it out what to do to fix it. Very useful!

    • profile image

      madeitwithlove 7 years ago

      I love making layer cakes, the different flavours in each layer makes for interesting tastes. Love seeing the surprised looks on eater's faces when they realise they are eating maybe more than one cake all at once. My biggest disappointment is the inability to purchase layer cake pans measuring 12" and 10". The largest available in England is for 9". I can't tort cakes so it is pretty useless making one big cake and slicing it into three. If anyone in England knows where I can get large layer pans I'd be grateful for feed back. Thanks folks.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 7 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      1/2 and 1/2 in the US is light cream.

    • profile image

      moon 7 years ago

      •3/4 cup half & half

      of what

    • denise318 profile image

      denise318 7 years ago from Narrowsburg, NY

      Good Hub. I made a layer cake myself last week for the first time kind of as a trial run for a friend. The cake had a great flavor, homeade vanilla frosting, and stars/flowers cut out of gum paste for decoration. I have made my own chocolate frosting from a recipe and the feedback that I received was encouraging. I would be happy to share the recipe.

    • KimberlyAnn26 profile image

      KimberlyAnn26 7 years ago

      Great Hub. I just made a layer cake and it turned out pretty good. I used some cheap chocolate frosting though so that didn't taste too good! Any recommendations on a good chocolate frosting brand? Make your own?

    • profile image

      demi 7 years ago

      they look lovely

    • profile image

      katie 7 years ago

      i was wondering can anyone adapt this recipe for me (the pound cake recipe) so it makes 2 10 inch square cakes instead of 2 8 inch rounds have googled how to upscale recipes and its very confusing and i just need a basic pound cake recipe for sqaure 10 inch tins :)

    • profile image

      Kristina 8 years ago

      I was can I make a thicker, harder crust? I want to use buttercream and fondant and I need something that will hold up to it. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Carolyn Jung 8 years ago

      A homemade layer cake never ceases to bring a smile when it's carried to the table. It doesn't even have to look perfect, either. Just the idea that someone took the time to bake, assemble and frost it is enough to make everyone grateful to have a slice of something made with such care and love.

    • profile image

      sarah 8 years ago

      mmm...look nice

    • profile image

      Candae 8 years ago

      Nice... now I'm gonna try another baking experiment. I failed the first time.

    • networkrecruiting profile image

      networkrecruiting 8 years ago from Spicy Alabama

      I love making cakes and these images just reminded me whY.IAM GOING TO TRY THE CHOCOLATE FROSTING

    • CYBERSUPE profile image

      CYBERSUPE 8 years ago from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A.

      Hi Marye, Your Hub inspired me to create a hub and give the recipe on how to make a "Quick and Easy Pound Cake, which my grandmother brought over from the Ukraine in 1895. This cake is, Time Tested and People approved. Thank You so much. I will join your Fan Club, neighbor. I live in Chester County

    • profile image

      tweenbaker 8 years ago

      I never knew using cake flour over all purpose could make such a huge difference! thank you so much for the advice! hopefully my cakes will turn out better :D

    • profile image

      WILMAR 9 years ago


    • profile image

      flourchild 10 years ago

      Good basic information for beginers. I disagree on some of your reasoning on cake failures. Cake flour makes a huge difference, its hard to overmix with cake flour. Weighing rather than measuring will give you a more consistent product. Nice job. I,ll try the cakes.

    • profile image

      bhuvenjit kaur 10 years ago

      wow i going to the kitchen to make it. thanks!

    • Kat07 profile image

      Kat07 10 years ago from Tampa

      Yes, one was just prettier than the other! : )

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Kat- Well, the nice thing is you can always try again, right? I bet they were both delicious.

      MrM- No, a Napoleon is a pastry. It is made with a special type of pastry dough that is very time consuming to make - but very worth it

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 10 years ago from Sydney

      The layer cake is excellent. Can you tell me if the Napoleon is considered alayer cake, That is thew one with some flake pastry in it?

      Thank you for magic help

    • Kat07 profile image

      Kat07 10 years ago from Tampa

      I wish I had read this about 2 weeks ago when I failed to flour the pans and my cake layers came out in chunks and pieces. Believe me, the second time around I floured the pans!

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      LOL! Drax...Good luck.

    • Drax profile image

      des donnelly 10 years ago from NYC....

      Marye Audet

      I love the images in this and I'm going to go out to the kitchen now and search in the cupboard for something nice to eat and failing that I will have a cup of Barrys Irish tea....

      I feel that life is like this cake, circular, round and round it goes, work is a layer, love is a layer.... i should probably go away and write a pome called the Life Cake...I'll come back and tell you how it went.... in the meantime thanks, such a delicious hub...



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