The secret to making a perfectly decorated cake is in the basics. Once you've mastered the art of how to level, torte, and fill a cake perfectly the rest is easy peasy. Today, I share with you a few easy, simple, and proven tips and tricks that will help you master the basics effortlessly.
The secret to perfect cakes is in the basics such as the structure of the cake right from baking, level, torte, filling and stacking those layers correctly.
- Have you ever made a cake and then realized it's tilted on one side? Or, cut into a cake to reveal slanted layers?
- Or, have you tried to fill a cake with a soft filling with everything oozing out the side into a messy puddle?
Well, then this lesson is for you. Today I am going to show you:
- How to level your cake perfectly.
- Then, how to torte your cake into layers.
- Fill those layers with a soft filling.
- Stack those layers.
- Frost the cake into a perfect dessert.
What does level, torte, fill, and stack mean?
What is leveling a cake? Most cakes bake with a dome, some small some tall. Taking that dome off the cake is called leveling the cake. If you try to fill and stack layers with the domes it can cause pressure on the cake resulting in cracking and collapsing.
What is torting a cake? Cutting the cake horizontally into layers is called torting a cake.
What is filling the cake? Adding filling, frosting, or both in between layers is called filling the cake. If not done correctly, a soft filling can ooze out the sides of the cake.
What is stacking the cake? Filling the cake layers with filling and frosting into a finished dessert is called stacking a cake.
level and torte
The secret to leveling a cake is in holding the knife straight and rotating the cake simultaneously while you cut as shown in the video. Never try to cut the cake from one side to the other as the possibility of cutting at an angle is very high. Always rotate the cake while using a sawing motion.
- Place the cake on the turntable dome side up.
- Place one hand on the top of the cake with the bread knife in the other.
- Place the knife on the side of the cake where you want to cut.
- Make a mark, dig the knife into the cake slightly.
- Start rotating the cake, this will create a mark all around the cake.
- Continue to hold the knife in the same position but moving inwards slightly (not too fast) while rotating the cake at the same time.
- As you continue, the knife will move toward the center. You should now have two layers of a perfectly cut cake.
- It's easier than you think. Watch the video above to see me do this.
Fill a cake
- If you are using all buttercream, you can add it with a spatula and smooth the top.
- If you have a soft filling, like fruit-fillings or mousses, then you need to pipe a buttercream dam around the edges as shown in the video.
- The buttercream border helps keep the filling from oozing to the sides of your cake.
- Fill buttercream in a piping bag, cut a hole at one edge. Then, pipe a border.
- Add filling. Make sure the filling is not higher than the edges.
- Place the next cake layer on top and continue to pipe the border and fill until you have used up all the layers.
- Once all the layers are stacked, pipe buttercream on the outside of each layer, reinforcing the gaps with the filling.
- Place the cake in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. Chilling the cake will firm the buttercream in between the layers making sure they don't move while you continue to crumb coat and frost the cake.
In the collage below you can see some of my cakes with various fillings.
- White cake with Ermine frosting
- Strawberry cream cake with whipped cream chopped strawberries and more whipped cream to keep the strawberries from moving around
- Mango cake with mango filling - take note that the filling below the buttercream dam edge
- Pina colada cake with pineapple coconut filling - again, note that the filling is below the buttercream edge.
- See my over 50 layer cake recipes and over 50 buttercream flavors and frostings to try
Stacking the cakes
It is very important to ensure you center each layer correctly so you don't have any layers sticking out. Once chilled, these will be difficult to move and line up correctly again. If your filling is too soft, put a skewer thru the center, and into the cake board, this will ensure the layers stay in place while chilling.
Frosting the cake
Once the cake is chilled with the filling, crumb coat the cake.
What is crumb coating the cake? A crumb coat is a first or base layer of icing on a cake. Often referred to as dirty ice because of all the cake crumbs that come in contact with the first layer of icing.
I recommend chilling the cake really well after you do the crumb coat. This will help all the buttercream in and around the cake to firm up. Once firm, these layers will not move and you can frost the cake without the fear of the filling oozing out or crumbs getting into the frosting.
Tips for frosting cakes
- Plan your cake in advance, especially when you are going to start from baking to decorating - read timeline for decorating cakes.
- I like to chill my cakes overnight or freeze them for an hour before I fill and stack them. Chilled or frozen cake layers are easier to handle (see my chilled cakes in the video).
- If your cake needs to be outside the fridge, do not use perishable fillings - pay attention to food safety rules.
- And, if you live in a hot humid climate, pay attention to pairing the right cake, filling, and frostings. For example, royal icing decorations can melt in high humidity.
- No matter how quick you need the cake - don't skip on chilling the cake after you have filled it (after crumb coat, before frosting).
- Do not overfill the cake with buttercream and filling. Once the cake thaws the light cake layers can't handle the weight of the buttercream frosting. This causes the cake to collapse. You can always serve the remaining filling with the cake slices.
- As a guide, you will need ¼ cup filling for each 6-inch layer and ½ cup filling for each 8-inch layer.
- Most cakes are 3 or 4 layers. If you make more layers or if the filling is too soft, use a skewer or dowel in the center to hold the layers in place while you chill the cake.
- For some cakes with soft fillings and frosting, freezing is also an option.
- It is always a good habit to ensure your cake is leveled at all times.
Frequently asked questions
You want to cut the dome just above the rim of the cake. Cutting too much of the cake will give you less height for your cake and will result in too much cake scraps. Having said that, not removing the dome correctly can lead to air pockets between layers resulting in bulges around cakes.
If your filling is higher than the dam you created, the weight of the next layer will cause the filling to overflow and ooze out of the sides. Also, if you don't chill the cake after filling, the buttercream will move and cause the filling to drip the sides of the cake.
When you cut the layers keep the pairs together, so you know which layers stack together. If not, the slightest slope when stacked wrongly can result in a not leveled cake.
Alternate method - Another great way to level your cake is to bake your cake high over the cake rim (using extra batter) then use the top rim of your pan to cut right thru giving you a perfect edge. This is great for those who are not confident about leveling a cake. Having said that, it can result in more cake batter and a lot of cake scraps.
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