BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details
 
Menu
Blog
Beyond reviews, our team aims to provide you with useful, compelling, and fun how-to guides, gift ideas, and deep dives into trendy products consumers like you love. Here are our latest articles.
August 20, 2022  |  Kitchen

We asked our baking expert how to make the perfect layer cake

When made properly, layer cakes are both beautiful and delicious. However, baking a layer cake at home can be challenging. In addition to necessary kitchen items and ingredients, achieving great results takes some skills. That’s why we asked our baking expert for guidance in making the perfect layer cake. 

Andrea Boudewijn is a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef who has 12 years of experience in cake and dessert design. She also operates Superfine Bakery out of Los Angeles and teaches classes on making cakes and sugar flowers. Her expertise will help you make a cake you’ll be proud to present and eager to enjoy. Boudewijn shared with us her favorite chocolate layer cake recipe that is likely to become your favorite too. 

Items for making a layer cake 

Essential layer cake ingredients

Depending on the type of layer cake you decide to make, the ingredients you use may vary. However, Boudewijn said several key ingredients are universal for most cakes, including flour, sugar, baking powder and unsalted butter. Home bakers who don’t want to make a cake from scratch have an option too. “When all else fails, buy a cake mix,” she added. 

Ingredient preparation

After gathering the essential ingredients needed to make your favorite layer cake, the next step is mixing them. “You'll need a good stand mixer to mix your cake batter, icing and any specialty fillings you're adding,” Boudewijn said. If you opt to use a hand mixer, she recommends having metal mixing bowls on hand. 

A quality blender like the Vitamix 5200 series is also great for preparing special ingredients. “Use it to make incredible fruit coulis and purees to fill the cake between layers or to mix them into your buttercream to make fresh fruity icings,” she said. 

Layer cake pans

The typical layer cake is made in a classic round shape. That’s why you need round cake pans to make the perfect layer cake. Investing in two round cake pans will make it possible to bake two cake layers at once. 

Useful utensils and extras

Boudewijn said that several utensils will come in handy throughout the cake-making process, from working the ingredients to serving the cake. You need measuring cups and spoons to determine the appropriate amounts of ingredients. When it comes to spatulas, she advised that flexible models are best. “Good rubber spatulas are key for scraping down the sides of your bowl during mixing as well as spreading your icing nice and flat,” she said. 

Other useful utensils include a serrated knife for cutting the layers and serving the finished cake and a cake serving set. This adds a stylish touch when serving cake to guests. 

When it comes to presentation, a cake stand and cake boards are ideal. “Cake boards are everything when it comes to slicing and icing your cake, presenting it or having a stable bottom beneath each tier of a stacked cake to prevent collapsing,” Boudewijn said.

Our expert’s favorite chocolate layer cake recipe

Ingredients

3 ounces milk chocolate chips

3 ounces black onyx cocoa

12 ounces boiling water

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 egg yolks

3 ounces sour cream

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

12 ounces cake flour

1 pound, 1 ounce of sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces vegetable oil

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Then, whisk boiling water, cocoa and chocolate chips together in one bowl until melted and combined. Let the mixture cool.

2. In another bowl, whisk eggs, yolks, sour cream and vanilla together. Set the bowl aside.

3. In the mixer, paddle flour, sugar, baking soda and salt at a low speed to mix.

4. Add the oil first, then the butter to the mixer. Mix on low to blend, then medium speed for one minute. Scrape down the whole bowl.

5. Add the egg mixture to the mixer, and beat on medium for 90 seconds until the batter is lighter in color and well incorporated. Scrape down again.

6. With a mixer on low speed, gradually add chocolate to the mixture. Scrape down, then beat on medium for 30 seconds. Scrape and blend the last edges by hand. 

7. Fill pans and bake for about an hour.

Icing your cake

Use premade icing or make your own with a simple recipe.

Homemade icing recipe

2 sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter (at room temperature)

2 cups of powdered sugar 

Mix and add flavoring. If you'd like vanilla icing, add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. For chocolate, try adding about 1 tablespoon of cocoa and adjust it to taste. For strawberry, try adding strawberry jam or fresh strawberry puree.

How to ice a cake

1. Trim the top "domes" off your baked cake, and cut them into two layers horizontally so you have two flat round halves.

2. Place a spatula or two full of icing on a layer, spread it very flat, and then add the next layer. Repeat until the cake is fully stacked, then add icing around the sides and top.

Boudewijn’s tips for achieving perfect results

  • Wait for your oven to preheat before inserting your cakes.
  • Be sure to cling wrap and chill your cakes after they've baked and cooled. Let them rest overnight to make for firmer cakes and easier slicing, icing and stacking.
  • Use a little icing to "stick" the cake to its presentation board or cake stand. This helps it keep from sliding around during delivery.
  • Get eye-level with the cake when cutting it in two horizontally. This helps you keep your knife level and ensures a clean separation of the top and bottom.
  • For denser icing, use the paddle at low-to-medium speed on your stand mixer. For fluffier icing, use the paddle on high or the whisk for extra fluff.

Layer cake baking FAQ

Q. Why do I need to preheat the oven before I bake a cake?

A. Boudewijn said that baking a cake in a preheated oven leads to ideal results. “It creates a more even bake and less burning,” she explained. 

Q. Can I use salted butter when making a layer cake?

A. Ideally, a cake should be made with unsalted butter. Boudewijn advised that salted butter will make the cake taste salty, especially if the recipe calls for additional measures of salt. “You always want a cake sweeter, not saltier,” she said. 

Q. How should I test my cake when it’s baking to determine if it’s done?

A. A tried-and-true way to test a cake to see if it is done is to put a small utensil in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, the baking process is complete. Boudewijn recommends using a skewer to conduct the doneness test. 

What you need to buy for the perfect layer cake

KitchenAid Nonstick 9-inch Round Cake Pan

KitchenAid round cake pans are perfect for novice and pro bakers, as they are durable and nonstick. The extended edge works as a handle. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Wusthof Classic 9-inch Bread Knife

This strong serrated knife is 9 inches long, which makes it ideal for slicing through layer cakes. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Sur La Table

KitchenAid Artisan Series 5-quart Stand Mixer

Boudewijn said that a KitchenAid stand mixer is her go-to favorite for preparing batter, icing and more. This model features a 5-quart mixing bowl, a powerful motor and useful attachments. 

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s, Amazon, Kohl’s and Sur La Table

AmazonCommercial Silicone Spatula Set

Our expert likes that these spatulas feature a one-piece design that makes them easy to clean. The set includes four spatulas of various practical sizes. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Berglander Cake Serving Set

This serving set provides an elegant way to slice and distribute your cake creations. Boudewijn loves the attractive gold finish. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

StarMar Cake Boards

Boudewijn recommends cake boards for constructing, icing, slicing and presenting layer cakes. This set includes 30 boards in various sizes. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

King Arthur Flour All-Purpose Unbleached Flour

Flour is a must for cakes, and this quality, unbleached option by a trusted brand is Boudewijn’s favorite. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

C&H Baker’s Sugar Ultra-Fine Pure Cane Sugar

This sugar boasts a fine grain that makes it easy to blend and melt. It’s a popular choice for cakes, frostings and other desserts. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Clabber Girl Baking Powder

Made by a top brand, this baking powder works well in cake recipes and is an all-purpose option as well. It’s essential for outstanding cakes. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Duncan Hines Perfectly Moist Cake Mix

Boudewijn recommends this popular option for those who prefer to make a cake from a mix. It earns praise for producing a moist, delicious cake with a few simple steps. It’s available in several flavors, including classic yellow and devil’s food. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 


Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals. 

Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.