So you want to make a layer cake?
I've truly fallen in love with making and decorating cakes, but it was a tumultuous relationship at first. I'm not one for instructions - I tend to learn by trial and error - and when it came to decorating my cakes I did zero research, and made many, many errors. Don't believe me? Click through below for some of my most epic cake fails.
Yep, fun times. Now here are some redeeming photos of cakes I've made this year...
Now that we've got out of the way... You're going to try and bake a cake, and while you'll be able to find plenty of recipes on the internet, it sometimes hard to find instructions. There are many, many, many different techniques and this list is by no means exhaustive, but this is what I believe you absolutely must know before you start trying to make a fancy "made for instagram" cake.
1) Invest in the right tools If you plan to make 3 or 4 cakes a year, you're going to need the right equipment. You can always do it with the disposable stuff, but in my experience it's never worked out. Here are some of my favorite cake tools and why they're a good investment. (All of my favorites are linked below!)
a) Cake pans: I've never had much luck with foil pans at all. They're not nonstick and I find everything crumbles on the way out. Invest in real cake pans. They're about the same price as the foil ones and you can use them for just about anything.
b) A hand mixer: You could mix everything with a wooden spoon, but beating eggs and creaming together sugar and butter is a lot easier with a hand mixer. These are fairly inexpensive and last forever. My mother still has a hand mixer from the 1980s!
c) A stand mixer: I always thought a stand mixer was one of those things you register for when you get married and never use, but since receiving mine I've used it almost every week, sometimes twice a week. In this case, it is amazing for making frosting. Layer cakes require an extreme amount of frosting and in my opinion the hand mixers do not cut it. Think of frosting as a glue between your layers. Frosting made in a hand mixer is akin to a glue stick, and frosting made in a stand mixer is Krazy Glue. I'm going to link the Kitchen Aid, since that's the one I use and can attest to, but any inexpensive stand mixer will work so long as it has a paddle attachment. You should also watch for sales on the Kitchen Aid, I've seen it on sale at both Bloomingdale's and Williams Sonoma this year alone!
d) A bench scraper: If you've ever wondered how people get their frosting so smooth, the answer is the bench scraper. Hold it parallel to the cake stand and spin around in one long motion. BAM! smooth frosting
e) An offset spatula: You'll need this to apply and smooth out frosting between cake layers
f) A cake stand that spins: to smooth all the way around the cake you'll need a spinning stand!
2) Don't expect it all to be done in one day In fact, prepare for it to take several days. Because...
3) You need to freeze your cake layers! This is possibly the most important thing I learned in cake decorating. Freezing your cake layers freezes the crumbs and firms up the cake making it A LOT easier to decorate. Don't worry about taste, moisture, or freezer smell. You have probably about 2 weeks in the freezer before the quality of your cakes begins to disintegrate. Plan to freeze your cakes at least overnight before you start to decorate them. I wrap each layer individually extremely well with plastic wrap, and then with a layer of aluminium foil to prevent a loss of moisture or freezer burn.
4) Frosting needs to be stiff! That cake that looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa? I put whipped cream in to the frosting batter and the entire cake slid. It makes perfect sense in retrospect, but no one ever explained to me that frosting is the glue that holds cake together.
I hope that's insightful. As always, let me know if you have any questions! Happy decorating :)