For those of you who regularly drop by to check up on my latest projects/ramblings (have I mentioned I love you guys?), you’ve probably seen my recent dabblings into the realm of cake making and decorating. I previously talked about making the perfect chocolate cake and shared my super-duper-ultra-top-secret-but-now-that-it’s-on-the-internet-not-at-all-top-secret chocolate cake recipe. So now you’re probably wondering “Ok, I have my cake… Now what? Don’t leave me hanging!” So without further ado, here’s Part 2: Assembling Your Perfect Cake!
Assembling the Perfect Layered (and possibly tiered) Cake
What you’ll need:
Cake(s), baked and refrigerated
Frosting (recipes below)
An offset spatula OR piping bags
An angle (or any straight edged tool; more details below)
So far, I’ve just kind of given you a list of tools/baked goods that you’ll need or that will be useful in assembling a layered and/or tiered cake. Let’s start from the top here:
Obviously you’re going to need a cake or multiple cakes. You can use any recipe you’d like, but if you’re looking for suggestions, here are some of my favorites:
The Perfect Chocolate Cake
Vanilla Butter Cake
Super Moist Red Velvet Cake
Make sure whatever kind of cake you’re working with is a dense, firm cake (not something like angel food cake), and that it’s had at least overnight to chill in the refrigerator. Chilling your cakes will make them firm and thus easier to work with/less likely to crumble horribly in your hands (You know, not that I’ve ever had that happen before… like multiple times… ruining multiple cakes…).
Once you’ve got some nice chilled cakes on hand, you’re going to need some frosting, both for between the layers of cake and around the outside. You have multiple options here, but I personally like swiss meringue buttercream and/or chocolate ganache (but whatever you choose, it needs to be thick and harden rather hard). Since there are already great tutorials available for making these frostings, I’ll just link you my favorites here:
How to make ganache
Swiss meringue buttercream video tutorial
Assembling your cake is really pretty easy; simply pipe or spread your frosting with an offset spatula between your layers of cake (including a small amount on the bottom to adhere your cake to its cake board). How much frosting you’ll need is up to you and your personal taste, but here’s a good general guideline if you’re unsure about how much frosting you need to make for the amount you want to use:
How much ganache do I need?
How much buttercream do I need?
Now that you’ve got your cake assembled with frosting between the layers, it’s time to add your frosting around the outside of the cake. THIS is one of the most important parts of the process, and will set the basic shape for your cake. Up until now, any mistakes you may have made can be covered up. Uneven cake? Even it out with frosting. Slightly different sizes on your layers? Trim around the edges with a bread knife. Cake breakage? Cover it with frosting and no one will be the wiser. The shape of the outside of your cake, however, will show through anything you cover it with (like fondant) so you want it to be even and have nice, clean edges. Hopefully I haven’t set this up too much like “IF YOU MESS THIS UP YOU RUIN YOUR CAKE FOREVER AND ARE FOREVER BANISHED TO THE REALM OF BADLY SHAPED CAKES!” and you aren’t quickly closing out your browser and running away. The truth is that getting a nice clean shape on your cake isn’t ridiculously difficult, but it is going to take some practice to get it right. This is also one of those things that you can essentially work on until you get it right, so it’s not like you have just one shot. Still a little uneven? Slap on some more frosting and keep shaping!
So, how do you shape the outside with your frosting? Start by applying a thick layer of frosting all around the sides (don’t worry, we’ll just remove whatever excess there is later). If you’ve chosen a cake board that’s slightly larger than you cake (a centimeter or two all the way around would be ideal) then you can use your cake board as a guide. If not, you’re just going to have to do your best at eye-balling it to keep your straight-edge tool straight up and down (which is ok too). Using your angel, or any straight-edge tool, start running that around the outside of the cake to remove the excess frosting. Apply more frosting and repeat until your have a smooth surface. Apply your frosting to the top of the cake and again using your straight-edge tool, smooth out the top (working from the outside in, then inside out). You can also work top-down if that works better for you. To see an example of how a smooth frosting is done, here’s a video tutorial for you.
Now that you have a smooth frosting finish, you can decorate it however you’d like! Be sure, if you’re making a tiered cake (stacking your cakes) that you do something to provide support under each new tier. I like to use large, paper drinking straws in the tiers underneath and I put a cake board under each new layer.