100 Techniques

Technique #97: Bake and Assemble a Showstopping Layer Cake

Turn out gorgeously decorated multilayer cakes that look like they came straight from a fancy bakery.

Published July 27, 2023.

This is Technique #97 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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We’ve all made our share of lopsided, crumbly, haphazardly decorated cakes. But with our tried and true methods, we'll teach you to elevate your baking to a higher level.

Start with Good Pan Prep

Experts know that a beautiful layer cake starts with professional-looking cake layers. Proper pan prep ensures that the cakes won’t stick after baking.

Grease the pans thoroughly and cut out parchment circles to line the pan bottoms. For extra insurance, you can also grease the parchment and flour the pans. It may sound like a lot, but it will give you clean-looking cake layers.

For the Best Batter, Reverse-Cream

For layer-cake batter, we favor the reverse-creaming method, which results in velvety, flat-topped baked layers.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans so your layers will look symmetrical when sliced and served. Tap the filled pans on the counter to release air bubbles that could cause tunnels in the cake. Bake them on the middle rack and rotate them halfway through baking to ensure evenly colored and baked layers.

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Cool Well Before Assembling

Thorough cooling on a wire rack before assembly is vital for a cake that’s not soggy.

If your layers do dome in the oven, you can use a serrated knife to gently slice with a sawing motion to remove the domed portion from each layer. Gently brush off any loose crumbs that might mar your filling, frosting, or glaze.

To fill between the layers, dollop the correct portion into the center of the layer and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly all the way to the edges. Top with another layer, pressing gently so it adheres without squeezing the filling out the sides or compressing the cake.

Use A Few Final Tricks for Professional Presentation

To glaze a layer cake, set it on a wire rack set into a rimmed baking sheet. This allows you to evenly coat the cake without excess glaze making a mess.

To frost a cake, place strips of parchment paper under the edges of the cake. Once the cake is frosted, slide out and discard the parchment for a neat presentation.

Whether glazing or frosting, cover the top first, then attend to the sides. Pressing decorations, like sliced nuts or toasted coconut, into the sides is one of our favorite tricks for making a layer cake look professional while hiding any imperfections.

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Step by Step: How to Bake and Assemble a Layer

Now that you've read about how to make this professional-looking cake, watch the steps in action. The recipe shown is our Chocolate-Almond Coconut Cake, but the key steps are the same for other layer cakes.

Step 1: Prepare Pans

Prepare cake pans by greasing them and lining bottoms with parchment paper circles.

Step 2: Make the Batter

Make cake batter using reverse-creaming method.

Step 3: Bake Then Remove From Pans

Divide batter evenly among pans; smooth tops with silicone spatula. Bake until light golden and toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool briefly in pans, then remove cakes from pans to finish cooling.

Step 4: Frost and Assemble

Place 1 cake layer on wire rack in rimmed baking sheet (if glazing) or plate (if frosting). Spread half of filling evenly over cake. Top with second layer, then spread remaining filling evenly over top. Top with third layer.

Step 5: Top the Cake

If glazing, pour glaze evenly over top and sides of cake and let sit until glaze is nearly set before adding decorations. If frosting, spread frosting evenly over top and sides.

Step 6: Finish Sides

Gently press decorations onto sides or arrange on top of cake. If needed, using two large spatulas, transfer cake to serving plate.

For more advice on how to assemble and frost other types of layer cakes, check out this video.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Now that you know the fundamentals, here are a handful of other bakery-worthy cakes to impress at any future gathering.


Chocolate-Almond Coconut Cake

This showstopper features a shiny chocolate glaze, crunchy almonds, and coconut both inside and out.
Get the Recipe

Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake

The cake and frosting we weren’t worried about. But a caramel filling that was complex in flavor and spreadable, yet thick enough not to ooze out? That was another matter.
Get the Recipe

Carrot Layer Cake

This American classic has a lot going for it: moist cake, delicate spice, tangy cream cheese frosting. If only it were handsome enough to serve to company, too.
Get the Recipe

Chocolate Blackout Cake

It's been over 35 years since once-renowned Ebinger's Baking Company in Brooklyn closed its doors. We set out to re-create one of its most beloved recipes.
Get the Recipe

Swiss Hazelnut Cake

This sweet, nutty, tender cake is famous in Philadelphia. We thought it deserved a bigger audience.
Get the Recipe

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