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Your cake is perfectly baked. Now, what? Time to layer, fill and crumb coat. Now say that five times fast. Just kidding! This is when we make the cake level and then cut layers to fill it and apply a thin layer of icing called a crumb coat that seals in all those crumbies. Taking the time to do this properly will give you a good base to carve your cake or decorate it however you choose.
Here is what you will need:
piping bag or large Ziploc bag
Simple Syrup (see recipe below)
After baking your cakes, let them cool completely and put it into the fridge overnight or at least a couple of hours so that it’s nice and chilled. It makes for cleaner cuts and if the cake is too warm it could just fall apart when you are moving the layers around.
The easiest way to make a single cake into layers is to use an adjustable cake leveler. It’s a great item to have in your cake toolbox and inexpensive too. It has a thin wire that cuts through the cake and notches on each side used to adjust the wire to almost any level you need.
Before cutting the layers of your cake, if it has a dome use the leveler or serrated knife to cut that off the top of the cake to make it level all the way across. Put it aside to snack on later. Don’t forget to save a little icing too. Just you know, to practice quality control and all.
To begin cutting the cake, adjust the level so that the cut will be through the middle of cake. Begin to slice through it using small back and forth motions. Make sure the cake is on a flat, level surface so the leveler can glide easily through the cake. The cake shown is about 3 inches in height when cut straight through the middle resulted in 2 layers about 1 1/2 inches thick.
If you don’t have a leveler, there are a couple of options to help get a straight cut. The first is a serrated knife and toothpicks. Place the toothpicks all around the edge of the cake to guide you. Guide the knife back and forth horizontally through the cake using the toothpicks as a guide. The second option is a serrated knife and a book or another pan. Choose something that is flat and level at the height you want to cut the cake. Set it beside the cake, begin cutting using a book or pan to guide the knife in a straight level line. These are not as precise but they work.
Note: I often use pans that are only 2 inches in height so I don’t have to cut any layers at all. I’ve said this before but I just hate cutting into that precious cake. It is unavoidable for some projects, though. If you choose to bake your cakes thinner, skip ahead to the filling part of this tutorial.
The cake is now level and the layers are cut, it’s time to fill it. Start by sprinkling each of your layers with simple syrup (recipe below). Let it soak in for a minute before moving to the next step. This keeps the cake moist but is optional.
When stacking a cake, I tend to do it in the opposite order it came out of the pan. This means the bottom of the pan will be the top of the cake. It is the most level and flat making it a good top layer. Begin by placing a small bit of icing on the cake board. Place your bottom layer on the board and press down lightly so the cake sticks to the icing and will stay in place.
Place a good amount of icing on your bottom layer and spread evenly. This is where a rotating cake stand comes in handy. Move the cake stand while holding the spatula in place to help make a smooth layer. But this part doesn’t have to be too perfect just level. It is the inside but any lopsidedness will carry on to the next layer.
Gently place the next layer on making sure to line it up with the bottom. Some icing may ooze out of the middle but it will get smoothed during the crumb coat process. If you have more than one layer, repeat the process until all the layers are stacked. At this point, I like to put the cake in the fridge to firm back up before moving to the next step which is the crumb coat.
After about 30 minutes in the fridge, the cake is ready for a crumb coat. This thin layer of icing will lock in all the crumbs which will help keep the final coat of icing nice and smooth.
As with filling the cake, place a good amount of icing on the top layer. Use your spatula to spread it evenly across the top while turning the cake stand making sure it is evenly coated and fully covered. Don’t be overly worried about smoothness just yet.
Once the icing is spread across the top, there will be some excess that hangs over the side. Using the tip of the spatula flat against the cake to press it down the excess on the side of the cake.
Continue this all around the cake. Now spread that icing to make sure the sides of the cake are completely covered. Add any more icing if it needs it.
With the cake sufficiently covered, the icing is still pretty rough looking. The final step is to smooth it. Starting in the middle of the top of the cake, hold the spatula or a straight edge perpendicular to the cake. Apply a slight bit of pressure while turning the cake stand all the way around until back to the start point. This will scrape the excess icing off and smooth everything. Try to do this in one smooth motion but it may take a few passes.
Scrape the excess icing left on the spatula or straight edge into another bowl. Don’t scrape it off into the main icing bowl because it could have some crumbs in it. We are trying to keep those in place not spread them.
Repeat the same process with the sides of the cake smoothing it out and scraping the excess into the extra bowl. There will be a line of icing along the edge of the top now.
Take the spatula or straight edge and gently pull those back towards the middle of the cake smoothing it back out.
Now your cake is crumb coated and the crumbs are all locked in. Place the cake back in the fridge to chill again before applying the final layer of icing and decorating.
Simple Syrup Recipe
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Place water and sugar together in a medium saucepan. Stir over low to medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks clear. The goal is not to boil just slowly heat to dissolve the sugar. Let cool completely and transfer to a squeeze bottle. Yield 1 1/2 cups