Sheet cakes are easy to prepare, serve, love. But there’s just something even more impressive about lofty layers. From two-tiered treats to mile-high masterpieces, baking and assembling a layer cake takes extra thought and effort. For one, you have to choose and make a filling—velvety lemon curd, tart jam, sticky caramel, fluffy buttercream—then you have to slice and spread and frost without making a mess.
But there’s a piece-of-cake way to keep your filling in place, says cake decorator Autumn Carpenter in her latest book, First Time Cake Decorating: a buttercream dam. Here, she shares her no-mess steps:
Step 1: Place the cake on an even surface. Adjust a cake slicer to the desired height. Insert the cake slicer into the side of the cake. Keeping the feet level with the surface, slide the cake slicer back and forth to cut into the cake. Do not lift the feet of the cake slicer while slicing. Lift the top layer of the cut cake using a jumbo cake lifter or a cookie sheet with no sides. Set the top layer aside.
Step 2: Fill a pastry bag with buttercream icing, or whatever icing will be used. Pipe a dam of icing around the edge of the cake. This dam will prevent the filling from oozing out the sides.
Step 3: Fill a pastry bag with the cake filling. Squirt the filling in the center of the cake. Then, with an offset spatula, spread the filling to the edges of the dam.
Step 4: Align the top layer with the bottom layer and slide the top layer back onto the cake.
Now, if you don't have a specialized cake slicer, don't worry. A serrated knife works just fine. Baking wizard Erin McDowell recommends scoring the cake first, then touching the knife to the score mark and rotating the cake quickly.
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"Try not to use a sawing motion, which can make rough-edged cuts in the cake’s surface," she says. "Just hold the knife firmly and move it towards the center of the cake while you rotate the turntable (or the cake stand/platter/what-have-you)."
Although Carpenter only writes about assembling two tiers, you can go as big as your dreams. Simply follow the four steps until you reach your final layer.