The only thing better—or cuter, at least—than a layer cake is an itty-bitty layer cake; and you don't have to share it. Cupcakes are old news (still love them, but). Best of all, mini layer cakes are easy, less high-strung than a regularly-sized layer cake. You just bake one sheet cake and cut the “layers” out using a round cookie cutter, or even the bottom of a drinking glass. Once you have your layers and some kind of yummy frosting to sandwich it all together, the sky is the limit.
Ready to make some adorable layer cakes of your own? Here’s what you need to know:
To make mini layer cakes, the first think you'll need is...cake. I opt to bake one sheet cake in a standard half sheet pan (13 x 18 inches). There are no real rules here, nearly any cake can be used to make a mini layer cake.
That said, there are a few things worth noting. First, you want to make sure the cake layers are a good thickness. Too-thin cake layers (less than 1/2-inch) make short mini cakes, and the layers can also be difficult to handle and more likely to break apart. Layers that are too thick (over 1 ¼ inches) can make a less-than-mini cake, and can also make it more difficult to frost them (not to mention mess up the ideal cake to frosting ratio). I find it’s best to use layers between 1/4-1 inch tall. It’s also important that the cake is sturdy enough to easily cut with a cookie cutter and stack. For the most part, this just means avoiding overly tender or crumbly cakes.
I’ve included three very good recipes in this article, all of which have been formulated for a 13x18 inch pan. If you’re hoping to use one of your favorite cake recipes, I recommend using Alice Medrich’s expert guide for adjusting your recipe to make sure you have the right amount of cake batter.
To get started, grease your baking sheet well, then line it with parchment. I usually grease the parchment, too. Spread your batter into an even layer in the pan, and bake it until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Bonus: Since they’re thinner than regular cakes, they take less time to bake, too. Let the cakes cool completely before cutting out the layers.
Cutting the Layers
I like to use a round cookie cutter to cut out the layers for my mini cakes, which gives the neatest appearance. You can also use the bottom of a glass or a small plate and a paring knife (use the plate as a guide; trace around it with a knife). The size can vary according to how you prefer it. I like to use a 2-inch cutter because it allows me to get enough layers for a single sheet cake to make nine mini (3-layer) cakes.
Press down into the cake firmly, then gently lift it out of the pan and reserve while you cut out the rest of the layers. If the cake is difficult to work with, you can refrigerate it inside the pan before cutting out the layers to help firm it up and make it a bit easier to handle.
Assembling the Mini Cakes
Before you assemble your mini cakes, you need a filling. This can be anything from frosting to ganache to whipped cream. Remember, though, that looser fillings can make it difficult to stack the mini cakes. Things like jam or fruit curd are often difficult to work with unless you pipe a ring of frosting around the outer edge of the cake layer before adding the looser interior filling.
If you want to get fancy, the interior filling can be something different from the exterior finish. Place a layer on a plate or work surface and place a spoonful of your desired filling in the center. I’ve found that one heaping tablespoon is perfect for the 2-inch layers I described previously. Use a small offset spatula to spread the filling into an even layer. Place another cake layer on top, then repeat the process until you’ve filled and stacked the cake 3 layers high. At this point, I find it’s ideal to chill the cakes before continuing to help the filling firm up. Usually, 10-15 minutes is more than enough.
Finishing + Garnishing
Just like classic layer cakes, mini layer cakes can be finished in lots of different ways. You can do a naked cake with no exterior frosting, or just a super thin layer of it. You can frost the cake with icing, smooth or swirly.
You can also glaze the cake for a really lovely finish that can be surprisingly easy. To glaze the cakes, I recommend giving them a crumb coat of frosting first, then chilling the cakes before glazing. You can use whatever you used to fill the inside of the cakes. I also find it’s best to use a thin glaze and just plan to pour it over the cakes twice for the most even coverage.
Add garnishes as desired to the mini cakes. A few of my favorites include adding sprinkles to the top and/or bottom edge; use chopped nuts in lieu of sprinkles, if you want. Fresh fruit is always a winner—pile it high on top of the cake just before serving. You can even add piping or other decorative detail. Anything goes as long as it’s delicious and cute as can be.
I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.