Pre-Oven Layered Cakes
As my baking Sensei always said: before you can bake, first you must cake. (Not really. But it wouldn’t it be dope if I actually did have a baking Sensei?) So let’s talk cake layers!
Before your cake batter ever sees the inside of an oven, there are lots of things you can do to make your cake batter the best that it can be. You know the saying: the better the batter, the better the layered cake? Probably not, since I just made it up. But you get my point. The more you can prep for success in the beginning, the easier your life will be in later stages of the cake layering process.
And with cakes, it doesn’t get much more beginning than the cake batter.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Never has this been more true than with layered cakes. Or with Jenga, that tower game where you put out pieces of the structure until the whole thing collapses. Wait. Why are we talking about table top games right now?
Depending on the type of cake you make, there might be a limit to the number of layers you can have. If you make a foam cake, which is naturally super light and fluffy, you can build a taller cake. But if you’re making a cake batter that’s super dense, you might want to stick to just a two layered cake.
Now, please don’t read this and think layered foam cakes= good and layered butter cakes= bad. Cause that’s simply not true. It’s only the very dense butter cakes, like pound cakes, that don’t make good layered cakes.
How about I tell you a story to prove it.
Once upon a time, I made a four layered chocolate cake. Or, I should say I tried to make a four layered cake. (It did not go well.) This was back before I knew that cake densities were a consideration when making layered cakes. So, blissfully ignorant me went about making four rich, dense layers of chocolate cake to assemble into one giant skyscraper.
But, as I started stacking my layers, I noticed something.
The bottom two layers started to develop these massive cracks. And every time I add another layer, the cracks got bigger. Eventually, it dawned on me that every time I added layers to my cake- be it cake, or whipped cream, or fresh strawberries- I was actually crushing my cakey foundation! By this point, my cake was so unstable that it couldn’t stand up on its own. So I quickly peeled off the top two layers before the whole thing tipped over and they ended up on the floor.
I ended up making two desserts that day. A two layered cake and an impromptu chocolate trifle. And I lived happily ever after. The End.
Now the moral of the story is that cake density is important! And I guess the bonus moral is, if things go sideways (and in the kitchen, things can literally go sideways) it’s ok to change your plan to “go with the flow.” My original plan was to bake one jaw-dropping cake. But I ended up with two really tasty desserts. Which, as consequences go, isn’t all that bad.
Besides density, we need to talk about cake pans. And my philosophy on bakeware is the more the merrier.
I believe in minimalism as a way of life. Less stuff means less clutter and less stress. But, when it comes to my kitchen, having more really is better! I can’t tell you how many different pie tins and 9×13 pans and springform pans- in a wide variety of sizes- that I currently own. (Frankly, I don’t even know.) But I know that I won’t be parting with any of them.
Because, when it comes time to pour your cake batter into a pan, owning more than one pan is soooo helpful.
Imagine that you’re making a three layered cake. It is way more convenient to divide the batter between all three pans all at once and bake them all together. It saves you time while your cake is baking and while it’s cooling. Plus, it keeps you from being a slave to the kitchen timer all day long. The alternative is time consuming and a major hassle, in my opinion.
What is the alternative?
Well, first you would divide the batter in thirds. Then you’d pour one of those portions into your pan and bake yourself a cake. Then, after the cake’s cool enough, you’d pop it out of the pan, wash and dry the pan, and add the next third of batter to the pan. And then start the whole process over again, repeating until all three layers have been baked.
Man, just describing all of that was a chore!
You see why owning multiple pans in the same size is totally worth it, right?
Now, it’s time to channel your inner King Solomon and divide that cake batter fairly!
I believe, when it comes to dividing cake batter between different cake pans to create even layered cakes, you can’t get too OCD with it. You can- and in my opinion, should– measure out the batter super precisely.
Use measuring cups to portion out the exact same amount for each layer. Or use a kitchen scale to divide the batter evenly by weight. Both of these are incredible tools to help you divide your cake batter with the accuracy of a mathematician.
Obviously, you can just eyeball the amounts if you don’t want to over think it. It’s way easier to just pour the batter between your different pans and adjust the levels until they look about the same.
But the more intentional you are in the beginning, the less you’ll have to change your cakes after they’ve baked.
And aesthetics aside, evenly dividing the cake batter can actually affects how your cakes bake in the oven.
Your bake time is effected by the size of the cake you are making. Smaller cakes bake faster and larger cakes bake slower. This is because ovens bake things from the outside inwards. So the larger the diameter of your cake, the longer it will take for the heat to reach- and cook- the center of your dessert.
But thickness is also a factor.
Meaning the thicker your cake is, the longer it will take to fully bake.
Imagine putting two cake layers in the oven. One’s super thin and the other’s super thick. Now, these two layers won’t be done at the same time. So if you set your timer and walk away, two things could be true when your timer goes off. Either the thin one will be perfect and the fat one undercooked or the fat one will be perfect and the skinny cake will be burned to a crisp.
Now, there are obvious solutions. You can bake them together while setting your timer for a short amount time (to accommodate the skinnier cake) and simply pull them out of the oven at different times. Or you can bake them separately, knowing they’ll need different bake times. But, unless you know to make those changes, having unevenly sized cakes can be a real problem when it comes to baking.
Let’s get baked! 🌿 I mean, baking. Let’s get baking. (Phew! That was almost very bad. 😅)
When it comes to baking your cakes, the rack inside your that you choose can sometimes make a difference. Every oven works slightly differently. And which rack you use should really depend on your specific oven. The only exception might be if the recipe you’re making has a preference. In that situation I would recommend you defer to the recipe. (Unless you know your oven super well and can predict a problem with what the recipe’s suggesting.)
Let’s do some basic oven anatomy. Ovens have two moveable racks inside and one always sits higher than the other.
Now, convection ovens are special compared to normal ovens. Convection ovens have a fan inside that blows the hot air around the interior of your oven and helps your cake bake evenly. So when it comes to convection ovens, the shelf you use makes no difference.
However, with regular ovens it can make a difference. Since normal ovens don’t have any fan inside, they don’t always distribute heat evenly. Meaning there can be hot or cold spots inside your oven- which can be harmful to your cakes. So, if you’re baking in a traditional oven, I’d recommend you bake your cakes on the middle rack. (Rearrange the racks to make a middle rack, if need be.) This way they’re not too close to the top or the bottom of the oven.
And while they’re baking, just keep an eye on them.
If you notice that the front of your cake starts to get browner than the back, then congratulations: your oven is heating unevenly. The quick fix is to simply rotate the cake 180 degrees and continue to bake until it’s fully cooked. But if your curious to discover whether it’s a hot spot upfront or a cold spot in the back, you can buy a heat gun to play detective. Or you can purchase an oven thermometer to give you an accurate, real-time reading from inside your oven.
Now, if you see your cake getting too brown for comfort but your batter isn’t done cooking yet, fear not! Aluminum foil is here to save the day! 🦸♀️🦸♂️ You can actually cover the top of the cake in aluminum foil and still continue to bake it until done. The aluminum foil will stop the top from getting any browner while the rest of the cake continues to bake.
No joke, this is one of my all-time favorite tricks. It has saved my bacon I don’t even know how many times. But, like, a lot.
Ready to learn what to do once your cakes come out of the oven?
Great! Let’s learn some useful tricks for how to assemble these beauties, now that they’re fully baked. (And cooled. Always cool your cake layers- it’s very important.)
Just click the Next Lesson button to return to the Layered Cakes tab, then click into the Post-Oven tab and we’ll explore exactly that.