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10 Tips for your First Cake

If you’re about to make your first cake there’s a lot to think about but with these 10 tips I hope to make the process easier and more enjoyable!

If you prefer to watch a video of this tutorial, scroll to the bottom of the page.

#1 Divide your batter

After following whichever recipe you choose, spray your cake pans with non-stick spray and then only fill your cake pans half full, so that there’s space for them to rise in the oven without overflowing and making a mess on the floor of your oven. This might mean using two or three or four cake pans, or if you only have one pan you can bake the cake layers one at a time. 

divide cake batter to fill pans half full 10 Tips for your First Cake

#2 Leave to rest

After baking your cake, leave the pans for ten minutes before you turn the cakes out. Straight out of the oven, the cakes are very fragile but ten minutes gives them a chance to firm up.

bake cake layers with pans half full 10 Tips for your First Cake

You can slide a spatula or knife around the pan to loosen the edges of the cake. After then minutes, when the pans are just cool enough to touch with your bare hands, the cakes will be firm enough that when you flip the pans over the cakes slide out easily without crumbling or cracking.

loosen cakes from pan with spatula before turning out 10 Tips for your First Cake

#3 Let layers cool

Your cake layers need to cool completely before you use them, which takes several hours. Even when they feel cool on the outside, heat is still slowly being released from the middle and that can melt buttercream if you try to frost the cake too soon.

let cakes sit 10 minutes after baking and taking out of oven 10 Tips for your First Cake

While the cake layers are cooling, prepare your filling and frosting. My favourite is my 4 Minute Buttercream, which is easy to make, delicious, stores well, and can take on hundreds of flavours.

make filling and frosting while cake layers cool 10 Tips for your First Cake

#4 Prepare your cake layers

When your cake layers are cool, prepare them for your cake. This means shaping them, by trimming off any domed tops with a serrated bread knife. This will make the cake layers flat so that they stack on top of each other without making the cake lean to one side.

trim cake layers to level 10 Tips for your First Cake

If you want to create more layers of cake, cut each layer in half horizontally and instead of 2 layers you’ll have four!

divide cake layers in half with serrated knife 10 Tips for your First Cake

If you like you can drizzle them with simple syrup, which will keep them moist for several days. Simple syrup is just equal parts of water and sugar simmered together until the sugar dissolves, and then let it cool before drizzling. Pay special attention to the edges of the cake layers, which are the parts that will dry out fastest so they’re the most important to keep moist.

drizzle cake layers with simple syrup 10 Tips for your First Cake

#5 Choose a cake board 

Before assembling your cake you need to choose a cake board to assemble it on. This needs to be flat, so that you can use a cake scraper to smooth the frosting all the way down the sides of the cake. Choose a board at least 2 inches bigger than your cake to leave room for frosting and decorations, AND to give you something to grip onto when you lift the cake up to move it. Find a cake board with a greaseproof surface so that the butter in the buttercream doesn’t stain it.

choose a cake board 10 Tips for your First Cake

#6 Dot and chill

Pipe or spread a dot of buttercream onto the middle of your cake board and this will act as glue.

spread or pipe buttercream onto middle of cake board to attach cake 10 Tips for your First Cake

Press your first layer of cake down onto the dot and center it on the cake board. You’ll be able to adjust it now, before the dot of buttercream sets.

center cake layer on cake board 10 Tips for your First Cake

Then spread or pipe your filling, lining up the next layer of cake up so that it’s directly on top of the layer below, and this will give you straight sides. Alternate cake and filling and then chill your cake in the freezer for 30 minutes or in the fridge for an hour before frosting it. The fridge will set the dot of buttercream on the cake board and that will hold the cake in place so it doesn’t slide around when you frost it.

assemble cake by layering cake and filling 10 Tips for your First Cake

#7 Crumb coat (do it!)

You might have heard of crumb coats, and I’ll show you what that is now. Don’t skip the crumb coat! It’s a very thin layer of frosting that completely covers the cake from the very bottom to the very top, and it traps any crumbs that come off the cake.

apply a crumb coat 10 Tips for your First Cake

There won’t be many crumbs if you chilled your cake after assembling it, because cold cakes are firmer and less crumbly than room temperature cakes.

spread frosting onto cake for crumb coat 10 Tips for your First Cake

Smooth the frosting with a cake scraper and this is where the next tip comes in:

#8 Use two bowls!

Your batch of buttercream will be in one bowl and as you pull your cake scraper away from the cake after each scrape, you need to scrape that excess buttercream off into a bowl but use a SECOND bowl for that.

apply and smooth a crumb coat 10 Tips for your First Cake

It doesn’t need to be big, but this bowl is essential because the buttercream that you scrape off the cake will have crumbs in it, and if you put it into your main bowl of frosting then you’ll use that crumby buttercream for your final coat of frosting and then it’ll have holes in it.

Your crumb coat doesn’t have to be perfect because it’s going to be covered up next.

#9 The final coat

For the final coat I have several tips so I’ll combine them all into this ninth tip:

tint buttercream for final coat of frosting 10 Tips for your First Cake
  • use a lot of buttercream to create straight sides
smoothing the frosting on top of cake 10 Tips for your First Cake
  • spread it above top edge of the cake to create sharp angles and flat top of the cake
spread buttercream thickly onto cake for straight sides and smooth frosting 10 Tips for your First Cake
  • rest the base of the frosting smoother down on the cake board to line it up straight against the side of the cake
smoothing the frosting on cake 10 Tips for your First Cake
  • for the top edge, wipe your offset spatula clean after each swipe to create neat edges of the cake.
using a cake scraper to smooth frosting on cake 10 Tips for your First Cake

I know that was a lot of information and if you’re looking for a more detailed demonstration, check out my free tutorial on 7 Secrets for Smooth Frosting.

#10 Store and serve

Now that your cake is beautifully frosted you can decorate it or leave it simple. Store it in fridge until 2-4 hours before serving to prevent bulges in the sides of the cake and drooping of any decorations. After 2-4 hours out on the counter it will come to room temperature and the cake and frosting will be soft and delicious!

how to frost a cake 10 Tips for your First Cake

If you have any questions about making your first (or hundredth!) cake, ask me in the comments! For hundreds of cake designs and decorating techniques, join my ClubPLUS for access to ALL of my online classes and courses as well as live online classes and Q&A sessions for members only!

piping swirls onto a cake 10 Tips for your First Cake

Here’s the video version of this tutorial:

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