I’m going to show you why a cake leans, how to avoid it, and, in case you DO end up with a leaning cake, how to fix it! To watch a video of this tutorial instead, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Why does a cake lean?
As you place each layer onto your cake, it’s tempting to rush and get to the fun part of frosting and decorating the cake but if each layer isn’t directly on top of the layer beneath it, the sides of the cake will slope up or down. This makes the cake look like it’s leaning or tilting.
The other reason why a cake leans is the technique you use when you smooth the frosting on the cake. If you accidentally hold your cake comb at an angle, you’ll scrape more frosting off either the top or the bottom of the sides of the cake, which makes the cake look like it’s leaning.
How can I prevent my cakes from leaning?
To avoid a leaning cake take your time as you’re placing each cake layer, lowering it and then getting down to eye level and spinning the cake on a turntable to check it from all sides.
To adjust a layer that's sticking out over the edge, nudge it back so it’s centered. It's important to do this straight away, before the filling sets and secures the layer in place. Do this for every single cake layer and they’ll all be lined up straight. To check, spin the cake and choose one side to look at and stare at it as the cake spins to make sure it always looks straight, from top to bottom, for the entire spin.
Now chill the cake for 15 minutes in the freezer or 30 minutes in the fridge to set the filling and so that the cake layers get a bit firmer and then when you frost the cake, the layers will stay in place and even as you apply pressure to the sides as you spread the frosting on and then smooth it, that pressure won’t push the cake layers around so the cake will stay straight.
What’s very important as you’re smoothing the frosting is that you press the bottom edge of the cake comb down on the cake board, and this lines up the side edge of the cake comb, the part that’s scraping over the frosting on the cake, so that it’s straight against the cake and that will make the frosting straight! If you don’t press it down, it’s easy to push the comb against the cake at an angle, pushing it further into the frosting at the top of bottom of the cake and that will create a sloping or tilting or leaning cake. When you’re almost finishing smoothing the sides of the cake with your cake comb it’s a good idea to get down to eye level and spin the cake to check the sides are straight.
How to fix a leaning cake
Now, what happens if you DO end up with a leaning cake? Don’t throw it away! After you smooth the crumb coat, if you spin the cake on the turntable you’ll notice if it’s leaning because it will look like it’s wobbling as it spins.
Put the cake in the freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for 30 minutes to set the crumb coat and then look at the side of the cake that’s leaning and spread more frosting onto the parts that AREN’T sticking out, so that the frosting is as thick as the leaning part of the cake.
You’ll need to do this at the bottom of one leaning side, and on the opposite side of the lean you’ll need to do it at the top. This doesn’t need to be neat, the only purpose of this is to make the sides of the cake straight.
Scrape around the cake with your cake comb to flatten the frosting you spread on and then get down to eye level and spin the cake to check that the sides are straight. If the cake is still leaning, spread on a bit more frosting over those two areas and scrape around the cake again and then check again.
The shape of the cake doesn’t have look perfect yet because you’re going to cover it with another layer of frosting but by straightening the cake now with extra layers of the crumb coat, you’ll have a nice foundation to cover with your final coat of frosting.
As long as you rest the bottom of the cake comb firmly down on the cake board as you scrape around the cake, this layer of frosting will give the cake perfectly straight sides and you’ll never know it used to be leaning!
I hope this has been useful! I break down hundreds of cake decorating techniques on my cake school, so that they’re clear and step-by-step with close up videos and explanations of why things go wrong and how to fix them. You can take individual courses or join my ClubPLUS for access to them all!
Watch a video version of this tutorial on how to fix leaning cakes: