How to Make a Vertical Layer Cake

My sister is visiting me this week. You know, the one who coerced me into making a birthday cake this year. Yep. That one. She got here Tuesday night. It’s so nice to have visitors and even better when the visitor is your big sis! 🙂 We’re running around like crazy little girls again, and I couldn’t be having a better time. Maybe having her here for a while will result in another fun treat to share here. After all, if her convincing me to make a birthday cake over Messenger from thousands of miles away can get me to try vertical layers for the first time, who knows what having her here in person could cause!! 🙂

About that cake…I gotta say, I’m still happy when I look at those layers. I seriously didn’t think I’d be all that impressed, but I’m telling you…it’s so gorgeous when you slice your cake and see this on person! I’ve seen lots of vertical layer cakes around the internet lately, but I didn’t decide to do mine until Amanda of I am Baker wrote a tutorial that I found easy to follow and understand. I tried my hand at it, and loved the results, so I’m going to share the steps with you!

First things first, If you want your cake layers as tall as mine, you’ll need two layers (so two rounds, squares or rectangles) in the same size and color/flavor. That means you’ll need to bake a total of four layers, two in one color, and two in your complimenting color. In my case I made two yellow layers, and two turquoise layers. I know that’s a lot, but you can totally freeze the extra cake and use it another time. I used all of mine, since I made a small tiered cake, but I still froze the largest tier after my birthday was over. To have a perfect seam between the top and bottom layers, trim away the very top of the cake that is slightly browner than the inside of the cake. You don’t have to do this, but if you leave it, you’ll have a slightly dark line going through the middle of the cake. Chances are, you’ll have to trim it anyway if your cake is mounded in the center.

Stack the two layers top to top.

If necessary, trim the edges to make the sides uniform.

Now, you’ll need a template. I just used plain parchment paper, but you could use cardboard for a sturdier template if necessary. I wanted one-inch wide vertical layers, so I measured the cake and subtracted one-inch to start my template. My cake was seven-inches after being trimmed, so I made my template six-inches square. Next, I drew the remaining layer templates onto it, making each one an inch wide. If you want, you could make each size template separately, but I decided to save paper and time and just trim this one down as I went. Center the paper on the cake and trim all the way around it, following the edge closely.

Repeat this step on the other color cake.

Once both color cakes have been cut with the first size on the template, trim the template down to the next guidelines. Cut both colors of layers to this size, then trim the guide down to the next size of template.

Cut around the remaining templates until you have both cakes cut to the appropriate sizes.

Next, slice all of the outer layers open on one side. Do the same thing with the complimenting cakes.

Center you smallest layer on a cake board or stand. Now, gently wrap the cut cake layers around each other in alternating colors. Take your time, checking to be sure that each layer is cut all the way through, and being gentle so you don’t tear anything. This isn’t as scary as it looks or seems. The smaller layers move quite quickly and easily. The larger layers are a little more difficult, but I was able to do them all alone, with just my two hands. If you have the extra help around, though, definitely ask for it, just in case. Better safe than sorry. You can lift and guide the cake from the front, while your helper does so with the back of the cake.

I used some leftover scraps to make a small third tier for my cake. The way that I made this little layer and got it to hold together is also a step that you’ll use on the large vertical layers. Wrap each layer in parchment or wax paper and tie it off with a belt of kitchen twine, or whatever you have on hand. Make sure, before you knot the belt, that the parchment is wrapped tightly enough to hold the layers closely together. Next, brush each of the cakes with simple syrup. Enough to sort of “glue” the layers together, but not so much that the cake gets soggy. Freeze the layers for about two hours before decorating. I let mine thaw out while I mixed up fondant colors, then frosted them and decorated.

That’s all there is to it! Decorate as usual and no one will ever suspect that inside your beautiful cake there are fun layers that are just as beautiful as the outside!

I loved the reaction that I got from everyone when I cut the cake! They definitely weren’t expecting this! Yes, this is more work than your typical stack and frost cake, but it wasn’t as much work as I anticipated, and it was so worth it! I highly recommend giving this a go. Keep it a secret and sit back and enjoy the oohs and ahhs of your guests…it’s good payment for your work! 🙂 Enjoy!

Leave a comment


  1. says

    omg, this is so beautiful and simple! I might give this one a try next. It’s certainly easier than 10-layers 😀

    (I baked my layers last night and actually got 12 instead of 10, but oh well. It’s still 6 of each color)

    By the way! I was wondering, what food coloring did you use to get that pretty turquoise color?

  2. says

    Omigosh – I just LOVE your cake tutorials. I RELY on them, since after all this time spent in the kitchen, cake engineering and decorating are still extremely intimidating to me.

    Thank you so much for this post and the photographs – I can’t wait to try this and now have some hope that I will be successful, thanks to you!!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  3. says

    That is amazing! Seriously! I have never been able to figure out how people DO that. awesome, awesome, awesome. I’m gonna be thinking about this for a couple days now. Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Stephanie, I think you could still put frosting between the cake layers if you wanted. You could either put it in the traditional way, or you could even try adding it vertically between the layers, which I was very tempted to do!

  4. bttrflybabydoll says

    So cute! I’m still trying to decide what kind of cake to make for Zachary’s birthday. This idea will be thrown into the mix. His party is this Sunday. Can’t wait! Thanks!

  5. says

    SO pretty!
    I’m glad you and your sis are having such a great visit.

    I have a round “Checkerboard” cake kit that does this without all the cutting (rings go into the pan to pour the batter into, then lift out and the batter stays in the rings). Everyone is always very impressed 🙂

  6. Tara says

    Hello, I’m interested what kind of “syrup” you use to seal the cake layers before freezing, b/c I’d LOVE to try this cake for my son’s 1st birthday party! Also, how did you make the turquoise cake? The colors for my son’s party are yellow and turqouise so this is perfect! Beautifully done! 🙂

    • says

      Hi Tara, I used a basic simple syrup, which is equal parts sugar and water. Just combine the sugar and water (I did 1/4 cup of each for this recipe) in a small saucepan set over medium high heat and bring to a boil (do not stir). Lightly boil for 5 minutes, occasionally swirling the pan to melt the sugar evenly. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you make the cake. That’s it! 🙂

      As for the cake color, I used blue and green food coloring to achieve the turquoise. I used the blue first, until I had the shade I wanted, then I added small amounts of green until I was happy with the color.

      I hope this is helpful!

  7. says

    I just tried this out and your directions were perfect and easy to follow. It also looks great! I was wondering, though, once cut, were the slices of cake kind of like lots of little cubes of cake? Is there a way to get them to stick together?

    • says

      Hi Genevieve, Sorry for the slow reply, your comment got lost in the shuffle. 🙁 I didn’t have lots of little cubes when I was all done. I can see how that might happen, though. The best way I can recommend to stick them together would be to use the same type of technique that is used in this recipe anyway. Brush the cubes with a simple syrup, stick them together how you want them, then wrap them tightly in parchment before chilling them in the freezer to set the syrup.

      I hope this is helpful.

  8. Espy says

    I have to say that it is very frustrating that both you and Amanda say to put simple syrup on these layers, but don’t give any more information than to say not to let it get soggy. This is an important step.

    • says

      Hi Espy, I would say I used maybe a tablespoon of syrup on it, but it’s hard to tell since I’m using a brush to apply it. I mention not using so much that the cake gets soggy as a guide for what is too much. The cake should just be lightly moist and slightly sticky on top. The syrup just gets brushed on the top of the cake evenly. If you have a question, please let me know and I’d be happy to answer it.

  9. Lee Kavanagh says

    Hi Darla, your cake looks absolutely amazing and I’m going to try to produce one that looks half as good for my little girl’s third birthday this weekend. I’m a very novice baker so I’m feeling nervous and excited about my project! Just a quick question about freezing the cake before icing. I was hoping to make the cake a few days in advance and then thawing and frosting it the day before the party. Do you think this will work? From your tutorial it sounds like it needs to be partially frozen when applying the frosting and I’m just wondering at what stage of thawing a completely frozen cake I should begin to frost it?

  10. Bethany says

    I know it’s a million years after you’ve posted this, but I’m about to try this this weekend for my birthday! My layers… red velvet and chocolate! I’m going to frost the layers with creme cheese frosting and slice strawberries on top. And no, I’ve never baked a cake on my own before. Wish me luck!

    • says

      I’ve never made a large three-tiered cake with this recipe, but I have found it to be quite sturdy (in a delicious and way 🙂 ) all of the times I’ve used it. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful than that, but I do believe that it would work beautifully.