Thursday, February 24, 2011

How to Make a Vertical Layer Cake

by Darla

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!

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah February 24, 2011 at 9:46 am

I am so trying this for my next cake! Hmm, but should I do heart cake or this cake? Hmmm, I think I’ll have to do two layers!


2 Gwendolyn February 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

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

(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?


3 Karyl February 24, 2011 at 11:31 am

Thanks for the tutorial. This is one I have to try!


4 How To Be Perfect February 24, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Great tutorial, I can’t wait to give this a go. x


5 Nicole February 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

That is unbelievably GORGEOUS! :)


6 linda February 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Love your tutorials! & as always THANKS!!


7 Candi @ Family Stamping and FOOD! February 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Wow! You are amazing! I don’t think I’d have the patience to do all that :)


8 Christina @ Sweet Pea's Kitchen February 25, 2011 at 10:47 am

Wow! This cake looks incredible! I just might have to try this for my next cake! Thanks for the awesome photo tutorial! :)


9 Scarletta @ Scarletta Bakes February 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm

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!


10 Maria February 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm

What a fun cake! I love the bright colors!


11 Heather February 25, 2011 at 5:22 pm

This is fantastic! Will try it for my daughter’s birthday!


12 Meghan February 26, 2011 at 12:31 am

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!


13 Stephanie February 28, 2011 at 1:32 am

Beautiful results! I sort of want to try this, but I love icing between my cake layers


14 Darla March 1, 2011 at 6:53 am

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!


15 bttrflybabydoll February 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

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!


16 Mary Anne March 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm

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 :)


17 Tara March 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm

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! :)


18 Darla March 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm

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!


19 Tara March 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Thank you so much! I intend to give it a whirl this weekend, hope it comes out half as nice as yours! Best, Tara


20 vickie April 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

this is such a cool cake!!! i wish i could make it as cool as yours!!


21 Tiffany July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Awesome cake! I was wondering what size pan did you use?


22 Darla July 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Thanks, Tiffany. :) I used an 8-inch square pan for this cake.


23 Jessica July 23, 2011 at 5:17 am

You could use the checkerboard pan to do this!!!

Might be easier ;)


24 Genevieve July 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

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?


25 Darla August 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm

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.


26 Kana July 30, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Where did you get that adorable birdbath dish from?


27 Darla July 30, 2011 at 8:47 pm

The cupcake stand was part of a trio that I had custom made from Whitney Smith Pottery. She sells the same ones on her etsy store. I love them!!


28 Espy September 22, 2011 at 8:35 am

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.


29 Darla September 22, 2011 at 11:00 am

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.


30 Lee Kavanagh March 5, 2013 at 4:39 am

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?


31 Bethany May 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm

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!


32 Samira January 14, 2014 at 2:17 am

Will your vanilla cake recipe be suitable for a 3 tier wedding cake? Or do u recommend something denser? Thanks!!


33 Darla January 24, 2014 at 1:10 am

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.


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