Friday, October 21, 2011

Cake Series: Leveling, Torting, and Filling Cakes

Whether you go with ganache, peanut butter filling, lemon curd, or fresh strawberries and whipped cream, filling a cake takes it to a whole new level!  With the addition of a couple layers of filling, a great-tasting cake becomes amazing.  And filling a cake is not hard.  Any home baker can do it without any special tools (though they do help).

Filling a Cake
Cake leveler or bread knife and toothpicks
Cake rounds (or other shaped cardboard)
Small spatula, knife, or spoon
Piping bag or sturdy zip-top bag
Large spatula

The first step to filling your cake is leveling and torting.  Cakes never end up with flat tops, so a layer is cut off to even it out.  The remaining cake must then be torted, or cut into layers.  Try to get the layers as uniform in thickness as possible.

I use Wilton’scake leveler and absolutely love it!  After many different trials, I now always set the leveler on the 2nd, 5th, and 8th notches to get the layers I desire.  This produces a tall cake with three layers of cake and two layers of filling.  If you want to invest in one of these, be sure to buy the one with the serrated blade.  They also sell one that is basically a wire held taught between the sides—I have used this one and do not like it.  Both levelers are available at Michael's--be sure to use a 40% off coupon!


Use one hand to hold the cake steady while
cutting with the other.

If you do not have a cake leveler, you can use a long serrated kitchen knife.  A bread knife is generally a good choice.  If you have great knife skills, you can freehand it—I’ve seen people do this.  If you’re not so great with straight lines, you can use the toothpick method.  Simply measure up the sides of the cake and insert toothpicks all around at the levels you want to cut.  Use the toothpicks as your cutting guide.

Regardless of what method you use, practice will make it easier.  And filling and frosting cover over a multitude of cake decorating sins.

The bottom tier of this cake crumbled as I was
handling it.  A lot of filling and frosting, no
one knew about the almost disaster!

Once your cake is leveled and torted, you can start constructing it.  You will need a cake round the same size as your cake.  I buy these by the dozens at Cash & Carry, our local restaurant supply store.  Michael’s also carries them.  You can also buy rectangle cake cardboards.  If you are doing a shaped cake, simply use an X-ACTO knife or similar tool to cut the cardboard into the shape you need.

To keep your cake from moving around on the round, pipe or spread a small amount of frosting onto it before placing the first layer of cake on it.  Carefully flip the top of the cake onto the frosting.  You will continue flipping layers, from top to bottom, so the finished cake ends up upside down from the way it was baked.

A turntable is not necessary, but EXTREMELY helpful.
I place a jar opener on top to keep the cake round
from sliding around.

Place some frosting into your piping bag or zip-top bag.  You will use it to make a dam to prevent the filling from squishing out.  If you want to use a piping tip, I recommend Wilton’s #12.  I simply cut a roundish whole about 1/4- 1/2-inch across.

Cuff down the top of the bag before filling.

Use a glass or small pitcher to hold your bag.

Pipe a sturdy line of frosting all the way around the perimeter of the cake, being sure that it stays on top of the bottom layer and doesn’t start to slip over the side.  Pipe a second line on top of the first.

Tightly twist the top before squeezing.  All
squeezing should be done by your dominant
hand at the top of the bag.  Your weak hand
is used only to guide the bag.

Spoon your filling into the outline of frosting and spread over entire surface.  Be sure the filling gets right up to the frosting dam and into any corners.  Someone is going to end up eating those pieces and you want them to enjoy the filling just as much as those who get the middle pieces.

Can't have chocolate and peanut butter without
caramel--SO YUMMY!!

Once you are done spreading your filling, carefully flip the next layer onto the first.  Look at it from above and from all sides to make sure the two layers are lined up with each other.  If not, gently nudge the second layer into place.

Repeat the damming and filling processes.  Carefully flip the last layer of cake onto the top.  This is what used to be the bottom.  Notice how smooth and flat the now top of the cake is.  This is why we build the cake upside down.

At this point, I like to go over the dammed areas with the piping bag again.  You don’t want any filling seeping out of the sides!

Once you are done filling the cake, it is ready to be frosted.  Generally, the best way to go about this is to apply a crumb coat first.  This is simply a very thin layer of frosting used to trap all the crumbs.  It’s kind of like frosting primer.  Don’t worry about how it looks or how many crumbs are in it—it will get covered up.  Stick the crumb-coated cake into the refrigerator until the dams and crumb coat are set, at least 30 minutes.

After the cake has chilled, it is ready to be frosted and decorated—both topics that will be posted at a later time.

The final product.


Kiefler said...

So we're getting together sometime to eat this, right?

Sumiko said...

I'll make a cake for your next man project day! Just let Robbie know when you're available!

Susan said...

Do you make your fondant or buy it? I've never done fondant before but found an easy recipe online for marshmallow fondant that I'm considering trying, but I'd appreciate your input.

Sumiko said...

Hi, Susan!

I buy my fondant. I get the Wilton fondant from Michael's with a 40%-off coupon. I have made marshmallow fondant before. It is good, but it's a lot of work. For the amount of fondant I use, it's not worth it for me to make it. I already spend so much time baking, filling, frosting, and decorating that I'd much rather just buy the fondant. If you're an occasional cake maker though, you should definitely give it a try!

Unknown said...

I really like this post! I've been decorating for 5 years and still learned several tricks from reading this, thanks!

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