How to level a cake

How to level a cake

After leveling and torting your cake, it’s time to put all the layers together. Before beginning, here are some points to consider:

Preparing Layers: When assembling layers, the baked bottom of the cake should be at the top. This side of the cake will already be perfectly level and will have little to no exposed crumbs.

Transferring: If using a turntable to assemble and decorate a cake, a Cake Circle is a must for support when transferring to a cake stand or plate. To attach the bottom of a cake to a Cake Circle, use a few generous dots of icing.

Serving: If you are not using a Cake Circle, you won’t be able to move your cake after it’s iced. Consider assembling and icing the cake layers directly on a cake stand or serving plate.

Filling a Cake: Adding filling between layers holds the layers together, giving your cake flavor as well as height.

Using a decorating bag filled with icing and fitted with tip 12, pipe a line of icing just inside the outer edge of the layer. This will create a dam that will prevent the filling from seeping out.

Buttercream is a classic filling choice, but you might also consider trying one of our other favorites to add extra flavor to your cake.

  • Chocolate Filling
  • Strawberry Cream Filling
  • Raspberry Filling
  • Apricot Filling
  • Cream Cheese Filling

Fill Center: After piping the dam, add your filling and spread using an Angled Spatula.

Place Next Layer: Place the next layer on top, making sure it is level. The weight of the layer will cause the circle of icing to expand just right. Place the top layer, leveled side down, so the top of the cake is perfectly smooth and level.

You can (and often must) level a cake after it’s baked, but you will probably lose some cake in the process. It’s preferable to make the cake come out of the oven as level as possible to begin with.

1. For round cake pans, spin the pans on the counter before putting them in the oven. Use your palms and give ’em a good twirl. I usually go counterclockwise. The spin forces extra batter against the outside edges and makes a slight depression in the middle. If you don’t have extra batter, then the outside edges will cook before the middle, before the leavener has had a chance to work. The center, on the other hand, heats up more slowly, and it doesn’t set until the leavener has had a chance to expand, so you can end up with a dome in the middle. The spin compensates for this, to some degree. Plus it’s fun.

2. Of course, make sure your oven is level. If it’s not, or if your pans are warped, you can crumple up aluminum foil and put it under the pans (on a sheet pan) to make everything level.

3. For sheet pans and half sheet pans, level the batter with an offset spatula. Sheet pans are generally shallow, and there’s not as much of a problem with uneven heating. You will need to check the pans to determine if they are warped, however. If so, you’ll need to compensate. Mine bow up in the center, so I have to put extra batter in the middle or I end up with a paper-thin crust surrounded by cake. Trial and error is the best way to figure out how to spread the batter so you get the results you want.

4. For convection ovens, turn the fan “off.” If you can’t turn the fan “off,” you may need to try to figure out a way to baffle the airflow. This is another trial and error thing, but a half sheet pan or cake pan placed vertically behind your cake may be helpful. Otherwise, you’ll end up with slanted crowns. These are the worst.

5. The most important thing is temperature. The higher the temperature, the faster the outsides will set, and the more pronounced the “crown” will be. You can use this to your advantage. Muffins, for example, look best with a crown — crank up the heat a bit. Cupcakes that are going to be frosted need a flatter top, so lower the heat. Round cakes that need to be flat? Lower the heat. I usually cook mine at 300. It takes a few minutes longer, but they’re usually almost perfectly flat. If you are working with a double-acting baking powder, you’ve got some freedom in the temperature you use. Acid/soda leavening may force you to bake at a higher temperature so you “capture” the leavening. Again, trial and error will tell you how to proceed.

6. Other people have other suggestions, like cake strips (I’m sure they work, but they’re pretty impractical in a commercial bakery). Using heavy weight pans. Again, a good idea, but you have what you have as far as pans, good, bad or somewhere in between, and it’s not easy to get new ones. If they’re crap, it’s going to be a challenge no matter what you do. Overfilling the pans and then whacking off the tops. I’ve seen this done a lot on wedding cake layers, where each layer has to be a precise height.

If you try all this, and still end up with a sloping cake, there are a couple of things you can do to even it out without wasting so much cake.

1. Trim off the high spots and save them. Tuck them underneath the low spots to even things out. This technique takes a trained eye and practice to get the fit right, but it works great, and nobody will ever suspect you fixed the cake. You can even save “cake grafts” in the freezer and use them later on other cakes; just make sure it’s the same type of cake. Otherwise, people might get suspicious.

2. Level each layer a bit as you go up; don’t wait until the end to level the whole thing. Analyze the individual layers and put thin on top of thick, and thick on top of thin to compensate as you build. You can make some corrections with icing as you move along, but you cannot build a cake out of the stuff. Too much icing and not enough cake will collapse, believe me, I’ve tried it.

3. Save the leftover bits and freeze them. Then put them in a food processor and grind them up. Use the ground-up crumbs to put in strudels or in the bottom of fruit pies.

How to level a cake

Whether my cake layers come out of the oven with a domed top or a flat one, there’s one step I never miss once those cakes are cooled: torting the layers. Torting is a fancy word for leveling, and the process ensures that any domes get chopped off and any difference in height between layers is eliminated. Perfectly level layers not only make for the most picturesque cake slices, they also ensure that your cake is more level overall when frosted. In my humble opinion, it is a must.

How to level a cake How to level a cake

There are two main methods for torting cakes: using a Cake Leveler or using a serrated knife. I prefer the Cake Leveler method because it’s ultra failproof, but if you don’t have one on hand, a serrated knife will work just fine. You just need to be a little more careful when it comes to making sure the end result is even. Here’s a quick video to show you both before I walk you through each method below:

Side note before we move on: If you’re wanting to see more Cake Basics videos like this one, you should definitely check out my YouTube Channel and watch more of this series! You’ll even find cake recipes and decorating tutorials there to help broaden your skill set and inspire you. Be sure to hit the Subscribe button so you never miss a new video!

Method 1: Using a Cake Leveler

Like I mentioned before, the Cake Leveler is my preferred tool for torting cakes. These contraptions come with an adjustable wire or blade, so you can set it at whichever height you want your cake layers to be. I have been using this one by Wilton for over a decade now and love it, but there are other brands out there.

How to level a cake

The size I use accommodates cakes up to 10 inches in diameter. I rarely make cakes larger than that anymore, but if you do, I can also recommend this large Cake Leveler by Wilton.

To torte your cakes with a cake leveler, simply line up the wire at the height you want to cut and lock it into the groove.

How to level a cake

Then, use a gentle sawing motion as you slide the wire through your cake layer, ensuring that the “feet” of the Cake Leveler remain flat on the table the entire time.

How to level a cake

After that, remove the top of the cake that has been leveled off.

How to level a cake

I usually end up snacking on the leveled off tops with a little bit of buttercream. Gotta make sure it still tastes good, right?

Method 2: Using a Serrated Knife

If you don’t have a Cake Leveler on hand, you can always use a serrated bread knife to torte your layers. The serrated edge is perfect for slicing through cake. Since this method is a little more freehand, you’ll need to use a little more focus to ensure your layer ends up level.

First, you’ll want to create some score marks around your cake at the height you want to level off. You can eyeball this part or use a ruler to make each layer exact.

How to level a cake

Once your score marks are there, use a gentle sawing motion to level off the cake layer as close to your score marks as possible. Remove the top and continue torting until the layer looks perfectly level.

How to level a cake

Whichever method you use, torting your cake layers will ensure that when you’re filling and frosting your cake, the end result is nice and level. It’s a must!

How to level a cake

Want more Cake Basics? Head here to see all of the posts and learn the methods of caking I’ve come to love over the years. I’m cheering you on every step of the way!

Introduction: How to Level a Cake Using Dental Floss

Cakes never seem to level properly when baking, unless you invest in strange baking implements (that only work with certain pans). Rather than fiddling with serrated bread knives, or investing in a uni-tasker in the kitchen that Alton Brown would disapprove of, you can use dental floss to trim cake domes or split cake layers.

What you’ll need: waxed dental floss. Unless you want to add weird flavors to your delicious baked goods, I suggest using unflavored floss.

Also, you will need a (baked) cake!

Step 1:

Select a piece of dental floss at least 9 inches longer than the diameter of the cake you are cutting (e.g., for a 9-inch round cake, about 18 inches). Wrap the ends around your index fingers and position the floss at the level you want to cut through the cake. (In the picture below, I wanted so slice the frosted dome off the cupcake.)

Step 2:

Pull the floss through the cake, using steady, even pressure. Keep the floss level.

Step 3:

Finish pulling the floss through the cake, and you’re done!

In the picture below, the cut is a little slanted, because I didn’t hold the floss perfectly level. If this is a problem, you can tie one end of the string to some kind of implement (chopstick, pencil, etc.) and only move the other end. Also, cakes without items baked into them cut more cleanly, because there is nothing for the floss to get caught on (like the shredded carrots in the carrot cake cupcake).

How to level a cake

If you are making a cake with multiple layers, even just two, and you want the top of the cake to be level, the first step before assembling with filling and frosting is to assess whether your cake layers need some trimming. Some layers may peak during baking or end up lopsided, but this is easily taken care of. Sometimes a slight dome on top is very homespun in a positive way and can even be desirable, but if you want a flat top to write on or flood with ganache, then we have some great baking tips and techniques for you.

To trim off any rounded portions from the tops of your layers (and also to torte your layers), we suggest using a long, thin, hollow edge slicing knife as seen at the top of our image.

This kind of knife has smooth, rounded indentations along the blade, which reduce drag and make a clean cut. A serrated knife will work (depicted in bottom of image), but will create crumbs that get picked up by your frosting, wreaking havoc. A knife that has a longer blade than the diameter of your cake will be best. We use our turntable to aid this process. Place your cake layer in the center of the turntable, get down to eye level with the cake and gently spin. You should be able to see the high spots of the cake pretty easily. Gently slice those away – always cutting conservatively. You can cut more off later if you need to.

You also want to measure the depths of your cake layers so that they end up the same height. Since you will have divided the batter equally between the pans, chances are they are even, but sometimes one cake will rise a little more in the oven than the other. Trim every layer so that it is the same height. When done, we usually flip the cakes upside down so that their bottom is now the nice smooth, flat top. It’s easier to apply frosting to that side of the cake.

2 Responses to How To Level Your Cake Layers

I personally find it easier to level my cakes whilst they are in the pan. Running the knife across the top, the sides of the pan help to keep the cake level. I know I would finish up with a lopsided cake if I did not do this 🙁

For cakes that have risen above the pan this is a fabulous idea! Thank you for the tip.

Sandy Sheppard: Hi I am Sandy Sheppard master cake decorator, and I am here today to show you three different tips. They will probably cut this in three different videos. But the first tip on how to fill up your cake pan, so that you end up with a nice level cake. Let me show you a real nice level cake.

This cake is nice and level, and thats the way we want our cakes to look, so that when we put them together they have a very professional look to them. First tip is to make sure to fill up your pans properly. I have some cake batter here, a nice chocolate cake that I have mixed up. You want to fill up your pans, approximately half full. Now, this will depend upon your recipe. Some recipes require you to fill them up full, because they dont rise as well that I know that this cake recipe fills up two eight inch pans, and so if I fill up both pans equally, then it will be very nice. See how handy that spatula is, it cleans every little bit out of that pan. Just spread that around real nice and easy in my pan, and there we go. As you can see both pans are approximately half full and they are nice and leveled.

Okay. My next little step for helping your pans to — your cakes to bake nice and flat like this one has. Now thats the bottom of the pan, but thats the top of the cake and it is very nice and flat. I have three tips for that, one is making sure your cake pan is filled properly. The second one is to wrap it with a toweling strip. This is just from an old bath towel that I have cut in strips that fit the depth of the pan. I have taken this over to my sink and gotten it nice and wet and squeezed out the excess water, so that its wet.

Now I take this towel strip, put it around my pan, just wrap it nice and gently and where did my little t-pin go. Then I bough this t-shape pin, I dont know how well you can see that there, but this little t-pin and its called that, because it looked like a letter T, you could buy at any fabric department store, any department store that has fabrics and such. Then I take this and I am just going to pin right through the layers of the toweling to hold it together, and now its ready to be baked.

Now, if the cake comes out of the oven and its not nice and leveled, there is one more trick that I have to show you. Take it out of your oven, and as soon as it comes out of the oven, now this one is pretty leveled, but as soon as it comes out of the oven take a nice dry towel, a terrycloth towel so its fairly thick, I have it folded in half, I lay it across the hot cake and gently press it, and flatten the top of the cake, and thats three tips for helping you to come out with a nice level finished cake.

Item: Regency Evenbake Cake Strips
Price: $6.99
Overall impression: These insulated strips that attach to the outside of the cake pan do a decent job of baking up level cakes, but we’re still not completely sold.

When a few Kitchn editors got together recently to photograph the Kitchn Baking School, Faith brought me a set of these cake strips since she’d heard so much about them. To be honest, I believe that a good cake recipe has the right amount of leavener and should come out fairly level in the first place, but I was also super curious about these strips that supposedly insulate cake pans to produce moist, level cakes. I wanted to see if they would make a difference.

Regency Evenbake Cake Strips: A Quick Summary

Characteristics and specs:

  • Two aluminized fabric strips
  • Easy Velcro fasteners
  • Fits 8″ to 9″ cake pans

Favorite details: The Velcro made is super easy to attach onto cake pans.

Potential problems: Results weren’t totally consistent. One cake sunk in the middle, while another baked up fairly level.

Who would love this: For those who want to try skipping trimming the tops of cakes before frosting, it’s a small investment worth making.

My Review of the Regency Evenbake Cake Strips

Round One Testing

To use the cake strips, I followed the directions and soaked one in water for 10 minutes first, then squeezed the excess water out. The wet aluminum strips supposedly help to protect the edges of the cake from rising and browning too quickly, and also they’re supposed to help with cracking.

I attached it to one 9″ cake pan; it was easy to attach with the Velcro and stayed snugly on. Once that cake pan was “belted” in, I made my cake batter.

For this test, I used the one-bowl birthday butter cake recipe from The Kitchn Cookbook. Once the batter was made, I poured half of it into a cake pan with the cake strip, and the rest of it into a cake pan with no strip. I wanted to bake them side-by-side to really be able to do a comparison on how well the cake strips performed.

No more trimming and leveling, and no fancy tools needed! Come learn how to easily bake flat, even cake layers every time.

How to level a cake

Leveling cakes is super frustrating, right? First off, it’s hard to get it perfectly even without a fancy cake leveler tool, and secondly, you waste so much cake. I like snacking on trimmings as much as the next gal, but I like fuller, taller cakes more.

So how to I do it?

Measure your cake batter

Flat, even cake layers begin with equal amounts of batter in each cake pan. The best way to do that is with a digital scale. I have a piece of tape on the bottom of my mixing bowl with its weight (so I don’t have to remember it). So all I have to do is place the bowl full of cake batter onto my scale and do a little math:

(total weight of bowl & batter) – (weight of bowl) / (# of cake pans) = (how much batter for each pan)

Then I use the scale to pour that amount into each cake pan.

How to level a cake

If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you should get one! Here’s what I use. You could also find the total volume of the cake batter and go from there, but that dirties more dishes and is less accurate.

Reduce the baking temperature

Baking at a lower temperature slows the spring in the leavening, which prevents a dome from forming on your cake. Most cakes bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Reducing the temperature to 325 degrees is all you need to do to get a flat-topped cake.

Since you’ve lowered the oven temperature, your cake will now take a little longer to bake. Reducing oven temp by 25 degrees will require you to increase baking time by approximately 1/2. Here’s an example:

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min → Bake at 325 degrees for 30 min + 15 min = 45 minutes total

I usually take a quick peek once I’ve reached the original baking time and then every 5 minutes after that just to be sure I don’t over bake it, but the adjustment above is usually pretty accurate.

Once the center of the cake(s) is set and don’t jiggle when pans are lightly shaken, test for doneness by gently tapping the center. If it bounces back, it’s done. You can also insert a toothpick into the center, and if it comes out with just a few moist crumbs, your cake is done. Always remember that cakes are delicate, so minimize how often you open the oven door.