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First attempt at layered cake - Lots of questions!

Hello world—

My friend's birthday is this Saturday and I want to make her a birthday cake. Here are my limitations (besides it being a first timer):

- Many of the guests are of the health conscious kind (which is great), and I don't like buttercream anyway, so I need other options for frosting and filling the cake.

- Lemon and raspberry are my friend's favorite flavors, so I want to make something with those; touch of mint too because it's my favorite flavor :D

- The only cake pan I have is a 9x13 rectangular one, with a ridged bottom and stained sides and bottom, so I'd have to cover the whole thing with parchment (do I still grease the parchment? If so, both sides?): http://shop.circulon.com/store/p/513-...

Following is my plan. I could use any make ahead tips you guys have (how long can I refrigerate each component, which ones do I need to make close to serving time, etc.), and also any opinions on whether these layers will work out or if I need to change something. And also any good recipes you have for any of the components.

1: Raspberry meringue (plain vanilla meringue with pureed berries added
)2: Raspberry curd (studded, maybe, with banana slices, because I really like the textural variety they add to cakes when used as filling—or would this be out of place + not keep very well over a day?)
3: Lemon / Poppy Seed sponge cake
5: Thin layer of raspberry fruit leather; or should I use a glaze like this (how would I add raspberry flavor?): http://berry-lovely.blogspot.com/2011...
4: Decorations: Stabilized whipped cream with lemon and mint extracts and rose water, + fresh raspberries, + julienned mint
5: And if I feel like it the day of, some spun sugar to top it off

I don't think I'll frost the sides. Now would the meringue work with the cake?

Thanks everyone. Whew

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  1. That sounds like a pretty ambitious menu for a first time layer cake. I'd keep it a lot simpler. Mint extract is a flavor that doesn't really go with lemon and raspberry, but fresh mint is nice. Julienned fresh mint would be a nice garnish with some fresh raspberries.

    Lemon cake with raspberry jam between the layers and a lovely light whipped cream lemon curd frosting. You can make the cake ahead, use store bought jam, and then make the frosting at the last minute (or stabilize it with gelatin and make it an hour or two in advance.

    How many guests are you serving?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Savour

      I agree that it sounds very ambitious! Many of the components are things I might not choose to put together. I like the idea of a lemon cake with a lemon-cream filling. I have also used lemon curd with mixed with mascarpone rather than whipped cream, and that turned out well too. You could add a layer of fresh raspberries between the layers. I would avoid the banana as I tend to find the flavour overpowers everything else.

      Good luck! And also, maybe now is the time to invest in a new cake tin...

      1. re: Savour

        I would nix the mint in any form. Really doesn't go with the other flavors which will be wonderful with Savour's recipe.

        1. re: escondido123

          Agree. First this I thought was that mint doesn't go. You can garnish with a sprig of mint and make sure it ends up on your plate or you can have mint when it is your birthday :)

      2. Yep, what Savour said.
        Bananas turn dark when exposed for very long, one can acidulate them, but then, to me, the flavor is off.
        Buy a couple of disposable foil round layer pans. or even real ones.
        A lemon/poppyseed cake with raspberry jam filling sounds wonderful, with a light frosting, as Savour suggested.
        Simple is good. Spun sugar the day of, well, that's a bit much. A sprig of fresh mint and some berries, call it good.

        1. Aside from the recipe and flavors, I'm concerned with the method.

          About your pan: do you plan to bake one 9x13 recipe and then slice it into layers from there? Lining with parchment will not work very well on a pan with rounded edges, so you'll just have to be very careful to liberally butter and flour the inside and cool completely in the pan to make sure it comes out cleanly. You could cut an exact sheet of parchment for the bottom and butter/flour the parchment for extra insurance, and run a paring knife around the edges as it's cooling.

          Also be sure when you're slicing the cake into layers to have layers of cardboard handy to slip in between and easily transport the layers, which could easily crumble otherwise at that size.

          I'd also suggest you use a sturdy cake recipe and not anything too delicate. I'm not a baking expert (only an expert on learning from my own disasters!) so does anyone have a suggestion on the best cake to use? Something like a pound cake?

          Your friend is very lucky! These flavors sound wonderful, I'm sure your cake will turn out lovely... and if it doesn't, all those componenets will make a beautiful trifle! (which is my go-to plan b when my cakes all too often fall apart!)

          2 Replies
          1. re: EggyEggoo

            Thanks for the tips. That trifle idea sounds brilliant! My poor miserable pan will have to do as my kitchen is the size of a public bathroom stall and barely has room for storing one more plate. I'll trim the edges to straighten them up.

            1. re: david_ipse

              Oh yes, trimmed edges and unfrosted sides will make it look either very sophisticated or nicely rustic - which sounds lovely to me IMHO. Please do share photos!

          2. I'd try to simplify it and reduce the steps/flavors. I would start w/ this recipe but buy the lemon curd, if you're not feeling ambitious.


            Bake it in the 9x13 pan (cut parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan only and there is no need to butter). Make it only a two layer cake. When it cools, cut the cake in half so you have two 9x6 1/2". Brush the lemon syrup on one layer and then top one layer w/ raspberry jam (if you want the raspberry component)--easier to spread if you microwave slightly first. Then fill w/ the mascarpone filling. You won't need it all, probably just use about half but it's sooo good that you can just eat it. It's the best cake!

            2 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              +1 on simplifying flavor profile and components. This cake looks nice. I would add fresh raspberries between layers if available, or use the jam component inside and serve with a raspberry sauce made from frozen berries.

              1. re: maxie

                Fresh raspberries would be so pretty on the cake, too. I love your ideas--will have to keep them in mind for the next time I make the cake.

            2. I agree with the recommendations not to use mint, nor to use fresh bananas if you're not eating the cake the same day. I don't think layers of fruit leather will be very good either -- won't melt, too hard to cut. And rosewater used with a lot of other flavors usually ends up tasting like soap or perfume was spilled into the food.

              One of the first layer cakes I ever made was a vegan whole wheat lemon-poppyseed cake with vegan vanilla frosting and a raspberry filling (frozen raspberries cooked down in a splash of water, strained to remove seeds, then returned to the pot, sweetened w/ maple syrup and thickened with kuzu or arrowroot). It was a huge hit, even with the non-vegan, bakery birthday cake fans. I think those flavors -- the raspberry and lemon -- go really well together, and have enough complexity and acidity not to need any additional floral or herbal notes. If you're going to add more flavor elements, I'd go toward softer, rounder flavors, like nuts, caramels, liquors, and creams.

              One suggestion, if your baking dish is too rounded or beat up to give you even layers and you have a cookie sheet, you can do jelly-roll-thickness layers of cake in that, and stack them five or six high with just a light spread of fruit glaze in between, sort of like a German torte (definitely use parchment, buttered on the side that touches the cake). One large cookie sheet can probably yield 2 layers, and since they'll bake quickly it shouldn't take much more time to knock out 6 layers than it would two of a thicker cake.

              1. Walk before you try and run. Really, chill, dear. Make a cake before you do whatever it is you've listed above. She will be every bit as impressed.

                1. Holy Peeps. What's with the cult of simplicity. The point isn't to impress my friend but that in the one day I take off from school work I want to learn how to do things I usually don't have time to do (e.g. been wanting to try making spun sugar for quite a while). And if it all fails a nice simple bundt cake is an hour away . . .

                  Thanks for all the helpful recs . . . I'll pass on the mint except a few leaves for garnish. Photos soon!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: david_ipse

                    Amen! Do what seems right at the time and enjoy the experience!

                    1. re: david_ipse

                      If you want something that isn't simple, try the lemon mascarpone layer cake I posted above and make everything from scratch. Make a raspberry coulis if you want a raspberry element in the cake for filling. Make sure to use the mascarpone filling to make a damn so it doesn't run over the side. Bake it in the 9x13 pan,cut the cake in half but also tort the layers so you get four layers. It's a great cake and people always ask me what bakery I've bought it from. The genoise can be a little tricky but it sounds like you're up for the challenge.

                      The simplicity advice in part is not to overload with too many contradictory flavors/layers--lemon, poppyseed, raspberry, mint, banana, rose water, meringue, fruit leather... Sometimes less is more and too much overwhelms.

                      1. re: david_ipse

                        You said you'd never made a layer cake before. It makes sense to try to walk before you run a marathon.

                        I happen to like simpler desserts better anyway. I think the benefits of a homemade layer cake lie in the flavor and nostalgia factor.

                        1. re: david_ipse

                          Applaud your ambitions. Go for it! I bet it will be fantastic.

                          1. re: david_ipse

                            You have been getting responses which for the most part are the reflection of many years of kitchen experience. Ignore them if you like, but be sure to have those bundt ingredients on hand - you'll almost certainly need them.

                            If you decide to tailor your plans to suit your previous levels of accomplishment, make a Trader Joe's run. You can please your health-conscious guests by using the multigrain baking mix, following the recipe on the side, adding lemon zest and juice. Use TJ's fresh raspberry preserves (octagonal glass jar, 17 oz, if memory serves), which are extraordinarily good, between layers. Get TJ mascarpone and jarred lemon curd, mix with powdered sugar for the frosting, garnish with fresh berries if available.

                            You can line your pan with 2 perpendicular sheets of aluminum foil, with the sheet running crosswise going into the pan first. Spray with baking spray before adding the batter, and spread the batter so it is a little higher at the sides than in the middle. That will minimize doming. Use either 2 6.5 x 9 layers, or go torte-like by halving each into 2 thinner layers. That way you could alternate raspberry and plain lemon curd fillings. Use a serrated bread knife to shave off any doming in the finished cake, or place the first layer on the plate dome-side down before you start filling and assembling.

                            1. re: david_ipse

                              Why the simplicity? Your equipment limitations and lack of experience. Generally a cake with the components you desire would be put together in a ring mold to allow the components to meld without slippage. The meringue would be placed in the mold on a stable surface (like cardboard cake board). The curd will soften the meringue, so the surface needs support. The curd needs to be dense enough to avoid slippage of the poppy seed layer. The mold will help you maintain clean edges. You could then apply your layer of whipped cream. The cake would
                              set in the mold (preferably overnight) before removal. You may want to consider meringue as the middle layer (cake, curd, meringue, curd, cake, whipped cream, gelee) for more stability. This would make the lack of mold more manageable. Traditionally petit four glaze is quite sweet -- possibly too sweet for a full size cake. Fruit leather may lend an unusual texture. A thin gelee may be what you are looking for. You can apply that after letting the whipped cream set, but before unmolding. Most first timers have trouble frosting a basic cake. If you feel confident with multiple components, go for it, just try to avoid too many competing elements (bananas, rose water, mint) -- those will distract from the beauty of the other elements.

                            2. Given the flavors that you are thinking of, I immediately thought of various yoghurt cake recipes, which are easy to make and typically include citrus and berry flavors.

                              This column from the NYT, based on a cooking series involving Dorie Greenspan, http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co..., includes detailed instructions as well as a very simple and delicious lemon-flavored cake. As you will note in the Variations section at the bottom, it can be made in a single 9 in round pan, then split and filled with raspberry preserves. Not sure how you'd adapt the recipe to a 9x13 rectangular. Also note that, because it's made with oil, rather than butter, the crumb is a bit coarse.

                              This recipe from Epicurious, http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo..., may better fit your needs. It uses butter and definitely has a finer crumb than the Dorie G cake. You could easily substitute lemon for the orange (as some of the "reviewers" did). Although the recipe calls for making it in a bundt pan, I've divided it into 2 loaf pans -- i.e., this makes twice the volume of the Dorie Greenspan recipe, which makes only a single loaf pan. I suspect you could adopt this recipe for a 9x13 pan.

                              And, here is the Smitten Kitchen version of a yoghurt cake: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/0..., which evidently is adopted from Ina Garten. I've not made this one. Like the Dorie Greenspan, it uses oil, so probably has a coarser crumb.

                              1. I am very curious to hear how this went. my first layer cake experience where I tried to make different components work together without a 'full' recipe was fairly disastrous. Although everything tasted good my raspberry filling never thickened enough and when I put the second layer on it spilled out everywhere. Then when we were singing happy birthday the whole cake started to slide! there was a mad dash and great ninja skills to grab the cake before it slid on the ground. I have learned to use the right equipment and tested recipes, not just ones made up in my head (just yet).

                                Hope all is going well today!!

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: cleopatra999

                                  Sounds fun (and so fine) to me. I had to improvise a bunch while making the layers and fillings, thickening here and thinning out there.

                                  I did have fun making this but think you're right re starting it with right equipment and rested recipes. Next time :)

                                  1. re: david_ipse

                                    When you do buy your round cake pans, get deep ones with flat sides. avoid the cheap ones, they tend to be rounded and have a flared out edge, not nearly as good for layering. Next is piping bag, spatula and cake stand. But the pans are most important IMHO. Good job on the improv!

                                    1. re: cleopatra999

                                      What's your opinion of those (teflon-looking) bands that wrap around the cake pans? Never used such, obviously, but wonder what they bring to the party?

                                      1. re: pine time

                                        Never heard of them?? I just use cake pans and follow whatever greasing/lining the recipe calls for.

                                        1. re: pine time

                                          I think they're teflon and that they're supposed to slow down the cooking of the sides, so the cake won't tend to puff up so much in the middle and won't be as likely to shrink on the sides and pull away from the pan. Supposed to give a flatter-topped, more evenly baked and shaped cake

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            Those aren't teflon, they're metallized fabric (Magi-Cake is one brand: https://www.magi-cake.com/). You saturate them with cold water before wrapping them around the exterior of the cake pans, and they insulate the edges so they don't bake faster than the center. This eliminates doming and also keeps the edges from crusting and overbaking. They work really well, and using them means you never have to trim down the domed tops of cake layers.

                                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                              Sounds like something for the Christmas list!

                                              1. re: cleopatra999

                                                Thanks, Caitlin, for the info. Going onto my Amazon wish list. Mr. Pine just sighs, saying everything on the wish list is either "for cookery" or "ointments"--his name for cosmetics, fragrances, body washes, ad infinitum.

                                              2. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                Sorry, I meant to say silicon. (I'd just read pine time's post, so the word teflon was still in my head). They make silicon one's, too. You don't wet them, just pop 'em on.

                                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                  OTOH, for less than formal occasions, I find the trimmed domes to be the "cook's reward"! (It's also a test of the flavors, etc. of the cake so I can decide if I should add additional components (drizzled syrup, more acid in the frosting, etc.) to balance the flavor or texture.)

                                                  1. re: Savour

                                                    I think it's a great way to taste the cake, before you serve it. Maybe the dome is the baker's equivalent of the chicken oyster because it really is one of the best parts of the cake.

                                        2. How's it going today? any pictures yet?

                                          1. So yesterday night I set out to make the raspberry meringue layer. Thinking I’ll need to fortify it somehow to make it withstand the filling that’d go on top, and because I’d been reading dacquoise recipes lately, I decided to fold in some almond meal into the whipped egg whites. Well the layer cooked and although it’s not crisp, I think the chewy texture will be fine in between the two layers of sponge cake I made this morning. For the top layer I used Julia Child’s recipe for genoise (lemon flavoring and poppy seeds added). For the bottom layer (lemon sans poppyseed), I just doubled her quantities, but this time whipped the egg whites separately.

                                            I made raspberry curd with 3 eggs and 3 yolks, a cup of pureed berries, lemon juice and a little corn starch, and got rasp jam from TJ’s this morning. Ended up like this, bottom to top:

                                            - Lemon sponge cake
                                            - Raspberry jam
                                            - Raspberry “meringue” (w/ almond meal)
                                            - Raspberry curd
                                            - Lemon poppy seed genoise

                                            Then I consulted my roommate (whose birthday it is) re whether frost it or not. She said she doesn’t like buttercream, so instead we whipped up some cream with lemon zest and extract and a little turmeric for color and a tiny bit of rosewater and added cornstarch to stabilize. Then she helped frost the accursed thing. We made a mess and had lots of fun. Then I cubed the lemon and raspberry gelees I’d made last night, and threw them on top of the cake with some fresh berries. It's pretty crowded on top, but I might throw on some mind leaves before serving if the mood strikes :)

                                            Now I’m just hoping the cream doesn’t melt in the fridge (it’s been holding fine so far). We’ll be eating the cake in about 2-3 hours. When should I take it out of the fridge, just before serving or should I allow more time so it can come to room temp?

                                            Thank you all for the useful responses. I learned a lot reading you. Thanks!

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: david_ipse

                                              O and I tried candying lemon slices yesterday for garnish, but forgot to turn the flame off when I was going to TJ's to get eggs for the cake and ended up with pure carbon ;/

                                              1. re: david_ipse

                                                Good for you! Take pictures after you slice into it, I want to see the layers! Yummy!

                                                1. re: david_ipse

                                                  Looks wonderful! Can you share your method for making the gelee? Those look great!

                                                  1. re: EggyEggoo

                                                    Thanks :)

                                                    For the gelee cubes, I used 1 envelope of knox gelatine per 1 cup of fruit juice. I used half raspberry puree, half sparkling water, and some sugar for the raspberry gelee, and for the lemon one I made lemonade with the rest of the sparkling water. Chill, unmold (might need to warm the bottom of gelee mold in some warm water to release), and cut!

                                                  2. re: david_ipse

                                                    Looks so festive! Please send me a piece.

                                                  3. "Mind leaves." Good heavens, I need those! Where to buy? Just kidding.

                                                    Your cake looks/"reads" delicious. Congrats!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: pine time

                                                      Oh. I just figured out what 'mind leaves' are.
                                                      I thought it was some sophisticated thing that I hadn't been privy to yet.
                                                      Then I thought it was the dried leaves we used to put in brownies and gingersnaps, before we'd go see 'Fantasia'.
                                                      Then I realized what mind leaves really were.
                                                      (This is kind of like that old joke about how to make a blonde laugh on Saturday...*tell her a joke on Friday*.... Only I'm the blonde here and the joke's on me)