I was with my parents this year for my birthday, and decided to make a joint birthday cake for myself and my father (whose birthday is in September). I asked my dad what his favorite cake flavors were – he said he really likes basic chocolate and vanilla. My dad is an 8th grade math teacher, and I couldn’t let an opportunity to make a really awesome cake pass us by, so I decided to try my hand at this vertical layer cake tutorial.
You can make this cake using any two kinds of cake mix that you’d like. I opted to go with my favorite moist chocolate cake and a simple vanilla recipe I found online. I won’t link to the vanilla recipe because it didn’t quite work for this purpose – the cake was way too dense and it didn’t match the fluffiness or the moistness of the chocolate cake. Thought it ended up holding together a bit better than the chocolate cake, it was nearly impossible to level after being in the freezer, and I think it would have been better to match the texture of the chocolate.
First, make both cakes. I used 8″ round pans for my cakes, and had a lot of cake leftover for snacking on for the rest of the project. :) Then, put the cakes in the freezer for at least five hours. Be sure to wrap them in saran wrap and put them on cardboard or cake lifters so it’s easy to get them in and out of the freezer while you’re working.
Next, level the cakes to be the same height. I actually broke my leveler attempting to cut into the frozen vanilla cake – I don’t recommend using the little wire ones for this part. Get yourself a good serrated-edge leveler, or just use a serrated knife if you’re confident about your leveling skills! This is the one that I use now, thanks to my parents for the birthday gift!
Once they’re level, you can figure out what size vertical layers you want. Because my dad’s a math teacher, he naturally had a compass and ruler in the house and they were super useful for this part! Using a paper plate or piece of cardboard, start tracing the circles that will become your layers.
You’ll use the same plate/cardboard to cut both cakes so that each layer is the same size as the other cake’s. Cut the plate down to the first traced circle, then place it in the center of your cake. I used a big toothpick to hold my plate in place while I cut around it. Keep your eye level with your cake so you can make sure your knife isn’t going in at an angle, but be very careful! I put my cakes on a cutting board that was easy to swivel around, so the cake was moving but my knife placement wasn’t. It made it much easier to see and cut.
Cut the layer in both cakes, then cut down your paper plate/cardboard to the next inner ring. The goal is to have three or four circles cut in your cake.
As it says in the original tutorial, the next step goes against everything you may believe in as a baker! Cut from the edge of the center circle all the way to the edge of the cake so that you can ease apart the layers. You’ll then swap every other layer with the other cake, turning out two beautiful cake targets.
Tie a ribbon or soft cloth around each cake and put them back in the freezer. The original tutorial suggests putting wax paper around the cake and pouring a little bit of simple syrup over them – I did neither and mine turned out fine! I put them back in the freezer for a couple of hours, then moved them to the fridge to thaw a bit before frosting.
The birthday cake that I chose was the one with more chocolate, since I’m a bit of a chocaholic :) I took the second cake out of the fridge to use it as a reference for where the decorations should go – in retrospect, I shouldn’t have thrown away my paper plate rings! I could have used them to space out my nonpareils and chocolate sprinkle rings. I used a basic canned whipped chocolate frosting, since I really hate making frosting, and didn’t want to do it on my birthday! Ha!
As you can see in the picture, there’s a small horizontal line in my vanilla cake. I actually stacked two vanilla cakes on top of each other – they’d come out so dense that I had to stack them to get near the height of the chocolate cake, then level them. I could have just leveled my chocolate cake to be less tall, but it would have been a really short cake then. The first freezing step helped solidify the stacked vanilla cakes together.
This turned out absolutely delicious. I really liked how there’s no frosting in between the cake seams – it became a nicely-textured cake. The nonpareils added a little bit of crunch, and it was fun eating through each layer at a time. If you have any suggestions on better vanilla cake recipes to use, I’m all ears!