Vanilla Cake Layers:
Note - this is a scaled (x1.5) and modified layer cake recipe from ChelSweets.com - I highly recommend checking out her site if you haven't before; it's amazing!!
4 7/8 c. all-purpose flour
4 1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 3/4 t. baking powder
1 ½ t. salt
1 ½ cup unsalted butter (or 3 sticks) room temperature
3 t. clear vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups buttermilk, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three 8-inch cake pans and three six-inch cake pans with parchment rounds, and /or grease with non-stick or baker’s floured cooking spray.
Mix together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt) in a stand mixer with a paddle until fully combined. Mix chunks of room-temperature butter slowly into the dry mix, on a low speed. Continue to mix until no large chunks of butter remain, and the mixture becomes crumbly.
Pour in eggs and mix on low until just incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk in two installments, on a low speed. Add in vanilla and oil, and mix at a low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds.
Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans (I used a kitchen scale for this part so I wouldn’t need so many bowls!) Pour about 300 grams into each of the 6” pans. Divide the rest of the batter into the remaining pans – I ended up with about 690g in my large pans. The kitchen scale guarantees your layers will bake to be the same height.
Bake for 35-37 minutes, (or until a skewer comes out clean). Allow cake layers to cool for 10-15 minutes on a wire cooling rack before removing from pans – it helps to run an offset spatula or knife around the perimeter of the pan first. Cool completely before frosting. Set in the fridge or freezer to accelerate the cooling process if desired.
Once the layers have fully cooled, the caramelized bits can be trimmed from the sides / top of the cake using a serrated knife if desired. Be sure the layers are completely cooled or chilled before trimming. If you try to trim the layers while they’re still warm, they will crumble apart.
While you’re waiting…make your frosting!
Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:
12 oz (one and a half packages) cream cheese, softened
16 Tablespoons (two sticks) butter, softened
10 c powdered sugar
3 T clear vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt (if using unsalted butter)
1/4-1/2 cup whipping/heavy cream
Save and add later – 4-5 large drops red gel food color (I used Americolor Super Red)
Beat together softened cream cheese and butter; slowly add in powdered sugar alternating with whipping cream until frosting reaches desired consistency. Add vanilla and salt and beat until well combined.
Remove about 1 ½ cups and add your red gel color – you can always color a bit more if you need it later!
- 1 8- or 10 -inch cardboard cake circle (I prefer Wilton’s center-punched circles) and 1 six-inch cake board – one option is to buy a set like this one that contains a variety of cake circle sizes and trimmable dowels
- Small piping bag & tip – this set has been one of my favorites!
- Cake leveler, cake turntable, large offset spatula, and pastry cutter/bench scraper - not all 100% necessary but incredibly helpful! (Here’s a link to the cake turntable I use)
- A set of circle cutters (here’s a link to my favorite circle cutter set!) or different-sized jar or bottle caps
- Black fondant (for circles for Mickey heads on the cake base – I used about 2 oz)
- Yellow fondant (for decorations and band around top tier) – I used a 4 oz pack)
- White fondant (for buttons) – you only need a little bit of this, so you could cut slices from a marshmallow for the buttons if you wanted to leave off the number and lettering. Or there’s a combo pack of white/black/yellow fondant available here! You could also use letter and number cutters to make your decorations.
- large red, black, and yellow sugar pearl sprinkles
Mickey Mouse Topper:
- 6” craft foam half-sphere – I’ve bought these at Michael’s, but they’re also available online!
- Black edible color spray (I found the color faded once it seeped into the foam; I ended up using a bit of ModPodge to make the color hold)
- Black adhesive-backed craft foam (I found some with an adherent back; you’ll need a bit of glue if using regular craft foam) + 2 toothpicks/skewers and a circle cutter or a jar lid
- if you want to add more stars or a name / number, red, yellow, or both colors of adhesive-backed craft foam sheets – you could also buy a multi-pack like this one! You’ll also need several pieces of craft wire.
- small new or food-safe paintbrush
Once your cakes are cool, level them (if needed/desired; these cakes usually bake fairly flat so I didn’t trim much from the tops). This can be done with a cake leveler or a large serrated knife and a ruler. Place a smear of frosting on your large cake circle (to keep the cake from sliding while you decorate it) and center your large first cake layer in the center of the circle.
Spread the layer with frosting, and add your next cake layer on top. Repeat the process with your remaining cake layers.
Next, repeat the same process with your smaller cardboard circle and cake layers. Of note – if your circles aren’t pre-center-punched, be sure to grab a dowel or straw and make your own hole in the exact center of the circle! This will allow you to center the tier on the base tier later on.
Now you're ready to crumb-coat . If you're unfamiliar with crumb-coating, it's just what it sounds like – spreading a thin layer of frosting over the entire outside of the cake to keep crumbs out of your final layer.
Once your crumb coats have set (this takes about 5-10 minutes in the fridge), add your final layers of frosting and smooth (white for the base tier, red for the top). I like to use an offset spatula and bench scraper for this part. For my larger tier, I was able to smooth the frosting fairly well free-handed, but I struggled getting the sides smooth on my smaller one. Trimming my smaller cake layers slightly smaller than my cake circle and using the cardboard as a guide worked well!
Place both tiers into the fridge to set the frosting – I think this makes stacking easier.
Okaaaay. The stacking process!
I watched a few tutorials before I made my first tiered cake, and ‘How to Make a Tiered Cake’ by Chelsweets was my favorite.
Basically, doweling a tiered cake is done to ensure that the top tier doesn’t crush the lower tier, as well as keeping it centered. I used four shorter cut-to-height plastic straws for my base tier dowels, and one taller one cut at an angle in the center to hold my top tier in place.
Grab your ruler for this next part! Since I was centering a 6-inch cake on top of an 8-inch cake, I pushed the straws down into the base tier just over one inch from the cake edge, placing them evenly at quarter intervals around the cake. Place your last, tallest straw or dowel into the exact center of the cake, making sure to keep it straight up as you press down. Now you’re ready – center the hole in the bottom of your top tier cake circle over the tallest dowel and let the top tier gently down onto the base tier. The dowel will poke into the center of the top tier to hold it in place.
Pat yourself on the back; you did it! I found that my cardboard cake circle showed more than I was happy with, so I piped some extra frosting onto the base of the top tier to hide it.
Now the fun part – decorations!
My topper needed some drying time before I ‘painted’ it with the edible spray, so if you’re going to deepen the color using a coat of ModPodge first, do that now. Cover the half-sphere in black spray color once the ModPodge has set.
With a circle cutter or jar lid, cut 4 identical craft foam circles. Place a toothpick halfway onto each of 2 circles, and with the backing adherent (or glue if using regular craft foam), press 2 circles together form each of Mickeys ears. I added the ears once the sphere was on the cake – you can add them whenever!
Whether using fondant or marshmallows, press small ‘buttonholes’ into the circles with a butter knife, and press them onto the side of the top tier.
Roll out your fondant with a rolling pin and a bit of cornstarch if needed.
Cut a large yellow fondant strip (I used a ruler as a guide), and variety of smaller and larger fondant circles – I used two sizes of black to make Mickey ears, and some filled and some hollow red and yellow circles. Press them into the frosting around your base tier!
Add black, red, and yellow sugar pearls around the base of the cake – you can also add a few to the side of the cake if you’d like!
Place your cake topper on top of the cake, and add any numbers / names / stars to decorate that you’d like!
Annnd you’re done! Congratulations!