Vanilla Cake Layers:
This is a scaled (x1.5) and slightly-simplified layer cake recipe from ChelSweets.com - I highly recommend checking out her site if you haven't before; it's amazing!
4 7/8 cups all-purpose flour
4 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 3/4 t. baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup unsalted butter (or 3 sticks), room temperature
2 ½ t. clear vanilla extract
1 ½ c egg whites (about 10 eggs, or use egg whites from a carton to avoid wasting the yolks)
2 ¼ cups buttermilk, room temperature (or buttermilk powder with water is an option if you can’t find liquid buttermilk at your grocery store!)
1/8 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three 8 inch round pans and three 6 inch round pans with parchment rounds, and grease with non-stick 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 egg whites and mix on low until just incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract in two installments, on a low speed. Add in 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.
Using a kitchen scale, pour 680 grams of batter into each of your 8” pans. Divide remaining batter evenly between the remaining two 6” pans – I had about 450 grams in each of my smaller pans. (Using 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 to cool for 10 minutes, then run an offset spatula around perimeter of the pans to separate the cake from the pans. Place cake layers into the freezer for 45 minutes, to accelerate the cooling process.
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
24 Tablespoons (three sticks) butter, softened
10-12 cups powdered sugar
4-6 Tablespoons milk
1 T clear vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt (if using unsalted butter)
Save and add later – 4-5 large drops navy gel food color (I love Americolor Navy, though you can also use a mix of blue, black, and purple!)
Beat together softened cream cheese and butter; slowly add in powdered sugar alternating with milk until frosting reaches desired consistency. Add vanilla and salt if needed and beat until well combined.
- Silver edible decorating spray (you can use an airbrush, but I found the spray worked just fine!) here’s a link to the Chefmaster silver spray that I used
- 1 8- or 9-inch cardboard cake circle, and 1 6-inch cardboard cake circles – one option is to buy a set like this one that contains a variety of cake circle sizes and trimmable dowels!
- Ruler (for spacing your dowels and ensuring your tiers stack evenly)
- Large offset spatula
- Small piping bag & small round tip (for frosting) – this set of tips and reusable bags 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)
- Flowers – real or silk – to decorate! I bought mine at my local Hobby Lobby, but there are similar flowers at Michaels Stores or even some Dollar Tree stores!
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). Add your next cake layer on top, and 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 tiers to keep crumbs out of your final layer.
Remove about 2 cups of frosting from the bowl and color it a deep navy – you need enough to cover your base tier and to hide the cardboard circle under the top tier.
Once your crumb coat has set (this takes about 5-10 minutes in the fridge), add your final layers of frosting to both tiers and smooth. 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 smoothed on my smaller one. Trimming the layers just smaller than the cake circle and using the cardboard as a guide for my bench scraper worked well for smoothing the frosting on the top tier!
When the frosting is smooth on your top tier, color it with your edible silver spray – I found it best to do this in several light coats, because if you put it on too heavy it will drip! You only need about 5-8 minutes for each light layer to dry (at least at my humidity level in the PNW winter). Allow to dry completely once you’re happy with the color!
Okaaaay. The stacking process!
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.
I found that my cardboard cake circle showed more than I was happy with, so I piped some extra navy frosting onto the base of the top tier to hide it. Add your flowers at offset intervals on the top, between the tiers, and at the base of the cake – I found it easiest to place the largest flowers first and then fill in around them!
Annnd you’re done! Find someone to give you a high-five! (Shoot me a DM on Instagram if you can’t find anyone right away!)