How to Bake Flat Cake Layers

in DIY, How-To

How To Bake A Flat Cake

I’m not sure there will ever come a day when baking isn’t magical to me. I still get giddy when I turn on the oven light, peek through the glass to see biscuits doubling in size. Or when a waif of baking banana bread skips through the house and under my little nose. Baking is my magic.

I love the trust and faith we must have in a recipe, in the ratio and in the ingredients. We trust that those ingredients will interact, react and transform into something so beautifully delicious.

Having just whispered all those sweet words of nothing, I’ll admit I’m not really a cake-maker-type girl. I’m not sure if a single layered-cake even lives on this blog. I’m pretty sure it has everything to do with me being an impatient person and thinking cake decorating is a little tedious. But when I want cake inspo, I turn to Sara from Matchbox Kitchen. She makes some insanely pretty cakes. One thing I LOVE about her cakes is how they’re all perfectly cylinder. The tops are completely flat. Flat cake tops are all the rage in the cake world.

Cake layers usually dome on us, rising right in the center and then cracking. I think doming on a quick bread is beautiful. I love it. My friend and baker, Hourie, wouldn’t think to serve a quick bread that didn’t dome. Cakes are different, though. But not to worry because baking flat cake layers couldn’t be easier!

How To Bake A Flat Cake

Just like my last how-to, I’m a little insecure about this post. Do you know this already? Is this obvious?

You could take a serrated knife or this cake slicer thing (that looks like a gigantic cheese slicer) and lop off the top of the cake. I’ve done this before. But sort of annoying.

OR you could buy these even baking strips that go around your cake pans. But sort of a waste of money, especially since this method uses an old towel and a few safety pins.

To start, you want to cut strips that fit the sides of your cake pan.

Fun side note: Use an old CLEAN towel, not an old dirty towel. I almost ended up using one that I used to clean the bathroom with. I can’t imagine cleaning solutions on towel strips and in the oven with your cake is a good combo.

How To Bake A Flat Cake

Next, you want to dampen the towel strips and wring out any excess water.

Wrap them around the cake pans and secure them tightly with a few safety pins.

How To Bake A Flat Cake

Repeat that whole process with the second cake pan.

Oh and be sure to butter your cake pans, line the bottoms with a round of parchment and dust them with flour. So important.

How To Bake A Flat Cake

Add the cake batter to the pans and smack them down on the counter a few times. This will eliminate any air bubbles.

Put it in the oven and bake away.

How To Bake A Flat Cake

What’s happening here is that the moisture from towel is helping the cake bake more evenly, resulting in an even rise and a cake with a flat top.

When they come out, they’ll be perfectly flat. Ta-daaaaa!!

{ 126 comments… read them below or add one }

katy abrams October 22, 2013 at 8:05 am

Does this work for gluten free cakes too?

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Adrianna Adarme October 22, 2013 at 8:11 am

It sjouke!

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Adrianna Adarme October 22, 2013 at 8:11 am

It should!

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Maria October 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for this post! does it work for square and rectangle cake tins too?

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Adrianna Adarme October 22, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I’ve never tried this with a square cake pan, but I can’t see it not working.

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Claudia P October 29, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I’m at this very moment (!!) baking a cake in a 9×13 glass pan using the wet towels, and it’s taking much longer than the suggested cook time for this recipe (which was 30 mins max, and I’m at 40 as we speak). Perhaps I’ll try to get in there and take the towels off? I have to sleep at some point tonight…

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Adrianna Adarme October 29, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Hmm…it shouldn’t slow down the cake by that much. It just should bake it evenly. How’d it go?

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Claudia P October 30, 2013 at 6:52 am

Thanks for asking! It was a bust: crusty on the top and sides, wet in the center. Guess this doesn’t work with 9x13s? Live and learn!

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Jeanette S December 5, 2013 at 4:48 am

Instead of an old towel, I thought of using a terry cloth sweatband – the ones that you use around your forehead. It stretches, so it should wrap around the cake pans easily.

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Adrianna Adarme December 5, 2013 at 7:31 am

Oh I bet that’d work great!

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Isa March 17, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Did it work well? I would think that the rubber from the stretch might melt onto the pan or break down at some point?

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Karen December 9, 2013 at 2:57 am

Does this idea work on rectangle pans and cakes? Thanks for the tip!

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Adrianna Adarme December 9, 2013 at 7:46 am

I haven’t tried it but it should!

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Michelle December 27, 2013 at 5:39 am

This is an amazing tip. I made my grandma’s 3-layer chocolate cake yesterday and thanks to these strips of towels, my layers came out perfectly flat and uniform. Thank you for sharing!!

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Adrianna Adarme December 27, 2013 at 11:19 am

Isn’t it magical! So glad it worked for you! Happy Holidays.

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Bec December 27, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I just tried this trick on 2 chocolate mid cakes that I intend to stack. It worked perfectly!! Thanks for the tip :)

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Adrianna Adarme December 27, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Welcome! Weeee!

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Emily December 31, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I wan yo try this but I’m scared that the towels may catch on fire. Any tips?

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alexis March 31, 2014 at 2:08 pm

When you dampen the towels it should not catch on fire but mabye if you don’t it might

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Linda January 1, 2014 at 10:37 pm

I can’t wait to try this!! Thanks so much for the great tip!! I’m baking my son’s wedding cake and have been trying so many recipes and obviously been unsuccessful….. I am quite excited to try this….. I will keep you all posted on the outcome of my attempt!

thanks so much once again!!!

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Shaily January 12, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Hey Adrianna! I was wondering, is there any chance that the towel strips might, like, catch on fire and/or get burnt, since the baking happens at really high temperatures?

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Adrianna Adarme January 12, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Mine didn’t burn or catch fire. I was baking at 325 degrees F. If your recipe is calling for over 350 F, which it shouldn’t if it’s a cake, then I’d advise to perhaps skip this.

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Harlyn January 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I did this, but I also inverted a flower nail, and lowered the temp to 300 F, and baked for 35-40 min… perfect cakes!

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Adrianna Adarme January 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

That’s great! So happy it worked for you. What’s a flower nail?!

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Harlyn January 14, 2014 at 3:54 pm

the thing you use to pipe icing roses on and then transfer them to a cake… http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?sku=pg_flowernails

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Liz January 31, 2014 at 2:46 am

I totally just tried this and it worked a charm! Thanks so much for the tip!

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Adrianna Adarme January 31, 2014 at 11:23 am

Oh yayyy!!

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nom February 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm

OH my gosh!!!! It works, it totally works. I’m feeling really clever at your expense. The cakes were flat, uniform, and rose right to the top of the tin but flat as a pancake, perfectomondo. So cool! My cakes never EVER do that. Im practicing for a nieces 21st cake and wow layers layers layers babee, here I come. Thanks so much xox

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Adrianna Adarme February 6, 2014 at 9:56 am

Haha! It’s baking magic. So glad it worked for you!

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suzanne February 9, 2014 at 7:31 am

Hi
Excellent idea although I wanted to know if you’d cook both tins at the same time and if you have a cake batter recipe. Thanks

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Adrianna Adarme February 9, 2014 at 11:49 am

Yes, I baked both cake pans together and it worked out great.

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Christopher Johns February 20, 2014 at 8:01 am

Small currant & sultana cup cakes – how would you stop these from doming?
I would like the mixture to spread and form a lip around the cakes rather than rising at the centre. Any suggestions?

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Melissa March 2, 2014 at 1:34 am

Hi, um yeah so like u said previously that you could just cut of the top does that really work? Cuz i am trying to bake my cake in a foil tray that is a rectangle so.uh, yeah!

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Melissa March 2, 2014 at 1:34 am

Hi, um yeah so like u said previously that you could just cut of the top does that really work? Cuz i am trying to bake my cake in a foil tray that is a rectangle so.uh, yeah!

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Max March 18, 2014 at 10:34 am

The walls of my cake pan are not on 90* degree angle, their curve out to make it easier to remove the cake, when the cake is done baking, it is not even touching the outer wall, will this trick work for me

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jennifer March 20, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Oh my gosh, thanks so much. Domed cake layers have been the bane of my baking existence. I always have to slice them down and it’s a mess. Tried this and it worked like a charm! Only trouble was I had a hard time getting the towels tight enough to stay around the pans with the safety pins, but I just handled them carefully and it all worked out. The parchment paper in the bottom of the pan is also great. :)

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Jean March 23, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Well tomorrow I am making a chocolate cake which is yummy but very runny recipe, it is a test run for my husbands 60th birthday cake which I have to make the next day. I will let you know how it goes as I am concerned because of the runny nature of the mixture, I have always wanted to make a nice even cake which hopefully when this works it will make it easier for my daughter to decorate and I can show off to the 20 family members coming out for dinner with us

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Adrianna Adarme March 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Oh I hope this works! I’m glad you’re doing a test run. Smart lady, you! Good luck.

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Briana April 2, 2014 at 1:49 pm

This worked so well! I must admit, I had my hesitations, but as I watched it baked, I got more and more excited. So nice not having to cut off so much for those layer cakes. I did have to keep my cake in about 5 minutes longer than usual though. Thanks so much for the tip!

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sandra April 8, 2014 at 3:24 am

Cant wait to give this a go. Im making a 10 tier carrot cake for my sons wedding so of course need a good flat surface to ‘stack’ them. He got the idea from the ‘naked wedding cake’ site

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Adrianna Adarme April 8, 2014 at 9:12 am

10 tier! Holy moly! Yes, I love naked cakes. This should work great for that cake. Good luck! :)

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sandra April 11, 2014 at 2:37 am

Im wrapped !! i have perfect flat cake tops.How simple. Clever you to work that out. Probably wont ever bake a cake without the ‘tin wrap’ again.Thank you.

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susan hamilton April 8, 2014 at 8:26 am

Hi, can you please help. I am making a Wedding cake for my Daughter in June. She would like just one tall cake so I am going to make 3 cakes & stack on top as they are fruit cakes & marzipan & ice as one tall cake. Problem is when the cake is getting cut. Do I marzipan & ice ‘only the top’ of the bottom two cakes so as when the cake is cut we can slice across the middle of each individual cake & cut as single cakes? what would you suggest? Kind regards. Susan.

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Adrianna Adarme April 8, 2014 at 9:18 am

Ohhh…I see what you’re saying. Hmmm…that’s a tough one. I think your plan should work fine. But I’d recommend maybe incorporating the marzipan into the icing just so you have less to worry about. I fear that if there’s too much stuff in between the layers that it’ll make it really hard and messy to slice it the way you’re talking about.

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Theresa April 20, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Found this GENIUS solution on Google search. Wonderful and thank you so much for sharing. I just used a box cake mix, and was pleasantly surprised that it worked for me!!

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Manny April 21, 2014 at 9:22 am

Hi! I don’t really know why this didn’t work for me. I used two separate batches of cake mix to bake this, and put them into 2 separate 9 inch spring form pans, then wrapped the damp towels around as shown. currently its been about 15 minutes extra than what the box suggested should be the time for the cakes, and the inside is still wet, and they’re not really flat either. Maybe my towel weren’t damp enough or something, because it was flat at first and then it started to dome. But thank you for the tip anyways!

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therese May 1, 2014 at 5:50 am

Hi, I’ve just baked my first flourless chocolate cake in my favourite silicon mold. Though it tasted divine, it first domed, then cracked, then while cooling sunk. Not pretty. Will this wet towel method work for silicon molds?
Also, my silicon mold has some sort of ‘legs’ extending outwards from the sides of the pan (I guess the product designer wanted to make it more stabilized and not be too wobbly), meaning the wet towel may not be completely touching the pan, any ideas?

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Adrianna Adarme May 1, 2014 at 7:49 am

Hmm…good question. I highly doubt towels would be able to penetrate silicon. I think you may have to just slice off the top of the cake with a serrated knife. Sorry about that!

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tessa May 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm

this worked amazing! Thank you for the tip!

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Adrianna Adarme May 8, 2014 at 8:06 pm

YAY!

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Emily May 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm

This worked beautifully on a 13x9x2″ metal pan (nonstick, greased and floured). I baked at 350 degrees. The baking time was normal for this recipe (King Arthur Flour favorite fudge birthday cake). In response to other commenters’ questions: Cotton does not ignite until it gets over 400 degrees, so normal baking temperatures for cakes should be fine even if the towel dries out.

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Yetty May 21, 2014 at 11:30 pm

does this method also work for steaming cake?
When you say lay the
line the bottoms with a round of parchment and dust them with flour. So important.
so means lay the paper first then only dust them with flour?
Or we dust the flour on the paper before we lay them on the bottom?

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Julie Quinn May 31, 2014 at 6:20 pm

This is AWESOME! Just made an 11×15 cake with 2 box mixes for my daughter’s bday cake it an looks incredible. So even and beautiful. Thank you! Thank You!! THANK YOU!!!! So glad I googled how to bake a flat cake and found you!

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Eileen June 15, 2014 at 3:19 am

I can’t decide from the notes whether the towel strips will work for a 12X18 size pan? And should I use flower nails?

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Rebeca June 18, 2014 at 12:14 am

Does it make a difference if the cake is gluten free? I just tried it with a gluten free cake mix and I followed the instructions on the box and it didn’t make a bit of difference, the cake still domed, in fact its the worst dome i’ve ever seen (not sure if its because its a gluten free cake).

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Adrianna Adarme June 19, 2014 at 8:49 am

It might. When cakes dome it usually has to do with the structure of the cake. Cakes with higher protein amounts will dome more than ones with lower protein amounts, i.e, cakes made with cake flour or pastry flour. So this could’ve been the problem. I’m not sure what kind of flours are used in your gluten-free cake mix so it’s tough for me to know.

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shareen July 15, 2014 at 3:32 am

HI

I tried this method last niight the cake shape was great but it took forever took and i used a flower nail as well but the centre was still wet. I cooked a 8 inch 3mm high cake should it take longer to bake.. How long would you bake an 8 inch 3 mm cake in gas oven. i have it at gas mark 4 for 70 mins but it was takinga lot longer if i kept it in the oven it would of burnt at the top….the bottom as done but a bit damp..

Any tips

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Steve Roudebush July 18, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Just wanted to say that this works great! As an extra tip – I didn’t have any old towels large enough. However, I did have some old pairs of boxers with a stretchy wasteband. I simple cut off the wasteband with about an extra half-inch of cloth and used this to out around the rim of the baking pans. Thanks again!

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Sandy July 22, 2014 at 8:11 am

Do you know if this tip should work with stoneware pans? I have a set of Temptations bakers that I was planning to use to bake my daughters birthday cake with!!

http://www.qvc.com/As-Is-Temp-tations-13-Pc-Floral-Lace-Round-Baker-Set.product.K294143.html?sc=K294143-SRCH&cm_sp=VIEWPOSITION-_-1-_-K294143&catentryImage=http://images.qvc.com/is/image/k/43/k294143.001?$uslarge$

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Adrianna Adarme July 22, 2014 at 10:34 am

I doubt it. Ceramic is pretty hard to penetrate. I’ve actually never baked a cake in anything ceramic so it’s tough to know. Sorry I can’t be more help!

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