How to Bake and Decorate a 3-Tier Wedding Cake

wedding cake
Leah Maroney
  • 01 of 12

    Tools You'll Need

    Leah Maroney

    This tutorial will show you how to bake and decorate a round, 3-tier wedding cake, featuring a 10-inch bottom tier, an 8-inch middle tier, and a 6-inch top tier. 

    Each tier consists of two layers, which means you'll need to bake two 6-inch cakes, two 8-inch cakes, and two 10-inch cakes. Try to find pans that are three inches deep. The cakes themselves will be two inches, but the extra room helps prevent overflow.

    Here's what you'll need:

    • Round cake pans (6-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch)
    • Rotating cake turntable
    • Cardboard or foam core cake rounds (6-inch and 8-inch)
    • 12-inch cake drum (for the bottom tier)
    • 14-inch serrated cake knife
    • Flat offset spatula
    • Cake dowels
    • Pastry bag with tips
    • Cake smoother/scraper 
    • Stand mixer
    • Plywood (for transporting cake)
    Continue to 2 of 12 below.
  • 02 of 12

    Wedding Cake and Filling Recipes

    wedding cake filling
    Leah Maroney

    To make this wedding cake you'll need 24 cups of cake batter: 4 cups for the top tier, 7 to 8 cups for the middle tier, and 12 cups for the bottom tier. Remember, each tier consists of two layers.

    Our fluffy homemade vanilla cake recipe is formulated to make exactly 4 cups of batter, so it's just right for making the top tier. To make the middle tier just double the recipe, and for the bottom tier make sure to triple it.

    Likewise, you'll need between 12 and 18 cups of buttercream frosting. Our basic buttercream frosting recipe makes 6 cups, so simply triple it to make the appropriate amount.

    Finally, if you're planning to split the layers and fill them, you'll need about 5 cups of your chosen filling. Possibilities include jam or preserves, lemon curd, chocolate mousse, vanilla custard, Bavarian cream, whipped cream, or pastry cream.

    Continue to 3 of 12 below.
  • 03 of 12

    Baking the Cakes

    Leah Maroney

    To prepare your pans, spray them with cooking spray, then cut a wax paper round to fit the bottom, insert it into the bottom of the pan, and then respray. This might seem like overkill, but it will ensure your cakes don't stick.

    Baking times at 350 F will increase with the size of the layers:

    • 6-inch cakes: 25 to 30 minutes
    • 8-inch cakes: 35 to 40 minutes
    • 10-inch cakes: 55 to 60 minutes

    Remember, these are just guidelines. Depending on the type of oven and how old the oven is, it may run 50 degrees hotter or colder than the true 350 F, which will effect the length of time that the cakes will need to bake. To ensure that your oven is truly at 350 F, we recommend purchasing an oven thermometer.

    Once your oven is set and your cakes are baking, the next step is to ensure they are done. When they're done, a toothpick inserted in the center will come out dry; the cakes will appear golden brown, their edges will pull away from the sides of the pans, and they will spring back from your touch. It's especially important with the 10-inch layers to ensure that the cake springs back.

    Let them cool for 10 minutes, then loosen with a knife and turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.

    Continue to 4 of 12 below.
  • 04 of 12

    Bake Your Cakes in Advance

    wedding cakes
    Leah Maroney

    Baking your cakes in advance and freezing them saves time, and helps break the overall task into smaller, more manageable steps.

    Once cooled, wrap the cakes tightly in plastic and transfer them to the freezer for up to a week. 

    Working with frozen layers is easier. They won't crumble as much, and your crumb coat will go on more easily.

    Note that it's best to freeze the cakes before you level them. Likewise if you're planning to split the layers to fill them, wait to do it after you take them out of the freezer. For one thing, you'll save the trouble of having to wrap extra layers. But more importantly, by limiting the amount of surface area exposed to the air, your cake will stay fresher. Just make sure you have enough room in your freezer. 

    You can also make your buttercream in advance. Just store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where it'll keep for up to a week.

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Leveling a Cake

    wedding cakes
    Leah Maroney

    You want the tops of your layers to be completely flat so that when you stack them, they don't lean or wobble. A long (14-inch) serrated cake knife works best, especially when you get to the 10-inch layer. It's just easier if the blade of your knife is longer than the diameter of your cake. 

    Keep the blade level while rotating the cake on the turntable. Use a sawing motion rather than trying to push the blade through the cake, which can cause the cake to tear. You only have to do the tops. But you need to do all six layers. The good news, though, is that you get to eat the parts that you slice off.

    When you assemble your tiers, flip your cakes so the bottoms are facing upward. The straight edge of the cake pan assures that the tops of each tier will be flat. This goes especially for the top tier.

    Continue to 6 of 12 below.
  • 06 of 12

    Splitting a Cake

    wedding cakes
    Leah Maroney

    If you're planning to split the layers (you'll sometimes hear people use the word torte as a verb to refer to splitting a cake), you'll again need to place the cake, on its cardboard round, on your turntable and use your serrated knife to slice it lengthwise. As before, keep the blade level and use a sawing motion while rotating the cake on the turntable.

    When you reassemble, the cut sides should go together. For extra precision, you can cut a notch in the side of the cake before you split it, and use that notch to help you line the two halves up again afterward.

    Continue to 7 of 12 below.
  • 07 of 12

    Applying the Crumb Coat

    wedding cake
    Leah Maroney

    The next step is frosting the cake. When you apply frosting, the cake will produce crumbs that become suspended in the frosting. This looks messy. To avoid this problem, first apply a light, initial coat of frosting called a crumb coat, and then chill the cake for 30 minutes before applying the final coat of frosting. Chilling allows the crumb coat to firm up so that the crumbs don't make their way into the final layer of frosting.

    If you're filling your cake, you need to do this before applying the crumb coat. To start, spoon a dollop of frosting onto the bottom of the cake board to act as glue. Place the bottom layer down on top of the cake board and pipe a buttercream dam around the perimeter of the top of cake. This will help to keep the filling from leaking out. 

    Otherwise, simply apply a layer of buttercream to the bottom layer, spread it around, then place the top layer on top. Remember to position it with the bottom of the cake facing up for that flat edge.

    Now apply the crumb coat, then chill for 15 to 30 minutes. Don't go longer than that. If your cake gets too cold, condensation will form when you take it out of the fridge, and this layer of moisture will prevent the second layer of frosting from adhering.

    Continue to 8 of 12 below.
  • 08 of 12

    Applying the Frosting

    wedding cake
    Leah Maroney

    Now each tier is assembled and situated on either a cardboard or foamcore round, or a cake drum in the case of the bottom tier. Note that the cake drum is wider than the diameter of the bottom tier, to help you get your fingers under it for lifting.

    With each assembled tier on the turntable, transfer a mound of frosting to the top of the cake and then spread it around the top with your palette knife, rotating the cake as you go. Do the same with the sides. Try to work quickly so that everything stays cool. Return each tier to the fridge while you do the next one.

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    How to Smooth Frosting

    wedding cake
    Leah Maroney

    You can smooth the frosting adequately using just your palette knife. But for a really sharp finish, a cake smoother (sometimes called a cake scraper or decorating comb) will come in handy. 

    It's basically a piece of metal with a flat edge and a ribbed edge. While rotating the cake on your turntable, you run the edge of the smoother along the sides in the opposite direction of the cake's rotation.

    For a rustic finish, hold the tip of your palette knife against the sides of the cake while rotating it to produce a swirl effect. For a so-called "naked" cake, apply the crumb coat, and instead of chilling, apply the outer coat immediately, then use the scraper to scrape most of the frosting off.

    Continue to 10 of 12 below.
  • 10 of 12

    Use Cake Supports

    wedding cake
    Leah Maroney

    There are a lot of different ways to use cake supports, but what they all come down to is inserting vertical dowels into the cake to help bear the weight of the tiers above it. You're not fastening the tiers together, just adding support. Wooden cake dowels, plastic ones, or even plastic drinking straws can be used.

    Continue to 11 of 12 below.
  • 11 of 12

    Stack the Tiers

    wedding cake
    Leah Maroney

    Whichever kind of supports you use, cut them to the height of each tier and drive them all the way through the cake so that their tops are flush with the cake. A triangle formation (three dowels per tier) should be enough support. 

    Do the bottom tier first. Once the dowels are in place, lay a wax paper round the size of the next layer over the top, then position the next layer and repeat the dowel process for the middle and upper tiers. Some bakers like to sharpen a long dowel and drive it all the way through the whole cake from top to bottom for extra support. (Foam core boards make this easier than cardboard.)

    Continue to 12 of 12 below.
  • 12 of 12

    Decorate With Fresh Flowers or Edible Decorations

    wedding cake
    Leah Maroney

    Your cake is now frosted and stacked! All that's left is your final decorations. If you're skilled with a piping bag, by all means go ahead and pipe some decorative touches around the edges. Otherwise, ribbon, sprinkles, edible decorations such as fresh berries, and even edible flowers, are an elegant finishing touch.