Perfect cake layers are as flat as your counter top, but here's the sad truth: they don't magically come out of the oven that way. During baking, cakes usually puff up a bit around the center and come out a little domed.
So if you want to start your project on the level, you've gotta slice off that excess on top to even things out.
Leveling your cake will make for easy-to-stack layers — they won’t wobble, and you'll have a nice flat surface for decorating. It also makes sure you get that awesome "wow it's so professional!" reveal when you slice your cake.
First thing's first: be patient. You’ll want to let a just-baked cake cool completely before leveling. Trying to do it too soon can lead to a total mess — we're talking crumbs everywhere and an uneven, jagged cut. No good.
Once you're ready to go, take your pick of these ways:
1. Use a serrated knife
This is the most basic method, and all you need is a steady hand and a long, serrated knife. (The long part is important — a knife with a blade that's at least as long as your cake is wide is your friend here.)
Start by placing your cake on a board or flat surface, dome-side up. Move the knife back and forth in a gentle sawing motion to remove the crown.
Some people find that placing the cake on a cake stand and rotating it while you cut is easier than keeping it still, so do what's best for you. Either way, the goal (obviously) is to try to keep the knife as level as possible while you cut.
Pros: Minimal equipment, easy to do
Cons: Highest risk of leveling your cake unevenly — especially when you're just learning.
2. Use a cake leveler
If you haven't met a cake leveler yet, it's a bow-like contraption with a wire running across. In use, the "legs" of the leveler arch over your cake, while the wire cuts through.
Get your cake settled on a board, then adjust the ends of the cutting wire to your desired height (there are notches along the sides to help with this).
With the “legs” of the leveler on the work surface, draw the cutting wire into the cake using a gentle sawing motion. Once it's passed through the crust, keep pulling the wire through the cake until it comes out on the other end. The dome should slice off cleanly and evenly.
Pros: Easy to use, consistent results
Cons: Clunky item to have in your kitchen; more expensive than a serrated knife; single-use tool
3. Hoop it up
If you want to get a little crazy, here’s a fun tip adapted from Bakers Royale : Use an embroidery or quilting hoop! These are easy to find and cheap at craft supply stores, and come in tons of sizes.
Place the hoop around the cake and adjust the knob so it fits snugly, with the hoop resting at the height you’d like to cut. Place your serrated knife at the top edge of the hoop and gently cut across the cake with a sawing motion.
Use the top of the hoop to keep your cut level, with the tip of the knife visible on the opposite end of the hoop so it doesn't start to angle down. (Once again, you'll want that long knife to get the best from this technique.)
Pros: Inexpensive; easy; more consistent results than using a serrated knife alone
Cons: The hoop can slip if you don’t put it on straight; you might not want to use that hoop for sewing after you’ve used it on a cake!