If you want a perfectly flat, beautifully iced cake, you need to first learn how to level a cake properly.
There are a few ways to go about making your cake nice and level so you can try each method and decide which is best for you.
So will you start leveling your cake with a knife or will you try a piece of floss…
Why Level a Cake
When you bake a cake, it typically comes out of the oven slightly domed. This is from the cake batter rising in the oven, with the center of the cake rising longer as the middle bakes the slowest.
While you may like that dome shape, may people prefer the top of their cakes to be flat. This requires you to cut off the top of the cake, making it level, and discarding the domed top (or eating it as a “taste test”!).
One reason why you should level your cake is to make decorating easier. When the cake top is flat, it will be easier to ice.
You will be able to write on the cake easily and any decorations you place on top will stand up straight. This is definitely a valid reason to level a cake.
Another reason why you should always cut off the domed top of a cake is to get rid of the harder, crispy part of the cake.
The exterior of the cake is directly exposed to the hot oven air for quite a while. This can dry the cake out and make it a little crunchy.
Cutting off that top layer will reveal a soft, moist cake that everyone will be dying to eat!
Tools for Leveling a Cake
There are actually quite a few tools you can purchase that are designed for leveling cakes. While a special tool may certainly help, you do not need to buy a specialty tool to help make your cake flat.
As you read through the different ways to level a cake, you will find that you have many of the tools needed right in your kitchen!
So don’t run out and buy new tools just yet- read these leveling methods and see what you already have on hand.
8 Ways to Level a Cake
1 – Serrated Knife and Turn Table
Using a serrated knife and a spinning cake stand, also known as a turn table, if the most traditional way to level a cake. It is definitely tried and true!
You likely already have a serrated knife on hand and a cake stand is also quite common in a kitchen. That means no need to buy new supplies!
Place the cake on top of the cake stand and use a long serrated knife to cut into the cake, horizontally, right where you would like the top to be removed. Only cut into the cake about an inch.
Then, keep the knife in the cake, holding it steadily and flat. Begin to rotate the turn table, spinning the cake while the knife remains still.
You do not need to move the knife at all, just spin the turn table and the knife will begin to cut into the cake, leveling the top layer and removing the domed cake top.
Tada! A leveled cake!
The biggest tricks to using this method is to cut the cake slowly, keep the knife steady and keep the turn table spinning. You can cut off as much or as little of the cake you need in order to make it the height you want.
Since this is the method most cake professionals use to level a cake, you can rest assured that it will work wonderfully!
2 – Dishcloth Method
When your cake comes out of the oven and has not yet cooled, cover the cake with a damp towel or dish cloth. Doing this will “readjust” the domed top of the cake and cause it to flatten, making your cake magically level!
Then, place a flat object like a cutting board on top of the cake. Press very gently to help flatten the cake more.
Remove the flat object and the towel and take a look at that perfectly level cake!
This technique requires no cutting which is why many people love it! It does work better on certain cakes and may not be the best method to use if your cake is very domed.
However, a slightly domed cake can easily be fixed with this trick!
3 – Cake Leveler Tool
Many cake supply stores sell a variety of cake levelers, all of which look very similar. The tool is a large U shape and has a thin wire or very small serrated blade that connects the two sides of the U.
The blade is adjustable and can move up and down so that it can adjust to the height you want your cake to be.
To use the tool, you place your cake on a flat surface and then hold the tool over the cake. The feet of the U should be touching the table on either side of your cake.
Set the blade at the height where you would like it to cut the cake. Then, gently saw back and forth, keeping the tool on the table and slicing off the top of the cake.
This method definitely works well to cut a cake perfectly flat. However, you can have the same effect with a knife and a little practice!
If you are nervous about your cake not being completely level, then this is the tool for you! You’ll get a level cake every time.
4 – In the Pan
If your cake has domed above the top of the pan lip, you can easily level the cake without every removing it from the pan.
Use a long serrate knife to slowly slice through the top to the cake, placing the knife blade directly against the cake pan to use it as a guide.
Since the cake pan itself is nice and level, your cake will be too!
5 – Toothpicks
The toothpick technique is a smart way to ensure your cake is completely level however it does require a few extra steps.
Grab four toothpicks and a ruler then place your cake on a table. Use the ruler to measure where you want to cut the cake (are you cutting the top off at 2 ½ inches? Maybe 2 ¾ ?).
Stick a toothpick into the side of the cake at the height you would like to cut the cake. Then, insert the remaining toothpicks at the same height all around the cake, placing them in at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions.
Only press the toothpicks about halfway into the cake.
Grab a long serrated knife and use the toothpicks as a cutting guide as you gently saw the knife back and forth, leveling the cake slowly.
This is a great way to ensure your cake is perfectly flat and that it is the same height all the way around.
6 – Floss
If you do not have a knife or a leveling tool, you can actually level your cake using a piece of floss!
Get a long piece of floss and hold both ends tightly in your hands. Make sure the width of the floss between your hands is longer than your cake (so if you have an eight inch cake, the floss should be at least 9 inches).
Place the floss where you would like to cut and then, pulling the floss tightly between your hands, pull the floss through the cake, cutting off the top as you go.
While this will cut off the top of your cake quite nicely, it is best to use this method in a pinch. It can be a little crumby!
7 – Band Leveler Tool
There is a different kind of cake leveler tool than described above that you may be interested in. Rather than actually cutting the cake, this kind of leveler guides the knife, keeping it flat as you cut.
Essentially the tool is an adjustable metal band that goes around the cake. The band has multiple horizontal slits that you will use as a guide to cut into the cake.
Place the band around the cake and then choose which height you would like to cut your cake. Use a serrated knife to cut into the cake, pressing your knife onto the slits in the leveler to keep it steady.
Remove the leveler band and cut the remaining way through the cake.
Perfectly flat, every time!
8 – Sheet Cake Method
When you bake cake in a thin sheet pan, it is less likely to dome as it bakes since there is less batter. Rather than use a cake pan, pour your batter into a rimmed sheet pan, only letting the batter be about ½” to 1” thick.
Bake the cake (it will bake quickly!) and once it has cooled, use your round cake pan to help you cut out circles from the sheet cake.
You will have perfectly flat cake circles ready to act as your cake layers.
With so many ways to level a cake, you are sure to find a method that works great for you, making nice level cakes with little to no effort.
Give each different leveling approach a try and see which you like best. You may be surprised which way you prefer to level a cake.
You may like that your floss now has a second use!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.