If you’ve seem my Instagram, you’ll know I love making tiny cakes. What do I mean by tiny cakes? When I talk about tiny cakes I’m referring to small cakes (usually layer cakes) that are less than 3 inches wide. Don’t take those guidelines too seriously, this is just how I’m interpreting tiny cakes 🙂 My classic tiny cakes are around 2 inches wide and have 3 cake layers. Also, though similar in size, tiny cakes are not the same as cupcakes.
Now that you know what I mean by a tiny cake, in this post I’ll show you how to make one! I’ve seen tiny cakes made a few different ways, and here I’m just showing the approach I use. If you do something different I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Tips for great tiny cakes
If you only read one part of this post, read these tips:
- Freeze your tiny cake layers after each step in the process. This will make them easier to frost, assemble, and decorate. Since they’re small, they don’t require much time in the freezer.
- Use a piping bag every time you add frosting to the cake (even between cake layers). Applying the frosting directly to the cake with a spatula often causes crumbs to come off as you’re spreading. Tiny cakes can be frustrating to frost, but don’t lose hope!
Making a cake layer
The first step is to make one cake layer. Since you’ll be cutting circles out of this layer, it doesn’t matter what size pan you use or whether it’s round or rectangular. I usually use a 6-inch round pan. Anything smaller won’t give you much space to cut circles out. But, telling you to use any cake recipe in any pan is not very helpful, so I’ll be a bit more specific. Since tiny cakes are harder to frost than regular sized cakes, dense (less airy) recipes tend to work best. If a recipe calls for egg whites (without or with less yolk) or buttermilk, there’s a good chance it’ll be a denser cake recipe.
Note: You can also use a cookie or brownie recipe for your layers and follow the same steps in this tutorial. Just make sure to bake them in a pan, not as individual cookies on a cookie sheet. A 9×13 or 8×8 inch pan works well. If you go with a cookie or brownie recipe, adding too many mix-ins (like nuts or chocolate chips) can make it harder to cut your tiny cake layers. You’ll probably want to skip the next step (trim & slice cake layers), so as you’re pouring your batter in the pan think about how tall you’ll want each cake layer to be.
Once your cake is done baking, make sure it is fully cooled and put it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes before proceeding to the next step.
Trim and slice your cake layer
- Serrated knife or cake leveler
- Cooled cake layer
For this step you’ll want your cake to be slightly colder than room temperature but not frozen. If the top of your cake layer isn’t flat (it’s common for many cake recipes to rise into a dome shape), the first step is to trim this off. I prefer to use my cake leveler for this, but many people use a serrated knife (I don’t like sharp knives 😬).
Next, to make even more tiny cake layers, split your cake in half using the same tool you used to trim the top. By half, I mean turning one cake layer into two like this:
Be sure not to cut it in half the way you’d slice a pie! Now you’ve got a blank canvas for making some tiny cake layers.
Cut tiny circles
- Circular cookie cutters or something round
- Plastic bag
I use these circular cookie cutters to cut my tiny cake layers, but don’t worry if you don’t have any! All you need is something circular to use as your guide. Just make sure it’s clean before placing it on your cake 🙂 The top of a shot glass, wine glass, or champagne flute work well. If you don’t want to put whatever you’re using directly on your cake, cut a circle out of parchment paper and use that. Then, hold your circle (or glass) on your cake and cut around it with a knife. I have a tendency to angle my knife inward when doing this, but it’s best to point the knife straight down as you’re cutting.
Whether you’re using cookie cutters or a makeshift circle, cut as many circles as you can out of each layer:
Next, carefully put your circles in plastic wrap or a ziploc bag and put them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. I’m a fan of leaving no cake behind, so I usually save the leftover cake scraps for hiking snacks or for making cake pops. If you seal them tightly in a Ziploc bag, they can last in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Make the frosting
Just like the cake layers, you can use any frosting recipe you’d like. My favorite type of frosting to work with is American Buttercream. There are tons of great recipes out there, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel. Once your frosting is ready, put it in a piping bag. For tiny cakes, I like Wilton’s 12-inch piping bags. For this post, I’ll assume you’re the same frosting color between your cake layers and on the outside of your cake.
Assembling your cake layers
- Mini cake boards or parchment paper
- Non-slip silicon pad or lightly damp paper towel
- Spinning cake stand
- Piping bag
- Angled spatula
To assemble my tiny cakes I use these mini cake boards. A small piece of parchment paper works great too. I also find it much easier to decorate tiny cakes on a spinning cake stand. First, place a non-slip material on your spinning cake stand or work surface. This could be a silicone sheet or a lightly damp paper towel. Be careful to only sprinkle a few drops of water if you’re using a paper towel, otherwise it’ll soak through your cake board.
Next, spread a small amount of frosting on the bottom of your board or parchment paper. This will help your cake stick to your surface. Take your tiny cake layers out of the freezer and place one firmly in the center of the board, on top of the frosting. Cut a tiny hole in the end of your piping bag, and pipe frosting on top of your first layer. Here’s an example from my tiny candy corn cake:
Run an angled spatula under hot water, dry it completely, and then use it to smooth out the frosting you just piped. It can help to spin your cake stand while you do this too. Next, place your second tiny cake layer on top of the smoothed frosting, pipe and smooth another layer of frosting, and place your final third cake layer on top.
Leave the top of your cake unfrosted for now, carefully wrap the cake in plastic wrap or foil, and place in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Since the cake layers will have come to room temperature by the time you’re done assembling, it’s best to give it another freeze to ensure it’s not too crumbly.
Frosting the outside of your tiny cake
- Piping bag
- Spinning cake stand
- Bench scraper
- Angled spatula
Remove your cake from the freezer and take off the plastic wrap. Put it back on your tiny cake stand, and using the piping bag, pipe rings around your cake all the way to the top. Then, run your bench scraper under hot water and dry it. While slowly spinning your cake stand, hold the bench scraper against your cake to smooth it out. It’ll likely take a few scrapes to get the frosting smooth. If you see any frosting holes, fill them in with the piping bag. Finally, pipe frosting on top of the cake and smooth this with your angled spatula.