This is a lengthy multi-video tutorial with step-by-step instructions on how to fill and freeze layer cakes within the baking pan, a professional bakery method for the torting phase of assembly. To best understand this concept, I recommend watching the first two videos and reading all the way to the bottom of this page. You might also want to check out this tutorial as well: How to Freeze and Thaw Cakes.
VIDEO #1: The Virtues of Freezing
VIDEO #2: Step-by-Step Filling & Depanning
Pro Cake Filling Basics
In commercial bakeries, we have a way of building layer cakes in the pan so they come out clean and symmetrical in the shape of cylinders, squares, rectangles, etc. In my experience, this method is the best for building cakes, particularly sculpted cake designs, stacked cakes and wedding cake designs.
The trick is to stack the sliced cake layers + filling layers together in the same pan that was used for baking. The pan then doubles as both a baking vessel and a mold for assembling the cake.
Once the cake gets assembled inside the pan, it must be frozen before it’s ready to be popped out.
When done right, this method yields a solid, stable geometrical shaped cake. Such a cake is easier to frost and requires far less buttercream to achieve a professional-looking finish since there are fewer holes and uneven spots to patch.
This technique works great for filling one cake at home. It’s equally effective for filling hundreds cakes in a high volume commercial bakery operation. In bakeries big and small, I’ve encountered this method. Almost all of my cakes featured on this site were built this way.
Cross Section of Cakes Filled Using This Method
Here are some cutaway views of a cookies and cream cake that I assembled in the pan using this filling method. Note how tightly the layers are fused together. There are no air gaps in the cake. Cookies and Cream is one of 11 Reliable Cake Filling Flavors from my Streamlined Cake Menu.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to execute this method including tips on how to make it work with any sized pan.
Step #1 – Bake
Bake one or more cakes and allow them to cool. I like to bake 3-4” deep cakes in 3-4” deep cake pans. To ensure even baking of larger cake tiers (8”+ diameter), I use a heating core or heating rod (commission earned).
Step #2 – Prep the Fillings
While the cakes are baking and cooling, it’s a good time to prep the fillings. If you don’t already have stable cake filling favorites of your own, here are 11 Layer Cake Filling Flavors that have performed well for me. As part of a Streamlined Cake Menu designed for production efficiency, they are all based on two buttercream frosting recipes.
Step #3 – Slice the Cake Layers
Once the cakes are cool, slice them into layers using a long serrated bread knife (commission earned). I typically aim for three or four 1” thick layers per cake tier. Follow this link to watch my cake slicing video tutorial.
Step #4 – Prep the Pan
Since you will be re-using the baking pan as a vessel for assembling the cake, you don’t need to wash it. However you do need something to prevent the cake from sticking on the bottom. I typically start building my layers with the slice of cake that already has the pan liner stuck to its bottom. That way, it gets re-used.
If you didn’t use a pan liner for baking or already peeled it off the cake, be sure to add a fresh one to the bottom of the pan.
Cake Collar Option
If you want to play it extra safe, you can also add a parchment paper collar around the inside walls of the pan too. However it’s not necessary. The collar is an optional step that may be used to extend the height of the pan when needed, such as when the pan is squatter than the cake you intend to build or in cases. If you happen to own two squat pans, you may invert one over the other to make a ‘pan sandwich’ with the filled cake in between. This works almost just as effectively as one deep pan.
Step #5 – Build the Cake INSIDE the Pan
Here is an example of how to build a cake inside the baking pan using my summer fruit cake filling. The graphic below provides a cutaway view of what I built inside the pan.
Since whole chunks of fruit were involved in the building of this cake, I concentrated the filling layers in the center so there would be room for them to spread when I pushed down on the top of the assembled cake (see step #6). That way, the fruit, filling and cake could all fuse together into a solid cylinder shape.
Step #6 – Push
Once the final layer of cake has been added on top, press down on it to push the filling layers together and force out any air pockets trapped within. You will probably hear some air hiss out.
For large cake tiers (10″ or wider in diameter), I push with a cake cardboard, which distributes weight more evenly than my hands.
Step #7 – Seal
Wrap the whole cake (still within the pan) in a double layer of cling film. Pull the film all the way around the top, bottom and sides of the pan so it is completely sealed.
Step #8 – Freeze
Freeze the cake (still within the pan) overnight. Note that with very few exceptions, freezing a cake for this amount of time does not affect the quality of a cake. In fact, you can freeze a cake weeks in advance of the event if that works better for your cake planning schedule. Just be sure to follow my tips on how to freeze a cake in the pan.
NOTE: The cake must be frozen in order to yield favorable results. If it’s not cold enough, there’s a chance it might not come out of the pan all in one piece. If that occurs, press it back into the pan, freeze it some more, then try again later.
How long it takes to freeze a cake to the point of readiness depends on the size of the cake and the efficiency of your freezer. The larger the cake, the longer it will take to fully freeze. A good rule of thumb is to freeze the cake for 24-48 hours before depanning it. It is possible to execute this method in a shorter space of time but it will not be as easy to get the cake out of the pan.
Step #9 – Depan
Once the cake is frozen, it may be unwrapped and popped out of the pan.
There are a number of ways to remove a frozen cake from its baking pan. Below, I’ve listed four of them. Please feel free to use the method that is most comfortable for you.
4 Ways to Remove a Frozen Cake from the Pan
Hot Water Bath Method
The hot water bath method involves submerging the frozen pan partway into a larger vessel half-full of simmering water. This is the traditional way to de-mold desserts, the only caveat being that you need to find a vessel big enough to accommodate your pan. For larger cake tiers, this may prove difficult.
At one of the wholesale bakeries where I was employed, we produced a high volume of 7″ – 10″ cakes. In that kitchen, we used the hot water bath method with a 12″ diameter deep sauce pan set atop a portable propane burner with the flame set to low. The flame kept the water hot for hours while racks of cakes were de-panned. I didn’t love how the water made the work station wet and messy but it was an economical and efficient method for depanning 50-100 cakes per day.
Heat Gun Method
Brenda Broadway, a reader from BB Bakes Sugar Art, has reported success using a heat gun in place of the blow torch method listed below. She’s written a summary of her findings here: The Perfect Cake Hack. Although I haven’t tried it myself, I suspect this may be the ideal method as a heat gun is safer than a blow torch.
Blow Drier Method
Another reader of this blog has reported success using a hair drier in place of the torch method listed below. I would only opt for a hair drier as a last resort since it would heat up the temperature of the kitchen and blow dust and debris around. As a bathroom item, it’s also not the most sanitary choice. However it’s an option you may consider if you don’t own a heat gun, torch, or vessel big enough to make a hot water bath.
Blow Torch Method
My preferred method is the blow torch because it’s quick, easy and doesn’t involve water. Moreover, this is how I was taught in a kitchen where we relied on a blow torch for several different pastry techniques.
The torch method may be used on any size or shaped pan so it comes in especially handy when dealing with the larger tiers of a wedding cake.
1. Invert the cake in its pan and place it on a turntable.
2. Spin the wheel slowly with one hand while torching the outside of the pan with the other. Keep the flame moving to avoid overheating the pan. Do this for 5 seconds for a small cake (4” – 9” diameter) or 10 seconds for a large cake (10” or wider).
3. Stop and touch the outside of the pan; it should feel a little warm all around. The warmth of the pan will soften the sides of the cake, releasing its hold on the metal.
4. Flip the pan so that the cake is face up. Do not delay at this stage as the warmth you’ve created will quickly dissipate, causing the sides of the cake to once again freeze against the pan.
5. Run a small offset spatula around the outside of the cake to release the filling that likely has a suction hold on the pan’s sides.
6. Invert the pan and shake it in mid-air until the cake falls out. Be patient. It can take time for the cake to work its way out. You’ll know it’s working when you hear a sucking sound. Some forceful jiggling helps.
If the cake won’t release, repeat steps 4 and 5.
The end result should be a cold cake in the exact shape of the pan.
Step #10 – Slack Off
Slacking Off is the industry term for defrosting food gradually in the refrigerator. I don’t recommend defrosting a frozen cake at room temperature. That will defeat the purpose of chilling the cake and result in excess condensation forming on its surface. Moreover, it is not a food safe option.
Depending on the size of the cake, the time it takes to transition from a frozen state to a refrigerator-temperature state could take anywhere between 4-24 hours. Be sure to take that under consideration when experimenting with this method.
While the cake is still frozen or semi-frozen, I like to carve it (if it’s a sculpted cake) and add a crumb coat of buttercream frosting. I find it’s easier to accomplish these tasks while the cake is extra cold because then it’s easier to handle. Follow this link for more information about timing.
ADDITIONAL TIPS & TRICKS
TIP: Push Fillings to the Edge of the Pan
Spreading the cake fillings to the edges of the pan creates nice even layers without any gaps in between. This helps prevent air pockets from getting trapped inside the cake, which minimizes the chance of bulging fillings. It also makes cakes easier to frost.
TRICK: Use a Cake Collar to Make Tall Cakes
If you need to build a cake that is taller than the height of your pan or if you want to be able to execute this method using squat pans (such as 2″ deep pans), here is the solution: How to Make Tall Layer Cakes.
TIP: Suitable Fillings for This Method
TRICK: The Bent Spoon Hack
To spread filling in smaller cake pans where an offset spatula can’t reach, try using a bent fountain soda spoon.
TIP: Recommended Cake Pans for This Method
Follow this link to explore the best options for cake baking pans that double as molds for layer cake making.
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