How to bake flat cake layers
Have you ever gone to assemble a layer cake, only to find your layers domed in the center and impossible to stack?
I tried a few solutions to this. You can stack the bottom layer upside-down, and if it's not too domed, the weight of the cake will mostly squish it, and the flat sides will be together in the center. Or you can slice off the top of your domed layer with a bread knife, but I usually end up doing this crooked. Or you can add tons of extra frosting strategically in the middle, and try to straighten things out that way. I don't think any of these solutions are ideal, and my cakes assembled like this usually turn out askew.
One solution is using cake strips—strips of wet fabric you wrap around your pans to help even out the baking. You can buy these cake strips available from King Arthur Flour, or you can make your own—here's how.
P.S. I can't remember completely, but I think my friend Holly tipped me off to this. Thanks Holly, I think!
How to make and use cake strips
1–2 old kitchen towels
Sewing machine (or needle) and thread
2 large safety pins
To make: Take an old kitchen towel and divide it into strips. I divided my towel into thirds the long way, and it was enough for my two pans. Wrap the strips around your pan to measure how long they should be, then snip and sew to get strips of the right length. Leave a little extra on the ends so you can fasten the strips on with safety pins. You will need one strip per pan.
To use: Get your cake strips quite wet (but not dripping). Put your filled cake pans on a larger baking sheet, and fasten the cake strips around the sides of the cake pans with the safety pins. You might be able to get yours to stay on without putting them on a baking sheet, but I can't.
How it works: When you bake a cake layer in the oven, the pan heats up and the outside of the cake cooks first (that's why we test the middle for doneness, because it cooks last). Because the middle of the cake cooks a bit later than the outside, it rises higher because the batter has nowhere else to go. The wet cake strips cool the outside of the pan, allowing the cake to bake more evenly.
One more way to get a level cake
This year for Red Chief's birthday, I completely forgot to use my cake strips. The cakes had very high domes. Luckily I remembered something I had bought on clearance a year or two ago (and had never used). It's a cake leveler. Mine is really cheap, and the wire had a hard time cutting through the cake, but as you can see, it did work.