Among the many assorted goodies for sale at Baked bakery in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, New York, cakes—especially layer cakes—stand tall. At last count, 26 different flavors of cake were on the menu, including chocolate and vanilla, of course, but also carrot, caramel apple, coconut cream, green tea, lemon drop, malted milk ball, and strawberry supreme. Despite how unalike they may taste, all share a similar look: modern and unfussy, yet beautiful in a quiet way. “Clean and minimal was conscious,” says Matt Lewis, who along with Renato Poliafito opened the first of two Baked outposts in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook back in 2005. “So many cakes out there have so much going on. We wanted something that was a little less abundant in aesthetic.”
The bakery’s signature look is the swirl. A customer once remarked to Lewis that the way the cakes are frosted is reminiscent of Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum. “If there was any connection to Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, it was deeply subconscious,” quips Lewis. “But the description makes total sense.”
The simplicity of the design is good news for baking enthusiasts. With the right tools—a cake turntable and an offset spatula are nonnegotiable—a little practice, and some know-how, mere mortals can frost similarly gorgeous cakes in their own homes.
Recently, Baked’s head decorator, Annemarie Bouman (pictured), and events manager, Jordan Slocum, came to the Fine Cooking test kitchen to demonstrate how it’s done. Follow the step-by-step photos, and then go find a reason to celebrate.
Gather your tools (see slideshow below) and follow the photos to frost a cake like a pro. Use Baked’s vanilla layer cake and frosting recipes or your own favorite cake and frosting. For best results, you’ll need three 8- or 9-inch vanilla layer cakes and about 8 cups of creamy, spreadable frosting.
For smooth frosting, keep whisking
The Very Vanilla Frosting recipe is about the best we’ve ever had: not too sweet, with a thick but light and airy texture that makes frosting fun and a slice of cake simply delicious. It is, however, a bit unusual. It starts with a roux of sorts, which thickens the frosting and gives it its full body, but after copious amounts of butter are beaten into it, the frosting does not look good. It needs a rest so the ingredients can come to the same temperature and then lots more whipping. Because it’s hard to believe the lumpy-looking mess will eventually lighten into a smooth and fluffy frosting, we decided to show you what it looks like at a couple of stages, just so you’ll know not to give up.
STEP 1: Trim the layers
For a tall, elegant-looking cake, start with three 8-inch layers as shown here. If your hand isn’t super steady, you can use a cake leveler to remove the domed tops.
STEP 2: Stack and fill the layers
Be sure to put a cake board on your turntable (see tool slideshow above) for easy transport of the finished cake. To keep it from sliding, put a flat piece of rubber, such as from a nonskid mat, between it and the turntable.