How To Make A Layer Cake When All You Have Is A Sheet Pan

No round cake pans? A Southern baker always finds a way.

cookies and cream cake
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Ali Ramee; Prop Styling: Christine Kelly

We love cake. Pound cakes, cupcakes, layer cakes, sheet cakes—regardless of how tall or how small the cake, every Southern baker worth her can of baking powder has a recipe box full of various cake recipes. We stake our culinary reputations on the ability to produce a cake, for any occasion, with just a few hours notice.

But what happens if, after promising to bake a layer cake for the church cakewalk that same evening, you reach back into your cupboard only to remember you loaned your round pans to your co-worker? Don't worry! You can still create this swoon-worthy Cookies and Cream Cake and at the same time start a trend when you show up with a one-of-a-kind square layer cake. Here's how:

Step 1. Prepare the pan

Grease a 13- x 9-inch baking pan according to the recipe's directions. Otherwise, grease the pan with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment paper. Prepare the recipe and pour the batter into the pan, using a spatula to smooth the surface.

Step 2. Bake the cake

A 13- x 9-inch baking pan is just about equal to two 9-inch round cake pans in volume, so the amount of batter should be about right for a sheet cake pan. The baking times will be about the same, too, since the depth of both size pans is also about the same (2 inches).

Remember the rule when baking cakes: Always test the cake with a wooden pick or cake tester, and don't rely on time or color alone to judge doneness.

Step 3. Trim and cut cake

Cut a piece of parchment paper a little larger than your sheet cake, and place it on your countertop. Once the cake has baked and is completely cooled, turn it out of the pan onto the parchment paper. (The extra parchment paper helps you lift the cake layers as you place them on the cake stand.)

Peel off the parchment paper that baked onto the bottom of the cake, and trim the sides and edges of the cake to make things square. Most cake 13- x 9-inch cake pans have a slight flare to them, so you want to flatten out the side.

Sheet cakes usually bake pretty flat (as opposed to the lopsided or domed effects we often see from round cake pans), but if you need to level the cake, use a sharp serrated knife. Once that is done, simply cut the sheet cake cleanly in half, creating two "layers."

Cakes quickly begin to dry out once they are cut, so if you are not going to immediately frost the cake, wrap each piece securely in plastic wrap.

Step 4. Assemble your layer cake

When it comes to stacking and frosting the cake, just use the same method you follow when making a traditional layer cake: Use a dollop of frosting on your cake plate to hold the first layer in place. Add your filling or frosting, then gently set the second layer in place.

It's a good idea to apply a crumb coat of frosting; this creates a smooth, crumb-free surface for your frosting. A crumb coat also lets you "spackle" any uneven spots, again working towards a smooth surface.

After applying the crumb coat let the cake chill in the fridge a few minutes, then take it out and finish frosting.

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