Some time in the fridge makes for the perfect cake.
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white man frosting cake layers
Credit: Dotdash Meredith

There are myriad reasons to bake a cake. Baking a cake can be soothing and comforting. It can be fun and uplifting (and then you get to eat the delicious results). It can even be an act of service for a sick or grieving friend or family member.

But if you don't follow certain steps—and one specific step in particular—when baking and frosting a cake, you may be frustrated with a misshapen or wobbly cake. No one wants all their cake making efforts to quickly go downhill, so to ensure the frosting goes on smoothly and the cake stays beautifully stacked, there is one step you shouldn't skip before frosting a cake. 

The Step You Shouldn't Skip Before Frosting a Cake

When you remove the cake layers from the pans, it can be tempting to start frosting them immediately. Because the sooner you frost the cake, the sooner you can eat it, right? But you'll want to refrain. 

Self-taught chef and baker Jason Smith from Grayson, Kentucky, who won Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship, shares his best advice for making sure layers cakes are always perfect.

"Prepare, bake, and cool the cake completely. Then, wrap each cake layer in cling film, nice and tight, and place in the fridge for at least two hours," he says.

That's right, you won't be frosting your cake at room temperature; a chilled cake is essential before applying any frosting.

"This step is the most important. Not chilling the cake will result in a non-straight cake. It can be lopsided, or even fall," explains Smith.

Warm cake is more tender and likely to break. But chilling the cake helps the baked good firm up so it can withstand frosting, stacking, and any moving between places.

And after all your hard work of measuring out, combining ingredients, and waiting for it to bake, the last thing you want is for your cake to go awry or look funky because you frosted it too soon. 

Added Bonus of Chilling Cake Layers: Fewer Crumbs

Once the cake is sufficiently chilled—with a minimum of two hours in the fridge but preferably chilled overnight—you can take it out and prepare for the frosting. Start by brushing off any crumbs that could get in the frosting and make it look sloppy.

"Remove the crumbs with a pastry brush," Smith says.

He recommends crumb coating the cake first—that is, applying a light layer of frosting on the top and the sides of the cake. This thin layer of frosting helps "glue" the crumbs to the cake so they won't be picked up when you apply the final layers of frosting later.

"Without the crumb coat you will have a bumpy, non smooth and speckled finish. You will not achieve your desired masterpiece," he says. After the crumb coat, place the cake in the fridge until it's chilled before continuing to frost the cake. "Chilling the cake between each step is a good practice as it keeps the cake stable and precise," he adds.

Another tip he offers: If you're making a stacked cake, dowel the cake using wood skewers or cake straws for extra support after you stack the layers. Just make sure you tell folks to look for the dowels or straws before they take their first bites.