Welcome to the March Baking Challenge! We’re baking, designing, and styling NAKED CAKES. Naked cakes, with zero to minimal frosting on the outside, expose the cake layers and filling. This rustic and chic cake presentation has been all the rage for the past few years, popping up everywhere on the wedding, baby shower, bridal shower, and party scenes. Milk Bar owner Christina Tosi is credited with starting the trend back in 2013 when she began highlighting the cake layers, instead of just the frosting. Now naked cakes are a bakery staple!
Naked cake is the perfect baking challenge recipe for March. Wedding celebration season is upon us, along with Easter, spring, and Mother’s Day. Like most monthly challenges, you have creative control this month. You can decorate and style the naked cake in your own unique way, which makes the challenge 100x more fun. Today I’m sharing my tips for decorating a naked cake, a video showing you how, the vanilla cake recipe I used, plus plenty of inspiration for you to get started.
There’s a lot of ground to cover today, so let’s get right to it!!
There are 2 types of naked cakes. The cake in today’s photos is called a “semi-naked” or “half dressed” cake. There’s a minimal amount of frosting swiped around the sides. So in other words, a semi-naked cake is a crumb-coated cake.
Or you can simplify the design even further with a true naked cake. This means the sides of the cake are bare. Both styles are simple, approachable, and beautiful.
Let’s focus on a semi-naked cake because that’s how I decorated the cake in today’s photos and video. To begin, you’ll need a layer cake. You can use any of my layer cake recipes, the vanilla layer cake recipe below, or any layer cake recipe you love. Three or four layer cakes provide enough height to work with, but you can easily decorate a two layer cake this way. See my red velvet cake as an example. (I recently made and reshot that recipe!) Tiered cakes are great too. Feel free to use my cake batter recipes for different size pans to create a tiered cake.
I dotted fresh raspberries between my cake layers. Admittedly, I only dotted them around the edges because I ran out of raspberries. Oops! But I love how they peek out the sides. The fresh raspberries also provide a lovely texture variation. If you decide to do this as well, be warned that the raspberries will leak some juice around the edges after a day or so. I would leave the berries out if you’re making this cake in advance for a party or celebration.
Vanilla buttercream is my favorite for the half-dressed cake style. It’s simple and shows off the semi-exposed cake layers as well as the cake’s decorative pieces. Not fan of vanilla? I have plenty of frosting recommendations below.
Want to watch me assemble and decorate a naked cake? Here you go!
5 TIPS FOR HOMEMADE NAKED CAKES
- Make a plan. Think about how much frosting you want. Do you want a naked cake or a semi-naked cake? What about decor? I have plenty of suggestions below.
- Prep the cake pans appropriately. Use quality cake pans and grease them well. I always use nonstick spray. Use an equal amount of batter per pan. Easiest and most accurate way to do this is to whip out your kitchen scale. Place your cake pan on top and begin pouring. Make sure each pan weighs the same.
- Level your cakes. Level off the top of your cakes so each side is flat. Flat and even layers add stability to your finished cake. You can use a cake leveler or large serrated knife. I always use my serrated knife.
- Just keep it simple. Make it easier on yourself. I’ve seen many naked cakes calling for a soak in simple syrup to prevent it from drying out. You can absolutely take this route, especially if you’re making a true naked cake, but I don’t find the need if you’re starting out with an already moist cake. (Like my vanilla cake below.) Lots of naked cake tutorials I’ve seen online call for piping frosting between layers, but I skip this too. I use an icing spatula to spread the frosting. The frosting recipe below yields about 4.5 cups. I used 1.5 cups between each layer and another 1.5 cups on the top and around the sides.
- The fridge is your best friend. Always chill your naked cake in the refrigerator for a few hours before slicing and serving. This stabilizes all your hard work! It helps the frosting adhere to the sides of the cake and in between the cake layers, as well as ensuring a neater slice. Then you can set the cake out at room temperature for your party or celebration.
3 TOOLS FOR DECORATING
- Straight spatula. A lot of cake decorators use an offset spatula to apply frosting on a cake, but I prefer a straight spatula. Maybe it’s the way my hands work, but it’s just easier for me to use!
- Bench scraper. Use this for running around the sides of the cake to smooth out the frosting.
- Cake turntable. This is optional. Many of you told me I needed one because it makes the job easier. And you were right! I did NOT use it for the cake pictured today, but you can watch me using it in the video. You can transfer your decorated cake to a cake stand by using these cake circles. I used one in the video.
YOU HAVE OPTIONS
Any cake flavor and frosting counts for the challenge. Mix and match cake flavors, frostings, and decor to create your own truly unique naked cake.
Here are cake flavors you can use.
Plenty of options here, including 2 older recipes with updated photos. These cakes are all pretty moist, so I wouldn’t worry about them drying out– especially if you choose the semi-naked/crumb coat look.
Here are frosting flavors you can use.
You can freeze any leftover frosting for up to 3 months and thaw in the refrigerator for next time.
Here are some decor ideas.
I kept it simple with florals and berries, but you can go wild. I recommend starting simple, then building on what you have.
- Fresh flowers. Use flowers that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Avoid strong-smelling flowers as the smell may linger on the cake. And if you can find edible flowers, that’s even better.
- Fresh berries or any fruit. My favorite!
- Smaller sweet treats like candies, cookies, meringues, and chocolates
- Candied citrus
- Nuts or seeds
- Fresh herbs
- Cinnamon sticks
Here are some cake stands.
To show off your stunning masterpiece!
Get creative, let your inner cake artist shine, and most of all… have fun!
If you’re not into this recipe, here is the alternate March Baking Challenge:
After you make the baking challenge recipe or alternative, share your photos throughout this month using #sallysbakingchallenge on Instagram or Twitter, or upload a photo of your recipe to my Facebook page or Facebook group. Or email it to me! (You can also message me your photo on Instagram if your account is private.) By doing so, you’re automatically entered in the $250 giveaway!!
- 3 and 3/4 cups (431g) sifted all-purpose flour*
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract (yes, Tbsp!)
- 1 and 3/4 cups (420ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
- optional: 1-2 cups fresh raspberries (or other berry, see note)
- 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 5-6 cups (600-720g) confectioners’ sugar
- 5-6 Tablespoons (75-90ml) heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- finishing decorations (see post above for inspiration!)
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease and lightly flour four 9-inch cake pans.
- Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. On medium-high speed, add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
- With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix this batter. The batter will be smooth, velvety, and slightly thick.
- There is about 8 cups of batter total, so each layer will be 2 and 2/3 cups. Pour/spread batter evenly into prepared cake pans. If you’re worried about uneven cake layers, you can use a kitchen scale and weigh the cake pans for accuracy. (The weight of just the batter in my cake pans was about 1 lb 6 ounces.)
- Bake for around 25-26 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
- Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy – about 2 minutes. Add 5 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 5 Tablespoons heavy cream, the vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes. Add 1/2 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, 1 more Tablespoon cream if frosting is too thick, or a pinch more of salt if frosting is way too sweet.
- Assemble and decorate the cake: Watch the video above for a tutorial on assembling and decorating this naked cake. First, using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Spread 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting evenly on top. If using, dot half of the raspberries around the rim. Flatten them down into the frosting as best you can so the cake layer on top is sturdy. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with another 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting and more (flattened!) raspberries around the rim. You can sprinkle a few leftover raspberries in the center, too. (Like I did in the video.) Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting on top and all around the sides using an icing spatula. Use a bench scraper to smooth out the frosting on the sides of the cake. If you’re making a full naked cake, just spread the remaining frosting on top of the cake. If you have leftover frosting, you can freeze it for up to 3 months and thaw in the refrigerator for next time.
- Decorate the cake with garnishes.
- Refrigerate the cake for 2-3 hours or up to 1 day before slicing and serving. If chilling for more than a few hours, loosely cover with plastic wrap after 1 hour of refrigeration. (The frosting will “set” after about 1 hour and the plastic wrap won’t really ruin your frosting at that point.) And if you’re chilling for more than a few hours, I suggest decorating with garnishes right before serving (so as not to wilt the flowers, etc).
- Cover and store leftover cake at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Make ahead tip: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Assemble and frost the cake the next day when you are ready to serve. The frosted cake can be refrigerated for up to 1 day– see step 8. The frosted cake can also be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
*Sift flour before measuring.
*If needed, you can use whole milk mixed with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk.
*The raspberries will leak some juice around the edges after a day or so. I would leave the berries out if you’re making this cake in advance for a party or celebration.
Why is everything at room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
I used this cake recipe for my checkerboard cake. The cake layers are slightly thicker here because this cake is 3 layers instead of 4. If you want to make the naked cake as a 4 layer cake, use 2 cups of batter for each cake layer and bake for 23-24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
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