No matter what kind of layer cake you plan to bake, whether it's vanilla, chocolate cherry, or coconut, it will come out better if the baking pans are lined with parchment. It may seem thriftier to butter the pans and finish with a dusting of flour, but the combination encourages significant Maillard browning, which leads to the development of a thick, dark crust that detracts from the lightness of the crumb inside and contributes to a sense of dryness.
Aside from choosing the right pan, a parchment liner with a light coat of pan spray or oil is the best way to reduce browning in the outer crust of a layer cake. This keeps the bottom and sides of the cake delicate and tender, and the interior light and moist. Limiting crust formation in layer cakes will also reduce the unsightly appearance and dry texture of several layers of a dark bottom crust.
You can certainly buy ready-made parchment rounds, but I don't have much storage space in my kitchen, so I prefer to make my own as needed. It's not exactly rocket science, but there is a smarter way to go about it than you might expect. And no, it doesn't involve any convoluted origami.
A standard parchment roll is 15 inches wide, so, for a two-layer cake, our first instinct might be to pull out a 16-inch sheet, fold it in half, trace, and cut—done. Problem is, that generates a lot of waste: more than 50 square inches of scrap. A better way is to pull out a sheet of parchment, fold it into a triangle, then cut or tear it loose; this requires no more than 14 inches of parchment (less if you're strategic about it).
Reducing two inches of length will eliminate over 30 square inches of waste, a savings that will multiply with every layer cake (which really adds up for those of us who like to make birthday cakes for friends and family). The triangle fold is also an immensely helpful trick when you're working with precut parchment sheets that otherwise seem too short to accommodate more than one eight-inch round. So don't think of parchment as a waste of time or resources. Rather, consider it a worthy investment that can make a real difference in the tenderness and appearance of your favorite layer cakes.
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