Three Layers, One Pan

Reader Erin writes:

I have a question about layer cakes. I am baking a three-layer cake, but I have only one pan. Is it bad to let the batter sit while each layer is in the oven? Or will the cakes turn out fine? The alternative is to divide the recipe into thirds, and only mix one third at a time, but that might be tricky.

Hey Erin! It’s a less-than-ideal situation, no question. However if the leavening is baking powder (versus baking soda) you’ll have a better chance of the last layer coming out alright. Double acting baking powder is called “double acting” for a reason. One action starts to kick in when the batter is moistened, the other doesn’t start to happen until the batter is heated.

That said, formulations have evolved such that even the “wet” action requires heat to release all of its gas. I’ve seen muffin batters keep for a week in a walk-in and still puff up nicely in the oven. So my suggestion is not to bother with three batters. Just do one and move the process along as promptly as you can. The last bake may not be quite as tall as the first, but you should still have three very usable layers.

19 thoughts on “Three Layers, One Pan”

  1. Thank you, Joe! The leavening is actually baking soda for this cake, but if the layers don’t bake up as tall as each other, I’ll just level off the difference 🙂

      1. They turned out very well! The batter for the last layer seemed pretty thick compared to the first layer, but once they were baked, the only tell-tale sign was the uneven (slightly lumpy) top, which I cut off anyway as I leveled the cakes. Thank you!

        1. Great Erin! That extra thickness was probably just gelatinizing starch. Thanks for coming back with a report!

          – Joe

  2. So interesting! In a one-pan situation like this, would the gluten formation toughen the last layer a significant amount, or would it be negligible, supposing that there is about a 30 minute period in between each layer? Thanks for being so responsive, always! 🙂

    1. Activated gluten isn’t much of an issue in cake batters unless they’re seriouly over-beaten. They have so much sugar and fat in them that protein molecules have a hard time getting hold of one another. Know an over-mixed layer by the big hump in the middle.

      But the thicker your batter the more likely it is to hold while you bake off the layers. Very liquid batters suffer more because the CO2 simply bubbles up to the surface and escapes. That doesn’t happen so much if the batter is the thickness of, say, cookie dough. Know what I mean?

      – Joe

        1. You should ask Mrs. Pastry that. She’d love to tell you all about what it’s like to live with the big genius. Oh my, would she ever…

          But thanks Ann! 😉

  3. is there a reason why you couldn’t just bake it as a single cake and then just slice it?

    personally i would just 1/3 the recipe but i’m slightly obsessed with weighing ingredients so that’s not too tricky for me. i really can’t recommend enough getting a good set of scales (i have three that are in use, often all in the same recipe!) and weoghing everything… the results are so much more reliable!

    1. Hey Chris!

      For something as tall as a layer cake, you’d never be able to bake it in one huge mass and slice it. The inside wouldn’t firm before the outside burned….that’s assuming it could stand up under its own weight. But I’m with you in spirit when it comes to measuring and weighing. I have that obsession as well. My guess is that these layers will turn out, however. Maybe not perfectly, but well enough…I guess we’ll see!

      Thanks for the email!

      – Joe

    2. Hello, i need help and it is urgent.. i have to make layered cake but i have only one pan and don’t have enough space in my oven..i don’t want to sit my batter for long..could you please tell me how to cut the recipe so that i can make 3 layered cake in one pan seperately without letting the batter to sit for long..please tell me the accurate measurements and to cut down the recipe. The recipe i am following is 3 layered cake in 8′ inch pan. Is there any maths to cut the recipe.
      Looking forward to hear from you
      Thank you

      1. Hello Aadi!

        It’s hard to know without looking at the recipe. But in principle you can simply divide quantities by 3 and make three batches. That can be difficult if the recipe only calls for 2 eggs, for instance. You can work around it by combining all your liquids together as a first step, and then diving that mixture by 3, if that makes sense.

        It will take time, but eventually you’ll get there. Good luck!

        – Joe

  4. So Joe– Why don’t you publish weights with your recipes? I think a few of us would certainly appreciate it and you would be ahead of the curve, blogger wise that is.

    1. Hello Emilie!

      Most of the recipes are by weight, at least for the bulk ingredients (not the leavening and such). I don’t go down to the gram, it’s true, however I do have conversion tables on the site for people who want to do that. I think that for most people, just weighing things to the ounce is novel. But I’m open to suggestions. What exactly do you have in mind?

      – Joe

  5. Hi Joe,

    I wonder about this issue too, when making cupcakes, or even cookies. My oven fits one muffin tin per rack, so if I’m doing a double batch of cupcakes (24 total), is it better to do two racks at once, or back-to-back batches. (And for that matter, if doing two at once, what’s the best rack positioning?). While we’re on the subject, I use a CI recipe all the time ( that says, this recipe does not double very well. Why would that be so? THANKS!!

    1. From the directions it seems as though their main concern is that the muffins heat evenly when the tins are placed next to one another in the oven. That problem can be solved by simply rotating the pans. For a double batch I’d position two racks as close to the middle of the oven as possible, bake for about two-third of the total time, then rotate the pans top-to-bottom and front-to-back. That should do the trick!

      – Joe

  6. Should the batter for the other layers go into the fridge in between baking, or would it be best to keep it room temp?

    1. Room temperature is better for baking…it won’t influence the behavior of the baking powder. A great question, Noel!


      – Joe

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