Ever wondered how to create the naked cake finish? She Who Bakes tells all here...
The naked cake is a trend that is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Britt Box from She Who Bakes shares her foolproof step-by-step guide to getting it right below. Enjoy! Over the past few years, many people have chosen to cast aside the traditional iced cake in favour of a more exposed and rustic-looking naked cake, simply dusted with icing sugar and topped with fresh fruits or flowers. This is a fabulous idea in principle, and they certainly do look very beautiful. Some of the points that draw people to choose a naked cake are its simple aesthetic which works perfectly against most backdrops and celebrations. Plus, they aren’t that time-consuming to make. They are budget-friendly, as icing (which it doesn’t require) is quite a big expense depending on how much you buy, and they are easily customisable in whatever colours or toppings you want to add. However, they aren’t without their difficulties. The assumption that it’s easier – as there is no icing to be done – is only partially true. With naked cakes, the biggest downside and complication is its longevity. As the cakes are cut into but not completely covered, they allow air in and can go dry rather quickly. Between set up and tasting a little stale, you’ve only got about 2-3 hours. I’m going to talk you through how I make naked cakes, semi-naked cakes and what I like to call, barely naked cakes. For all naked cakes, I highly recommend a strong, stable sponge like a Madeira. It has more density to it than a Victoria sponge or lemon drizzle and will therefore last a bit longer when left out already cut into. You can, of course, bake several layers of thinner cakes and stack these, but I do notice what I make up for in time before it goes too hard, I lack in even-looking layers. If you use separately baked cakes, they can sometimes be slightly different in colour and thickness, whereas if you bake one bigger cake and cut this into layers, you have less time once it’s on display – but the cake looks a lot more uniform.
Madeira cake recipe
See Britt's reliable Madeira cake recipe here!
I always advise to bake the cake you need at least 1 day in advance of decorating it. This allows the crumb structure to firm up, meaning it won’t go crumbly when you cut into it or fall apart when you’re handling it. You can bake it much further in advance of course, as this recipe, once baked, lasts 2 weeks. You can either double-wrap it well in clingfilm and leave it in a cool dry room until needed or for added freshness, or double-wrap in clingfilm and then a single layer of foil and the cake will be good to freeze for up to 3 months. Just make sure to take it out to defrost the night before you want to use it. With a naked cake, however, it isn’t when you bake it that’s necessarily the issue. Once you’ve cut into it, you are basically starting a timer. Usually, with covered cakes, this isn’t a problem because we cut into it, cover it in a layer of buttercream and then a layer of sugarpaste icing, which traps the air in and helps keep the cake soft. Without the icing, you don’t have that barrier – so you need to work efficiently. When ready to decorate and assemble the cake, unwrap it and place it down on the side. Using a cake leveller, level the top of the cake (feel free to eat this bit with a cuppa!), then flip it back upside down (A). I always use the bottom of the cake as the top to ensure supreme flatness. Next, use the cake leveller to cut the cake into three sections (B). I do this because I bake one deep cake that comes in around 9-10cm (3½-4in) high. If your cake is deeper or shallower than that, adjust the levels accordingly. I then put the whole cake on a thin cake card 2.5cm (1in) smaller than the cake itself. I would usually use cards the same size as the cake if I am icing, but as we aren’t, we want to have the stability of a card underneath the cake without it being noticeable. 2.5cm (1in) smaller allows for this. It also is necessary to have a cake card underneath if you are stacking your cakes. An optional piece of advice at this stage would be to paint the layers of cake in a sugar syrup. There are many easy recipes for these online, but it’s basically sugar and water that helps keep the cake moist without changing its flavour. It’s best not to get enthusiastic and use too much of this however, as it can make the cake too soft. I don’t tend to use this as I find the type of cake I bake retains its softness – but I wanted to mention it in case you wanted to give it a go. Now it’s time to fill the cake. As we want to see the lovely layers of filling on the side of the cake, I’m going to use a sturdy buttercream. I don’t recommend using fillings like cream cheese frosting or ganache as they can be very soft, which is lovely to eat, but not so nice dripping down the sides of the cake – unless that’s the effect you’re going for – in which case, crack on.
Vanilla buttercream recipe
See Britt's vanilla buttercream recipe here!
Because we want a firm buttercream, it’s important not to add any other liquid than the flavouring. This can cause the filling to be far too soft, resulting in collapsing layers. If you find the buttercream is too hard, give it a quick zap in the microwave to soften it, but don’t be tempted to add milk or water. It doesn’t need it. I also make the buttercream in advance. It’s so much easier having everything ready and to hand when you need it. Simply make, transfer to a tupperware box, place a layer of clingfilm on top and press down to the buttercream to avoid any crusting. Secure the lid and store in the fridge. This can be kept for ages, until the use-by date on the pack of butter, so make sure to check that before you throw it away. When you want to use it, simply heat in the microwave on 10-second bursts until soft, then give it a good mix to bring it back to life.
For a naked cake
Once everything is ready to go and you have the three layers of cake in front of you, fit a piping bag with a plain round nozzle (C). Fill the piping bag with buttercream and pipe a line of buttercream just inside the edge of the bottom cake layer (D). I do this to allow movement outwards of the buttercream when you stack the layers of the cake. Continue to pipe to the middle of the cake in a spiral (E), then smooth this down with a palette knife. Next, place the middle layer on top and gently press down. Repeat for the second layer. Once this is done, place on the top layer and again, gently press down. It’s at this point that we check if the cake is nice and level and press down accordingly to adjust if not. Pop this in the fridge for 10 minutes, just for the buttercream to firm up. If you are doing more than one tier of cake, you would fill those now. Once finished, dust your cakes with icing sugar and stack with dowels. Decorate with fruits, flowers, toppers, sweets, anything you like! The cake will be good left out for a few hours, but once cut into to enjoy, it needs to be wrapped well to keep it fresh. You can finish a naked cake the night before an event, but as you would need to wrap it very well in clingfilm overnight, you run the risk of smudging the lovely buttercream lines on the side.
For a semi-naked cake
For an extra layer of security or if you aren’t sure just how long the cake will be left out, I recommend doing a semi-naked cake, which means the cake has a thin buttercream layer on the outside. This will help you with its shelf life and keep it fresher for a little while longer. Once you have split and filled your cake, it’s at this point you would coat it in a layer of buttercream. The way I do this to get a nice semi-naked effect, is to coat it completely and then, using a metal side scraper, scrape around the sides and top of the cake to take as much buttercream off as you like. It really depends on how you want it to look. By doing this, we are preventing a little more air getting in than we do with a completely naked cake, giving it a little bit more time to be on display. Once covered and scraped off, leave to set briefly in the fridge, then stack and decorate as required!
For a barely-naked cake
This is the cake that isn’t really a naked cake but is sometimes referred to as one. While this type of cake doesn’t have any sugarpaste icing, it does have a thick layer of buttercream covering it. This one will keep the cake fresh the longest of the three options, but as there’s more buttercream, the downside of this type is there’s more chance it will melt if left out too long in warmer weather. To make a barely naked cake, follow all the steps above as if you were making a semi-naked cake, then once it has set in the fridge, do a thicker layer on top. Leave this to set completely before decorating or stacking. These do look lovely though and my biggest tip for these is when you’re doing your thicker final buttercream layer, have a glass of hot water to hand to dip your palette knife into. This will eradicate most of the lines on the outside of the cake and give your buttercream a nice smooth finish.
Final thoughts and tips
- Be aware of the time, I always make these cakes and buttercream before the party/event day itself and then I fill and stack them just before I need them.
- Make sure you’ve got everything ready and to hand when you want to start decorating, it makes life so much easier!
- Keep the cake in a nice cool location. This cake doesn’t deal well in direct sunlight! No cakes do, for that matter.
- Once it’s cut into, wrap it well in clingfilm to keep it fresh for another day.