Some people spend $4,000 for one of Tom Douglas's cakes. Baking them at home is much, much cheaper.

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"I have six sisters and a brother, and on our birthdays, we'd go to a little bakery called Bing's, in Delaware, to pick out a cake," recalls chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas. Each of his siblings always wanted something different, which taught him just how particular people can be when it comes to layer cake. Now, at Seattle's Dahlia Bakery, Douglas satisfies all tastes with an ingenious mix-and-match menu of cakes, frostings and fillings. At charity auctions, a cake might sell for $4,000, with the money going to one of the many causes he has supported in more than two decades of philanthropy. Says Douglas, "We raise well over $100,000 a year in donations to charities like Food Lifeline," a Washington state hunger-relief organization. To learn what makes his cakes so coveted, try these recipes. Choose the double-chocolate or brown-butter cake, then use simple master recipes for buttercream frosting and chocolate mousse filling, picking one of three flavor variations for each. You can't go wrong—every combination works.

Choose a Recipe

© Pernille Pedersen

Layer Cake Recipes

Tom Douglas's Cake Wisdom: "Disappointing cakes have often been sitting out too long," says Douglas. "They should last just long enough to have the last pieces the next morning with coffee—who doesn't love cake with coffee?"

Choose from:


© Pernille Pedersen

Layer Cake Fillings

"Using a filling different from the frosting means less buttercream in the cake," Douglas says. "Otherwise, there's just too much of it."

Choose from:

Dark Chocolate Mousse Filling


© Pernille Pedersen

Layer Cake Frostings

These classic buttercream frostings are rich and luxurious. Douglas sometimes folds in whipped cream for a lighter touch.

Choose from:

Rich Chocolate Buttercream

White Chocolate Buttercream

Brown-Butter Layer Cake

© Pernille Pedersen

Tips on Filling and Frosting the Layer Cake

"I love the crusty edge on a cake that's just out of a hot oven," says Douglas. "A lot of bakeries trim that edge, but I keep it."

Set one cake layer on a platter. Spread the mousse filling on top and cover with the second cake layer. Frost the cake all over with a thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate until set, about 5 minutes. Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream. Refrigerate the cake until the frosting is firm, at least 15 minutes, before serving.

Layer Cake Recipes & More Desserts

Classic Carrot Cake with Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot cake, that 1970s favorite, has a new audience at luxe restaurants like Manhattan's Le Bernardin. At the Urban Farmer in Portland, Oregon, pastry chef Jodi Elliot prepares the ultimate version: moist and not too sweet.
| Credit: Tina Rupp
Fudgy Chocolate Cake
Credit: © Hans Gissinger