First there was the naked cake. Then there was the drip cake. Well now, the baking gods have given us the latest cake decorating trend: the fault line cake. I simply cannot visit my Instagram explore page without seeing at least one.
The style is modeled after the geology term you learned about in 8th grade science class. Real fault lines occur on the ground, and are most often the result of earthquake damage. (Ringing a bell yet?) But on cakes, you’re creating the optical illusion with buttercream. It’s pretty neat to look at, and surprisingly not that difficult to master if you follow a few pointers.
As a PEOPLE food editor, Food Network asked me to teach the technique for their brand-new cooking class app, Food Network Kitchen. The subscription-based app is filled with thousands of on-demand and live videos from Food Network stars like Bobby Flay, Ina Garten and Alton Brown. I personally contributed nine baking recipes, including sundae cupcake cones and a wedding dress pull-apart cake — but the fault line is probably my favorite (don’t tell the others).
The full tutorial is available in the video above, and here are some extra tips to keep in mind for the best results:
Start with at least three cake layers
The taller your cake, the better. You want a decent amount of surface area to work with so you can see all three aspects of the fault line: the top and bottom (let’s call those the “fractured” pieces), and the middle (let’s call that the “exposed” piece). If your cake is too short, it’ll be difficult to pipe all that on there.
I’d avoid using 8 or 9-inch cake pans if you can, unless you’re using a ton of batter. Most box mixes and cake recipes only make enough to fill two 9-inch pans and once they’re stacked, you won’t have enough room for the design. It’s better to use three (or four if you got ’em), 6-inch pans. If you only have 9-inch pans though, I recommend doubling the cake recipe.
Pick a design for the center that really pops
Contrast is your friend when making a fault line cake. You want the fractured pieces to be somewhat neutral, like a black or white buttercream, so the exposed piece can shine.
To give the illusion that the stripes are below the two fractured pieces, you have to pipe them on first. You don’t need to make the stripes layer come all the way to the bottom or top of your cake necessarily, but make sure you pipe a little wider than you plan to have shown, just so you can’t really tell where the stripes start and stop. Oh, and don’t worry if the stripes aren’t perfect, since most of it is getting covered up anyway. Trying to perfect every little detail on a cake is what makes baking so stressful, and this is supposed to be fun.
Give your frosting room to expand
Once you’re happy with the exposed layer, start piping your fractured pieces — but don’t be too liberal. Leave a large amount of the stripes still visible because once you smooth the fractured frosting with a bench scraper, it’s going to creep onto the stripe’s real estate. If you feel like too much of the exposed area is still showing after your first go at it, you can always add more.
Chill, chill, chill
The most important part of nailing the fault line look is that your fractured and exposed pieces look like two totally separate entities. And the key to that is using your refrigerator. After piping the stripes layer, refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes. This way, there’s no risk of the stripes blending in with the white buttercream because they’re firm to the touch.
You also need to chill the cake before adding the metallic edge with edible paint. If you try to paint buttercream before it’s firm, I promise you will get frustrated.
When baking in general, keep in mind that chilled is usually better. Cold cake layers stack more easily (frozen is even easier!). And chilling your cake between frosting layers makes for a much neater exterior with no crumbs poking through. You can thank me later — and if you try out this fault line technique, tag me on Instagram (@ana_jo) so I can see your beautiful creations!
The Food Network Kitchen app is available for download now on iPhone, Android and Amazon Alexa devices. The discounted price is $47.99 per year with a free three-month trial.