Start with a Plan
Naked cakes deserve your time and respect, too! Haha. Just because there are not copious amounts of frosting or intricately piped details doesn't mean naked cakes should be thrown together without much thought or preparation. Think about style, degree of nakedness, toppings, etc. Are you going for a rustic, natural look with fresh flowers or herbs? Or do you want to top it with other goodies like macarons, meringues, and swirly chocolate bark? What about a caramel drizzle? Might it not ripple the way you want it to down the side of a cake if the sides are bare? Some food for thought - literally.
Of course, even good laid out plans need a little wiggle room. I suggest having at least a rough idea of what you want your final cake to look like, then let your inner artist get to work after you bake and begin assembling your cake.
This is probably not the best time for you cake to get stuck in the pan. Since the sides are so exposed, be sure to be conscious of how you prepare your cake pans before baking. I use butter (or non-stick spray) and flour for most of my cake. To be extra careful, you can line the bottom with parchment paper. Let cakes cool about 10 to 15 minutes on a wire rack (or long enough that you can safely handle the cake pans without oven mitts) before removing them from their pans.
Keep Structure in Mind
Want to try your hand at making a naked cake simply because the idea of frosting an entire cake is daunting and a bit scary? Trust me, I get it. And I think that is a perfectly valid reason to stick with naked cake, too. However, the cake should still be filled and stacked with care.
While cakes covered with frosting or fondant might be harder to pull off, some of that extra sugar may in fact help support a cake and act almost as a frosting "glue" for wobbly layers. Since naked cakes don't have that extra insurance, let's take a look at some helpful cake-stacking techniques:
1. Carefully cut and trim your cakes into layers with a long serrated knife. Before cutting, it is best to wrap a cooled cake in a double layer of plastic and then chill it in the fridge for about two hours (or up to a couple days). Chilling the cake will help keep the cake from crumbling and/or splitting.
2. Use a frosting dam to create clean, even layers as well as to contain any softer fillings that may be used. Fill a piping bag fitted with a medium plain (round) tip with frosting (buttercream, cream cheese, ganache, etc) and pipe a ring around the top edge of each layer. Try to pipe this ring as even as possible - using the opening of the piping tip as a guide to how thick the filling layer should be (I usually use about a 1/2" opening). Pipe the frosting slightly away from the very edge of the cake to allow some space for the frosting to shift and squeeze out a bit as the cake layers are stacked on top of each other.
3. Fill the dam with your filling of choice and repeat with the remaining layers. If you are using softer fillings like lemon curd, pastry cream, or fruit preserves, then using a frosting dam is always a pretty good idea.
4. Save a bottom layer for last, and stack it upside down. Use the naturally flat bottom as the top of your cake to keep things level.