I'm relatively new at cake baking, though not new to baking in general. I decided I wanted to make a Christmas House cake and found a picture on the internet and used it as a guide. I made five 9" by 13" layers and used strawberry preserves and fresh strawberries for filling. I made a crumb coat and used buttercream as my main frosting. I found a recipe online and followed the instructions. (Never knew there was such a thing as a crumb coat!) The woman was a professional baker and I did everything she recommended. However, her cake was a tiered wedding cake while mine was just a five-layer stacked cake.
If I can insert pictures, I will show you my cake in steps. I used wet strips around each layer while baking so the layers were perfectly flat and even. After the crumb coat had hardened in the refrigerator, I took the cake out and let it sit a few minutes while I started to prepare the buttercream. I thought I heard a weird sound but with all the Christmas stuff I had around figured maybe one of bags had slipped off the couch. A few minutes later I heard a louder version. I looked over and saw that it was the cake. On the counter and on the floor. It was quite the mess. I managed to salvage it and put it back together as best I could and decorated it. But it slowsly started to turn into the leaning tower of Pisa again. Very frustrating and disappointing. One of my brothers immediately figured out that we needed to prop it up from the front, and that basically saved the day. But the damage was already done so it still ended up looking more like a haunted cottage to me!
I refuse to put cake boards between the layers, the way some have suggested. By the way I didn't know about that ahead of time. Just read it today. So is there any other surefire way to keep layers from leaning? If so, could you please tell me in very basic language, as if you were instructing someone who is hearing it for the very first time? Thank you for any help you can give me!
These are general thoughts, and you might have followed these steps, so forgive me if any are not helpful.
1) I am not quite sure what is going on in the 3rd photo, (did you piece the cake together?) but overall your cake looks very soft, and there are already cracks in it, so it will not be very forgiving. If you are making a tall cake without internal structure, you might consider a sturdier cake with sturdier filling.
2) All layers should be perfectly level. It is starting to look a bit domed in the last picture, which could cause the cake to break and slide toward the edges. A taller cake without internal structure will settle and compress and not stay level.
2) Strawberry (most fruit) filling is very slippery, especially if directly on a layer of buttercream. Cook down fillings until very thick. Create a dam around the outer edge with stiff buttercream (it looks like you did), refrigerate, or even freeze to set up the buttercream dam before stacking, and keep refrigerated after that as much as possible. Be cautious about putting fruit fillings directly on a layer of buttercream. It "sticks" better to cake. Overall, alternate layers of fruit filling with layers of sturdier filling. Don't trust fruit fillings to tall cakes without a support system.
3) Create internal structure and cake boards every 5" or so, to support and reestablish a level surface. Also, it is then easier to cut and serve into nice sized pieces that aren't too tall for the plate. Sounds like you are really opposed to cake boards for some reason. Just start simply with a board and straws for support on a small cake to practice. Super easy. you can then experiment with all the other systems out there if you want to expand your skills. It really will be necessary to get experience with internal support if you ever think you might do bigger tiered cakes.
Great save, and you are doing a great job. We have all been there!
Why are you opposed to using cake boards to separate layers?
Like yortma said, internal support is imperative when dealing with taller cakes. Most likely the combination of fruit filling and the overall size of your cake without any internal support led to your issue. In addition I would not trust the levelness (not sure if that is even a word lol!) of a cake right out of the pan. It may seem completely flat and even but unless you took a level to it you just wouldn't know. So your cakes may have been slightly higher in the center than the edges which could have also caused it to fall apart.
But in the end you managed a great save. Everyone has had cake disasters so don't feel alone.
I've always learned more what NOT to do when I have a disaster, and I've had my share. Even with bake-even strips your cake won't be perfectly level. I've never used them myself but I always, always level my layers so I have a good base to start with. Yortma has given you some great advice so practice, practice, practice if you want to do any more creations or if you want to get into baking as more than a hobby. If this is a one-time thing then don't worry about it, you did a great job saving the cake and it's adorable!