First things first — you do not need to make your cake look like a store-bought cake with the fanciest of decorations (sigh of relief heard ’round the world.) Focus on making your cake TASTE great and the looking-good will follow. In pursuit of making cake baking easier, we’ve outlined some of the tips and techniques to help you avoid the common pitfalls novice bakers face.
Adjust the rack before you light the oven. We’ve all opened up the oven to find the rack in the wrong place. Bake cakes (unless instructed otherwise) on the center rack for even heat distribution.
Bring all refrigerated ingredients to room temperature. It takes about 20-30 minutes for most ingredients to reach room temp about 65-70 degrees. Eggs are always large (not extra-large) and butter is always unsalted unless your recipe states otherwise.
Cold eggs are easier to separate. If you are an egg novice — try separating while cold and then bring them to room temperature.
Take the time to prepare your pans properly. It sincerely sucks when you’ve spent a lot of time making a cake only to have a major fail when trying to get it out of the pan.
Use the freshest ingredients available. This sounds like it goes without saying, but before you start a baking project, the day before double-check your expiration date on the baking powder and, if you bake infrequently, that your flour is not a million years old. Rancid flour (develops a sour-off taste) and baking powder that is old will ruin all of your hard work. It’s also the time to double-check that you have all the ingredients you need in your pantry so you don’t have to make a middle-of-the-project run to the store. Having all of the proper ingredients at hand will also prevent you from falling to the temptation of substituting ingredients or using less of an ingredient. Baking is an exact science and making substitutions is the purview of the experienced baker ONLY.
Measure your ingredients carefully. For liquid ingredients always use a liquid measuring cup (one with a spout.) For dry ingredients use the dip and sweep method. For the most accurate results, experienced bakers weigh all of their ingredients with a digital kitchen scale.
No skimping on the sifting! Sifting aerates the ingredients and ensures that all of the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined. If you don’t have a sifter (we never use one) you can use a wire mesh strainer.
Take your time when combining butter and sugar. It takes about 5 minutes to beat or cream these ingredients together. Creaming adds tiny air pockets to your batter and is the secret to a light cake.
Incorporate dry ingredients on low or by hand to avoid too much gluten development. Recipes always say don’t over beat… this is what they are referring to. Gluten development results in tough, dry cake.
Whip egg whites to the proper consistency as called for in the recipe. Need help with being able to tell soft peaks from firm peaks be sure to watch the video!
Baking 2 cakes? Allow enough room in between (a couple inches — pans should not touch) and on all the sides for proper heat circulation.
When you start to smell a cake, that’s usually a good indicator that it is done. But that’s not always the case. To check if your cake is done insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out with just a few dry crumbs, the cake is done. If the toothpick is moist, continue baking and check again after 5 minutes. Resist the urge to open and close the oven multiple times! Every time you open the oven you lose heat from the oven.
Unless otherwise stated in the recipe, allow cakes to cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Remove cake from the pan and completely cool on the wire rack.
NEVER try to ice/frost a warm cake. Cakes need to be completely cool or the frosting will melt.
Wishing you many great cakes and happy baking!
Mia and Terri xxoo
Ps. We love hearing from you and would love to see photos of your cakes. Send us a photo and we will share!