Scratch baking is a creative joy, and there are some great tips and tricks for baking cakes that will ensure the best results. Here are our top 10 to get you well on your way to being a crackerjack scratch baker.
1. Read each recipe thoroughly and follow it to the letter. This means taking care to use the exact ingredients and equipment called for and following the baking techniques suggested.
2. Use high-quality measuring cups and spoons. We use both Cuisipro and King Arthur Flour measuring cups in the test kitchen. In our assessment, cheap, poorly calibrated measuring spoons varied by over 100% in comparison to those properly made in accordance with federal weights and measures guidelines.
3. Use high-quality cake pans such as Wilton’s Decorator Preferred. They should be heavyweight aluminum to conduct heat evenly. Baking cakes in thin, flimsy pans from the supermarket can yield a cake overdone on the edges with a steep peak and cracks.
4. Use an oven thermometer to make sure that your oven is calibrated properly.
5. Do not over-bake your cakes. Recipes often give time cues for baking cakes, which are approximations, as well as visual cues. The visual cues are the most important, and we usually suggest baking until a wooden toothpick (or wooden skewer for very deep cakes) shows a few moist crumbs because there is residual pan heat after you remove the cakes from the oven. Thus, we don’t advise baking your cakes until the toothpick test comes out completely clean.
6. Cool your pans on a rack, which allows air circulation, then turn the cakes out onto the racks themselves. Remove parchment, if applicable, and then cool thoroughly. (Exceptions, such as angel food and chiffon cakes, are noted in recipes themselves.) Proper cooling helps your cake’s texture be as good as it can be.
7. Many cakes can be made up to one day before filling and frosting, such as classic butter-rich layer cakes. Place layers of same-size cardboard rounds (purchased at a craft or cake-decorating store), then double wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.
8. Cardboard rounds provide a smooth guide for your icing spatula when applying frosting on cakes. In fact, a turntable, cardboard rounds and an icing spatula are the three most important baking tools that will help you create beautifully decorated cakes.
9. Follow storage instructions in individual recipes. If a cake is stored in the refrigerator, but directions say to serve at room temperature, follow those recommendations for best results. The butter in many cakes and frostings must soften to allow the best texture and flavors to come through.
10. Last but not least, Enjoy the baking process – have fun!