Let’s talk about cake. I’m not a fan, myself – I know, shocking! But I love baking it (mostly the decorating part) and I know a lot of people who love eating it.
Baking can be really tricky – it’s just like a very precise science. Physics? Criminalistics? I’m not entirely sure of a good comparison here, just roll with it. Cooking is relatively simple. You can remedy a salty dish by adding more of the other ingredients, or swap broccoli rabe for fiddle heads. Anyone can cook. With baking, even 1/2 teaspoon discrepancy can make or break your cake. And, if you substitute baking powder for baking soda, God help your soul.
So, understandably, many people attempt (and fail) at baking and never try it again. Honestly, I think I’ve had more flop recipes than successful ones. It’s easy to suck – the ingredients aren’t right, oven temperature is off, the weather is too humid. It’s not you, it’s the cake.
After many, many failures I now have a tried and true method to baking (virtually) perfect cakes every time. Failures are bound to happen here and there, but the following tips will help prevent a multitude of disasters.
- Read the entire recipe end to end. Twice.
- Take ingredient inventory. Note how much the recipe calls for and how much you already have on hand. (It’s always best to have more than you need.)
- Make a list of the items you you don’t have and pick them up from the grocery store.
- Be aware of ingredients that need to be used at room temperature, such as eggs, butter, and cream cheese.
- ALWAYS use fresh ingredients.
- If you over mix your batter you will end up with a tough and dense cake. Whisk or beat together wet ingredients until smooth and then gently fold in dry ingredients until just combined.
- Grease your cake pans with a thick coat of Crisco and thin layer of flour. Your cake should come out clean and neat with nicely browned edges.
- Use Wilton Bake-Even strips around your cake pans. They will distribute heat evenly to the entire pan (hence the name!), which will result in flat tops.
- Oven temperatures may vary. Check your cake during the baking process to prevent burning. An oven thermometer is a good tool to have on hand.
- Cake is done when golden brown around the edges and when a toothpick, inserted into the center, comes out clean. Don’t wait until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan before removing from the oven – you don’t want to over bake it.
- Let your cake cool down before trying to de-pan. Removing a hot or warm cake could cause it to crumble or break right in half (resulting in absolute devastation to the baker).
- Allow your cake to cool further on a wire rack. It will help release the steam and cool faster.
- Wrap the cooled cake in plastic and chill for a few hours or overnight before frosting. This will help prevent crumbs in the frosting and will give you a stronger surface to work with.
- Use a cake leveler to evenly slice the cake to your desired height, or to remove the little mountain on the top if you didn’t use the Bake-Even Stips. The leveler is super cheap and useful – I got mine from Walmart for about $2.
- A cool environment is a MUST for successful decorations – especially when working with fondant and buttercream. If possible, I would also suggest frosting and decorating the day after baking.
- If you are making a multi-layer cake, pipe frosting onto a layer with a pastry bag and round tip, smooth with a metal spatula. Add the next layer of cake and chill. Repeat the process until the final layer is placed.
- To frost the entire cake, start with a crumb cover. This is a light covering that will “freeze”the crumbs from the cake edges in place and allow for a beautiful (and flawless) frosting cover. (Makeup lovers – think concealer before foundation.) Pipe frosting into sides and smooth out with a metal spatula. If needed, pipe more frosting between layers and smooth out. Chill.
- To cover the entire cake, you can apply another smooth layer or pipe designs. I prefer roses because they are very elegant, super easy, and work up fast. Just use a star tip and pipe swirls around your cake, working from the bottom up.
- Always keep finished cakes chilled until ready to eat. Many ingredients (cream cheese, butter, etc.) can melt and/or spoil when left out for too long, especially in the summer.
With a little practice, you will be well on your way to making fabulously perfect cakes.
Happy Baking ❤