Our Best Baking Tips for Cakes

Everyone loves a homemade dessert, but creating a delicious, moist cake can be tricky. Nail the perfect at-home confection with our easy tips.

Many of us are familiar with the disappointment of spending time measuring, mixing, and baking, only to have a cake fail to rise in the middle, or stick to the pan and crumble. Luckily, here are a few baking tips to ensure your cakes emerge from the oven light, fluffy, and delicious every time. Whether you enjoy baking from scratch or are on the hunt for beginner's tips, we're sharing our most helpful tricks, along with some of the most common cake mistakes and how you can fix them.

Baking Tips 101

The next time you're baking a cake, keep these simple tricks in mind:

Prep the ingredients. Have all of the ingredients at room temperature, unless the recipe directs otherwise. (Eggs should only be left out about 30 minutes before using them.) This makes ingredients easier to combine and gives the cake better volume.

Use the right flour. If a recipe calls for cake flour and you don't have any on hand, use 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour for each cup of cake flour. Some recipes call for cake flour, because it produces a slightly more tender cake, but you'll find all-purpose flour makes a good cake, too.

Prep your pans. To make sure your cakes don't stick or break apart when you take them out of the pan, grease and flour (or grease and line) your cake pans before pouring in the batter.

Alternate wet and dry ingredients. Don't dump in all your flour and milk at once—instead, alternate between adding the two. Just make sure you start with flour because when liquid gets mixed into flour, gluten begins to form. Too much gluten makes for a tough cake, so add a little of one, then the other, starting and finishing with flour.

Preheat. Be sure to preheat your oven before baking; otherwise, your cakes won't rise properly.

Release air bubbles. Once the batter is in the pan, tap the cake pan on a countertop to release any large air bubbles in the batter. (This is especially important for pound cakes!)

Toothpick test

Test for doneness. In general, when a layer cake is done it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, the top is domed, and it springs back when lightly touched. To be sure a cake is done, insert a toothpick near the center. It should come out free of wet batter.

Cool down. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a rack for just 10 minutes. Then remove the cake from the pan and cool completely. Make sure your cake is completely cool before frosting it—otherwise, your frosting could melt.

Freeze. To freeze an unfrosted cake, place it on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer until firm. Then place the cake in a plastic freezer bag or an airtight container, seal, and return it to the freezer. Unfrosted cakes can be frozen for up to 6 months, while fruitcakes can be frozen up to 12 months.

Clean up quick. Before frosting, tuck small pieces of waxed paper around and under the first layer of your cake on its pedestal or cake pan. When you're finished, gently tug out the waxed paper for a smudge-free cake pan.

Store. If you have leftover cake with the frosting or filling containing whipped cream, cream cheese, sour cream, or unbaked eggs, it needs to be stored in the fridge.

Common Cake Problems

When your cakes consistently turn out less than perfect, it's time for a little detective work. Here are some common problems and the solutions:

Coarse texture. It might be that you didn't beat the sugar and shortening, margarine, or butter long enough. For a fine, even cake texture, be sure to beat these ingredients thoroughly. A coarse texture can also be caused by adding too much baking soda or not enough liquid to your batter. Make sure you carefully read your recipe and add the right amount of each.

Dense or compact cakes. Although beating the sugar and shortening, margarine, or butter thoroughly is important, it's also important not to overmix. Double-check your ingredients—dense or heavy cakes can also be caused by adding too many eggs or not enough baking powder.

Dryness. You might have overbaked the cake. Remember to check doneness after the minimum baking time. Or you might have overbeaten egg whites. Stiffly beaten egg whites should stand in straight peaks, but should look glossy. If the egg whites have a curdled appearance, they were overbeaten. Start again with fresh egg whites instead of folding in the overbeaten ones. Dryness could also be caused by adding too much flour or baking powder, or not enough shortening, butter, or sugar—double-check your recipe to make sure you added the right amount of each ingredient.

Elongated, irregular holes. You may have overmixed the batter when the flour was added. Mix only until the ingredients are just combined.

Lining cake pan

Sticking to the pan. If your cake sticks to the pan as you try remove it, there are a few different suspects to consider. First, you might not have greased your pan enough—don't be afraid to be generous with the shortening or butter. You can also try lining the bottom of your pan with waxed paper—it'll come out with your cake when you remove it from the pan, then just peel the off the waxed paper. Second, you might have removed the cake from the pan too quickly. Be sure to allow your cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before you try to take it out. Finally, you might have waited too long to remove your cake from the pan. If you wait more than 10 minutes, your cake can become damp and stick to the pan.

Sinking in the middle. If your cake sinks in the middle when it should puff up, your pan might be too small for the recipe you're making, or there may have been too much liquid in the batter. This problem can also be caused by opening the oven too often. Resist the urge to take a peek. Your cake also might not have baked long enough, or your oven temperature might be too low—double-check the temperature with an oven thermometer to make sure it's preheating correctly.

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