Proper prep. 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 cakes better volume.
The right flour. If a recipe calls for cake flour, but you don't have any on hand, use 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour for each cup of cake flour. Some cake 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.
Preheat, please. Be sure to preheat your oven before baking; otherwise your cakes won't rise properly.
Smack down. Once the batter is in the pan, tap the cake pan on a countertop to release any large air bubbles in the batter.
Testing for done. In general, a layer-type cake is done when its top is domed, it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, and it springs back when lightly touched. To be sure a cake is baked, insert a toothpick near the cake center. It should come out free of wet batter.
Cool down. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Then remove the cake from the pan and cool completely.
Storage tips. To freeze an unfrosted cake, place it on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer till 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. Fruitcakes can be frozen for up to 12 months.
When your cakes consistently turn out less than perfect, its time for a little detective work. Here are some common problems and the solutions that make them disappear:
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 together thoroughly.
Dense or compact cakes: Perhaps you didn't beat the sugar and shortening, margarine, or butter long enough. For a light texture, beat these ingredients together well.
Dryness: You might have overbaked the cake. Remember to check doneness after the minimum baking time. Or, you might have overbeaten the egg whites, if they were used. Stiffly beaten egg whites should stand in straight peaks but should look moist or glossy. When the egg whites have a "curdled" appearance, they are overbeaten. Start again with fresh egg whites instead of folding the overbeaten ones.
Elongated, irregular holes: You may have overmixed the batter when the flour was added. Mix until the ingredients are just combined.