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, there are a few baking tips to ensure your cakes come out light, fluffy, and delicious every time. Whether you enjoy baking cakes from scratch or are on the hunt for cake-baking tips for beginners, we're sharing some helpful tricks to make your cakes a success—along with some of the most common cake mistakes and how to 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 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.
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 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!)
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 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 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 for 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 leftovers of a cake with whipped cream, cream cheese, sour cream, or unbaked eggs in the frosting or filling, 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 the egg whites if they were used in the recipe. 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 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 until the ingredients are just combined.
Sticking to the pan. If your cake sticks to the pan when you try to take it out, 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 instead of puffing 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 of your oven with an oven thermometer to make sure it's preheating correctly.