I have good luck with cakes. I think it's my rule-following tendencies. It turns out that cakes love rules, too. Follow these essentials and you and cake will soon become friends.
Try this recipe: Strawberry Cake from Scratch
1. Check that your leavening agents are fresh.
Make sure that baking soda or baking powder are at optimal potency with this simple test. Otherwise, your cake likely won't rise to the occasion.
2. Take the time to preheat the oven.
Some ovens preheat in just minutes. Some take a ridiculous 30 minutes! Know thy oven. Know it even better by dangling an oven thermometer from one of your baking racks. Finally, you'll know for sure that the temperature on the oven dial matches the temperature inside. While you're at it, make sure your oven rack is centered for even baking.
3. Actually wait for your ingredients to come to room temperature.
You know those recipes that call for room temperature eggs and butter? Stop ignoring them. You'll be glad later when that smooth batter becomes a moist cake with a tender crumb.
4. Don't overmix your batter...
You wanted to be thorough, you say. Well, sadly, your cake can easily fall victim to your good intentions. Overmixing the batter (easy to do with a stand mixer, especially) can incorporate too much air and result in a fallen cake as it cools later on. It's all about a light hand. Think gentle.
5. ...but don't undermix your batter, either.
Not enough of a good thing can also cause drama: unintentional swirls of flour or sugar, nuts and raisins playing refusing to play with the wet ingredients, butter blobs. You'll know your batter's in a good place when nearly all the flour is absorbed.
6. Definitely grease, flour, and/or line your baking pans with parchment, per your recipe.
Do you really need to bother with this step? Well, just ask this baker.
7. Nope, nope, nope: Don't fill your pan to the brim.
Fill your cake pan(s) no more than halfway (unless the recipe says otherwise). Why? This helps ensure your cake will rise evenly rather than overflow into your oven like a cake batter volcano. Check our handy Baking Pan Conversion Chart for more tips on volume.
8. Smooth the top and tap the pan.
Take your spatula and smooth the batter for your best shot at an even cake. Tap the pan against your countertop (tap-tap-tap-tap) to scare away any last few little air bubbles trapped within.
9. Resist the urge to open the oven and check your masterpiece every five minutes...
You know why? You're letting out all the hot air and temperature fluctuations make for an unhappy, uneven cake (or, worse, Total Cake Collapse, which hey, could make a good band name for a bunch of bakers). Resist until the last few minutes of baking when you should...
10. ...But remember to check for doneness.
Poke a wooden toothpick into the center of your cake about five minutes before its suggested baking time comes to an end. If it comes out clean or with just a few crumbs stuck to it, it's time to pull your cake from the oven. Batter on the toothpick? Let it keep baking. Out of toothpicks? Use a dry spaghetti noodle.
11. WAIT until your cake cools before you frost it.
Yes, this means you! Build adequate time in your day for this by counting backward from when you want to slice into the cake. Allow for at least one hour for your cake to completely cool before you frost it so that it goes on smoothly and doesn't tear blobs of cake along with it—it's just not a good look. Get easy tips for decorating cakes.
12. And if all else fails...
Crumble up your cake and make trifle!
Speaking of Cakes...
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• Bookmark these handy cake and baking pan size conversions.
• Get tips to make the best butter cakes and pound cakes.
• Find just the right cake recipe for any occasion.