Baking a cake from scratch can be both easy and fun once you learn a few of our expert tips.
We’ve gathered six of our favorite secrets for making your cakes the envy of the neighborhood:
Secret #1: (preheating)
The first secret to baking a great cake is to make sure your oven is at the right temperature, which depends on the recipe. We suggest using an oven thermometer so you’ll know the temperature is exactly where it should be, since most ovens don’t accurately read the temperature at the center of oven (where the cake goes).
Secret #2: Getting your ingredients ready (and at the the right temperature)
It’s always best to have your ingredients ready in advance. That means measuring and sifting together your dry ingredients, and preparing your wet ingredients – for butter and eggs, you’ll want them to be at room temperature so your cake will be able to retain air. Let them sit out for at least 20 minutes and up to one hour.
As for dry ingredients, we advise using cake flour instead of all purpose flour (the lower gluten content will produce a lighter and fluffier cake).
Secret #3: Prepping the pan (Pt. 1)
A good baking pan is the first step to a great cake. We suggest pans made from durable materials that conduct heat well, like light aluminum. Stay away from pans made from glass or dark metals, or that have a nonstick coating, as they can often bake cakes too quickly.
To prepare your pan, grease a sheet of parchment paper with butter or cooking spray and line it across the bottom of the pan. Then grease the rest of the pan. If you want, you can also add a coat of flour over the butter. The best way to do this is to pour a small amount of flour into the bottom of the pan. Then tap the pan against the counter, rotating it so that the flour coats every side, and pour out the excess.
Secret #4: The proper way to mix
Now you can cream your butter and sugar. Start by putting your butter into the bowl, and then adding the sugar. You can either cream them together by hand with a wooden spoon, or by using a hand or stand mixer. As you’re creaming the butter and sugar, continuously scrape the sides of the bowl, to make sure nothing’s left out.
NOTE: If you’re using a hand mixer, 4-6 minutes at medium speed should do the trick. With a stand mixer you’ll only need 2-3 minutes – just be sure to use the paddle attachment.
Once the butter and sugar are creamed, add the eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla, and continue to mix at medium speed. Then you’ll want to add your dry ingredients in thirds, alternating them with your other wet ingredients. After that, your batter will be ready to go!
Secret #5: Prepping the pan (Pt. 2)
Now it’s time to pour the batter in the pan. Just like with cupcakes, you always want to make sure your cake pan is never more than ⅔ full. Then take a silicone spatula and spread the batter evenly across the top of the batter. Next, tap the cake pan firmly against your counter to eliminate air bubbles, or as we call it, the “drop it like it’s hot” method – check out our article from March on how to do this step.
Secret #6: For when the cake is in the oven
Now comes the actual baking part! Cakes should always be baked on the center rack, in the center of the oven, where they get the best heat circulation. If you’re using multiple pans, be sure to leave a little space in between them.
Also, we know it’s tempting, but try not to open the oven door until you’ve at least reached the minimum suggested baking time. Doing it too soon will cause the oven temperature to drop, and you may end up with a flat cake. Instead, keep your oven light on and watch your cake through the window. You’ll know your cake is ready once you insert a toothpick into the center and it comes out completely clean.
Take your cake out of the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Let it cool in the pan for about 30 minutes before carefully inverting it onto a flat surface. Once that’s done, your cake should be ready for frosting!