Basics, tips and tricks

Beginners guide: Tips for baking the perfect cake

As a budding baker, I have ended up several times baking a ‘not so perfect’ cake. After a lot of research, trial and errors, I figured out some crucial tips for baking a perfect cake. I often had to search for specific tips from various sources. The worst thing, I often searched for them after a ruined cake, discovering something went wrong. Duh! I wished I knew it before.

Hence, I have decided to pen down all of them in one place, which will be handy for beginners. In any case, you may still need few attempts until you figure out what works best for you. For example, temperatures can vary from oven to oven and you may need to consider the slight ‘plus/minus’ from the prescribed temperature and timing, and come up with something that works perfectly for you. Nonetheless, having these crucial tips, all at one place, definitely makes your life easier.

And here you go!

  1. Ingredients at room temperature:

Ingredients like butter, eggs, milk, buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt should be placed on the counter well in advance to ensure they are at room temperature when you prepare the batter. This is very important because cold ingredients do not blend well and you may end up with a batter that has flour which is not coated evenly with other ingredients.

Let’s take a look at each ingredient in detail, with regard to the time required to bring it to room temperature, how to make sure it is at room temperature and hacks in case you’ve forgot to take it out of the fridge in advance: 

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2. Choosing the right type of cake pan:

Have you ever ended up with dark crusted/hard sided cakes? It is probably because your cake pan conducts heat faster. This happened to me whenever I used a dark-colored pan.

The best solution is to invest in good quality light-colored aluminum pans. Trust me, it is worth it. If dark pan is the only option you have, then you may try lowering your oven temperature a bit by 25 degrees Fahrenheit or use a bake even strip. Bake even strips are thick cloth bands, which is dampened and wrapped securely around the cake pan. It ensures that the pan does not overheat and you get an evenly baked cake. You can also use them if you desire a flat-topped cake. Bake even strips can be purchased or you can make one at home. There are a number of DIY videos available.

  1. Choosing the right sized cake pan:

It is always best to use the right sized cake pan as called for in the recipe. If not, you may need to adjust the baking time accordingly. I would rather suggest using a recipe that is precisely for the pan size you have in hand.

  1. Grease and line your pan:

Greasing the pan is very important. Apply a little butter to coat the pan completely and then dust some flour over it. Tap off and remove the excess. This will make sure that the cake is removed from the pan without any hassles.

You can also line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. This is not necessary but if done, it just makes your life easier.

  1. Do not over mix the better:

Mix only just until the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet ingredients. Over mixing will result in gluten to develop and you will end up in dense and chewy cake.

  1. Follow recipe correctly:

It is very important to follow the measurements as per recipe. I strongly recommend investing in measuring cups and spoons.

  1. Using fruits, chocolate chips etc.:

If you’re adding fruit chunks, berries, nuts and chocolate chips to your batter, make sure you coat them in flour before adding it to the batter. Take a plate with plain flour and drop the fruit chunks, berries, chocolate chips or whatever is that you are adding, into the plate. Using a spoon, just swirl them in the flour to ensure that they are fully coated in flour. This will ensure that they do not sink to the bottom of the cake.

  1. Oven temperature, position and timing:

Preheating oven: It is very important to preheat your oven if the recipe calls for it. Preheating is nothing but setting your oven at the desired temperature for at least 10 to 15 minutes before placing the cake tins inside for baking. Most cake batters use leavening agents, which requires baking at a high temperature right from the start time to ensure they rise well and cook evenly.

Position: Place the cake pans in such a way that the heat around the tin is circulated evenly so that you get an evenly baked cake. Hence, it is best to position it in the middle rack, with heating from top and bottom. Again, it varies from oven to oven. My oven has heating options, up only, down only and both. I turn on the heating for both (up and down) and place my pans in middle rack. Few attempts and you will be able to figure out what works best for you. The key is ‘evenly’ heating.

Timing: Do not be tempted to open the oven door before the prescribed time as per recipe. If done so, the air from outside will get in and cause variation in the set temperature. Your cake will simply collapse or you may end up in an unevenly baked cake.

  1. Check the doneness of the cake:

After the baking time, you may check the doneness by inserting a toothpick in middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Little crumbs are fine. Make sure you do not have wet batter on it. If undone, pop it back in the oven for five more minutes and it will be done.

If you are confident enough, you can make sure it is baked, when you notice that sides of the cake have pulled away from the pan.

Extreme case, if you’re an expert, you can tell it is done just from the aroma and I’m not kidding J  My dad could do that.

  1. Cooling the cakes:

Let your cake sit in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before removing them. If you try to remove them immediately after they’re out of the oven, there are high chances that it may break. The cakes are highly fragile at this point. Also make sure not to keep it for too long, which may make it difficult to remove it as it will stick to the pan. Let’s just say, do not go for extremes and stick to the 10 to 15 minutes’ timer and you’re good to go. You may then let it cool further on a wire rack.

  1. Frosting a lesser crumb cake:

Now this is up to you. You can either frost it immediately or wait for a while, a day or two or even weeks, before frosting. The choice is yours. However, there are few things to consider before you make this choice.

Frosting the same day: Make sure you cool the cake completely before frosting. I am sure you do not want the frosting to melt and ruin your cakes.

Frosting the next day or even next week/s*: This is my preferred choice. I like to store my cakes in freezer for at least a day before frosting. Yes, I meant ‘freeze’ and not ‘refrigerate’. For some reason I always ended up with dry cakes whenever I refrigerated them. Then I did some research on the internet and found people sharing the similar experience. It is best to freeze the cakes to retain its moisture. I do not know the reason yet, but it definitely works! It also gives you get a lesser crumbs cake, which makes frosting so easy. Just let your cake thaw for an hour or two before frosting.

If you’ve decided on freezing the cakes, warp it with a cling-wrap and make sure not air can get in. After that you may also warp it in aluminum foil to make sure that no odors from other stuff in the refrigerator affects the cake.

*Do check the shelf life, as it varies for different types of cakes:

These are the possible tips I can think of right now. I will keep sharing more tips that I may discover in my baking journey. Please feel free to share any of your tips in the comments section.

 Happy baking!

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