Ask any pastry chef and they will all say the same thing: Baking is a science. There is more to baking than just butter, flour and eggs. Together the ingredients come together to create one of life’s greatest pleasures: cake.
Cake is mandatory at celebrations. There is nothing worse than a bad cake. It can be too dry, too moist, too heavy or way too light to eat. While you can bake the perfect cake every time by luck, it mostly requires a few key considerations.
Here are seven tips to help you bake the perfect cake every time. We believe in you.
1. Know your flour
Different kinds of flour produce different kinds of cake. Flour contains protein, and the more protein that flour has, the more gluten the cake will have. More gluten means denser cake.
Cake flour has the least protein, so resulting cakes are high, rising, finger texture and light. This is ideal for sponge or angel food cake. All-purpose flour has a medium level of protein and will produce a dense, moist cake. This is the most commonly used cake flour. Bread flour has the most protein and really should only be used for high-gluten bread.
2. Measure and weigh properly
Baking is basically chemistry. So be sure to use the right amounts of all ingredients. Dry ingredients, especially flour, should be weighed using a kitchen scale.
Since your measuring cup can tightly pack flour, you may wind up with the wrong amount resulting in a cake disaster. Liquid ingredients should be measured using liquid measure.
3. Mix correctly
It is important to mix correctly. Depending on the kind of cake you want, how you mix ingredients is important. Butter cakes – the most common cake used for layering – get their soft moist texture by first creaming together butter and sugar and adding eggs one at at time. Dry ingredients are then added to the liquid in intervals and alternated with a liquid like milk.
If you prefer a sponge cake like angel or chiffon, the airy, foam like texture is achieved when eggs (or egg whites if making angel) are whipped until doubled in volume. They are folded into the batter so that the air isn’t lost. It is the air that gives the cakes their springy volume.
4. Pans, pans, pans
Be sure to use the size pan your recipe calls for. Too small a pan could result in an overflow of batter when it tries to rise.
Also, if you are using a glass or dark pan, reduce your heat by 25 degrees, as these retain more heat.
5. Preheat your oven
No matter what kind of cake you are making, you have to bake it in a preheated oven. If you are using two pans, make sure they are not touching and never open the oven door. Both will result in uneven heat and uneven cakes.
Bake the cake in the middle rack – too close to the top or bottom of the oven will result in browning on both sides. The cake is done when a thin toothpick comes out clean or when you lightly press on the center of the cake and it springs back.
6. Let it cool
Cakes need to cool and there is a method to doing it. Let them cool on a wire rack first. After 20 minutes or so, remove from the pan by inverting the pan and gently tapping the cake out.
If it is stuck to the sides of the pan, then use a narrow spatula to loosen the edges and release the cake. Let it cool on a rack for another 30 minutes and once 30 minutes have passed, place the layers in the refrigerator for a an hour before attempting to frost.
7. Frost like a pro
Started by dropping a dollop of frosting on a cake plate and then drop the cake onto it. The icing acts as a glue to keep your cake from moving around while you ice it. Using an offset spatula, frost the top of the cake and use the excess to frost the sides.
Add more frosting to the sides and coat the whole cake with a thin layer of frosting. This first layer will cover and absorb any loose crumbs. Cool the cake for 20 minutes so the frosting sets. After it has cooled, finish frosting by adding a thicker layer of frosting to the top and sides.
Common cake problems
Here are some common cake baking problems that many home bakers run into and the solutions to fixing them.
If your cake is too dark or has a crack, your oven is most likely too hot. Be sure to preheat and check the temperature with an oven thermometer to ensure it is the right temperature. Also, too much sugar has a tendency to burn so be sure that you have measured or weighed your sugar properly.
If your cake fell, your oven is likely too cool. Be sure it is the right temperature before baking.
If your cake did not rise or is uneven, you may have mixed the ingredients improperly. Specifically, be sure to sift the dry ingredients like baking powder, soda and flour to ensure even distribution.
If your cake is crumbly, you may have incorrectly measured your dry ingredients. Typically, this is the result of too much flour or an over-mixed batter.