If you're a new baker or just can't seem to figure out the wild, wild world of cake making: you're in the right place! These are my absolutely VITAL, top 11 cake baking tips so that you can become a cake PRO.
Making the perfect cake can seem daunting, but it's really not difficult once you master a few simple tips and tricks.
I can't tell you how many failed cakes I've made in the past 10+ years I've been baking, and all of them failed because I didn't follow one (or more) of the tips below.
So without further ado, here are my top 11 cake baking tips for becoming a master cake maker!
- 1. Start with a good recipe
- 2. Ingredient temperatures
- 3. Measure ingredients carefully
- 4. Careful with substitutions!
- 5. Watch your mixing
- 6. Bakeware can make a difference!
- 7. Prepare your cake pans for success
- 8. Watch the bake!
- 9. But don't watch the bake
- 10. Aluminum foil to the rescue
- 11. Cool according to the recipe
- Bonus tip #12: Practice!
- Now that you've mastered the tips behind making an amazing cake, put your skills to the test with some of these recipes:
1. Start with a good recipe
This one's kind of obvious, but the key to a good cake is a great recipe.
The best recipes to practice with are tried and true recipes.
I started baking by using family recipes because I knew someone was able to make them work, so I could make them work, too! Plus, I could nag my family's ears off to figure out where I went wrong.
Also, do keep it simple when you're first starting out. A chocolate torte may seem like a great recipe to eat, but definitely not the best recipe to start learning with!
My absolute favorite beginner cake recipe is my classic chocolate cake. It's gotten rave reviews on Pinterest and is as fail-proof as they come.
2. Ingredient temperatures
I know, I know. I hate this one.
When you crave a cake, you crave a cake.
But no one will tell you to use room temperature or melted / heated ingredients unless they're important for the recipe.
Who likes waiting??
Generally, the most important ingredients to be mindful of are milk, butter, eggs, and melted chocolate.
A lot of times you can get away with using cold yogurt and sour cream if the recipe doesn't call for a whole lot of it. I've done it a million times.
But even then, I wouldn't recommend getting too bold until you've been making cakes for QUITE some time.
3. Measure ingredients carefully
This one used to REALLY get me.
The biggest culprits behind a dry, dense, horrible cake are the dry ingredients!
Flour mostly, but also ingredients like cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and ingredients with similarly powdery textures are very easy to mismeasure when using cups.
This was the bane of my existence, ESPECIALLY when trying to make cinnamon rolls.
My dough was always so. crazy. dry. and I didn't realize until yeeeaaaarrsss later it was because I was scooping flour when I should've been using the spoon and level method!
So safe to say: watch out for this one!
4. Careful with substitutions!
Idk who needs to hear this but: baking soda and baking powder ARE NOT THE SAME! Just like how Dutch-process is NOT the same as natural cocoa powder.
Recipes are specially crafted as is. You never know how a substitution is going to blow over.
Unless you specifically ask the recipe creator or someone else who's tried making a substitution and succeed, it's best to steer clear of any changes all together!
That's not to say you can't use DIY'd / homemade versions of ingredients. For example, I use this sour cream substitute all the time in my recipes!
5. Watch your mixing
Undermix a cake batter and you'll have pockets of wet and dry ingredients.
Overmix, and your cake can end up dense and dry (you'll get rid of all the beautiful bubbles and overwork the flour - if there is flour).
Unless your recipe says otherwise, stop mixing AS SOON as you no longer see streaks of ingredients in your batter. A few clumps are almost always alright.
6. Bakeware can make a difference!
Darker colored or cheaper / thinner bakeware can brown and burn foods much more quickly than lighter colored and heavy pans.
I personally recommend always using light colored and heavy aluminum cake pans. These 9 inch cakes pans by USA Pan are my absolute favorite!
These 8 inch Wilton cake pans are lighter weight, but they yield such consistent and great results when I use them as well!
7. Prepare your cake pans for success
It's almost always necessary to butter / oil your pan and/or line with parchment paper. Most recipes will tell you how to prepare your pans.
I've tried being cheap with lining my cake pans with parchment paper. Sometimes it's ok, other times it's...
If you're not familiar with how sticky your cake is going to be (I'm looking at you, gingerbread cake), it's best to take preparing your pans seriously!
Line your parchment paper alllllll around the bottom of the pan if the recipe tells you to.
Don't be like me...
8. Watch the bake!
Overbaked or underbaked cakes are a one way ticket to failed cake-ville.
Most cake recipes will give you a time range for when you can expect your cake to be ready (for example: 25 to 30 minutes). Start checking at the lower end of that range (so in this example, at 25 minutes).
If you insert a skewer into the center and it's FULL of cake batter, it usually needs at least 5 more minutes. If you have just a little bit of moisture / crumb action going on, check every 2 to 3 minutes after that to prevent overbaking.
9. But don't watch the bake
Don't open your oven door while the cakes are doing their thang in the oven.
You'll release heat, and the sudden rush of cold air can and will make your cakes collapse in the center.
As a general rule of thumb, it's usually safe to start opening the oven door about 5 minutes before your recipe says the cake will be done. But even then, I recommend using the handy dandy oven light to check for when the top of the cake is no longer shiny before trying to open the door.
10. Aluminum foil to the rescue
That's fine and pretty normal!
The best thing to do in that situation is loosely tent aluminum foil over the cake. This slows the browning and allows your cake to cook all the way through.
No more burnt tops!
11. Cool according to the recipe
If the recipe you're using tells you to cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely, believe them.
If it says to cool the cake completely in the pan, believe them!
If it says to eat the cake straight from the oven... maybe don't believe them because ouch????
But in all seriousness, cooling cakes for a few minutes in their pan will help the edges set and firm up enough to invert onto a wire rack. Larger cakes (like Bundt and loaf cakes) will usually call for cooling completely in the pan while thinner / smaller cakes (like layered cakes and cupcakes) will usually tell you to cool for a few minutes in the pan and then invert onto a wire rack.
That's because large cakes take FOREEEEEVER to cool all the way through and are generally less likely to overbake from cooling in the pans.
Smaller cakes can continue to cook through and dry out if they sit in the hot pans for too long.
Bonus tip #12: Practice!
I wanted to make this part of the original top 11 tips, but it felt like I'd be cheating you out of another tip. So this is a bonus, but it's equally as important as the rest!!
You can never get better at something unless you practice it. It's the most obvious but most important tip when trying to master a skill or even become marginally better at something.
A baby can't go from crawling to running in the blink of an eye. I mean, you might find one, but that would be insanely impressive and not at all the norm!
It takes practice and (quite literally) baby steps!
If you follow the tips I outlined above, I guarantee you'll see a noticeable difference in your cake making.
Buuuuuut that being said, you're not suddenly going to become the Gordon Ramsay of cakes. And I find that the learning curve can drive a lot of potentially talented bakers away from even trying!
You're going to screw some recipes up. But if you keep trying, you'll only get better!
You got 'dis, Baker!