Cakes - The Baker’s Dozen Tips for Success

Classic Two-Layer Marble Cake, Redux RecipeOur cake baking tips are here for you to browse so you can get you started on the right track. You do not have to memorize this list because with our recipes, we give ample and detailed, step-by-step information with color photographs, specifying everything you need to know. In addition, you can ask us questions on our Forum, and get professional answers with each and every recipe before, during and after you bake! We know our recipes best because we develop and test them ourselves! You can read other members' questions and comments, too, and ask for their input, as well.

TIP #1: Read through the entire recipe several times. Review important cake making techniques such as important mixing methods, for example, creaming or beating whole eggs, whites or yolks. Check out out helpful How Baking Works Section, as well as our numerous How To Tips and Techniques A to Z. Be aware of any High Altitude adjustments you should be making to your recipe.
SARAH SAYS: A great way to start learning how to bake a cake is from a boxed mix from any brand. 

TIP #2: Use excellent and reliable baking equipment, but you need not go overboard. Check to see how your layer cake pans will fit on an oven rack. Some layer cake recipes use 3 round baking pans. In the cold oven, make sure you can stagger the pans on the upper third and lower third rack. There should be 1 inch between each pan, and between the pans and the sides of the oven. The oven door should close completely.

Arabesque Patterned Sponge Cake Shapes RecipeTIP #3: Use the pan size and type called for in the recipe, and substitute it only if necessary; all influence the appearance, texture and success of the baked cake. Pan characteristics affect cake quality, too, so it is important to select the best cake pan for the job. Dull, smooth-surfaced and heavy gauge pans are the best for baking cakes because they absorb heat more readily. This bakes the cake more quickly, resulting in a larger volume, a finer grain and a more velvety texture. On the other hand, shiny surfaces reflect the heat, causing the cake to take longer to bake, resulting in a coarser grain and lower volume.

When using glass or dark pans, reduce the oven heat by 25 degrees F (14 degrees C), because they lead to shrunken corners and crusty edge from overcooking and cause the exterior crust to brown readily, not desirable for cakes.

Types of pans used for cake baking: Layer cake pans, layer cake pans set in water baths (surrounded by water), fluted tube pans, angel food pans, sheet pans, jelly roll pans, muffin pans and Madeleine or other decorative-shaped mini pans.

Check our pan substitution chart if you don't have the right size.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Pound Cake RecipeTIP #4: Use the best and freshest ingredients you can afford; substitute them only when necessary. National brands are very reliable. Carefully wash and dry any fruit or vegetables in advance. Smell your flour and any ingredients right before you bake to make sure they are still fresh. Store them properly.

TIP #5: Preheat the oven for a minimum of 20 minutes before baking and prepare the baking pans. Cakes typically bake between 325 to 450 degrees F. Most convection ovens require lowering the temperature by 25 to 50 degrees F, as well as turning off the fan. Use the correct oven temperature by checking with two oven thermometers (placed on both sides) and bake as close to the center of the oven as possible for proper air circulation. Crumb formation is dependent on the degree of rising when the cake is first placed in the oven, and rapid heat absorption plays a role.

The pans should not be allowed to touch each other or the sides of the oven or be placed directly above or below one another; leave at least an inch between each pan and the sides of the oven. If you do not have space to place them on one oven shelf, stagger the pans on two shelves placed on the lower and upper thirds of the ovens.

Cake pans are prepared prior to mixing the batter. For shortened (butter or oil) cakes, the pans are typically greased.
For unshortened (foam) cakes, the pans are not necessarily greased all over or greased at all. Make sure you follow the recipe's instructions carefully.

Cakelette Pops TutorialTIP #6: Pre-measure all ingredients (mise en place). Weighing ingredients for some is faster and easier, but measuring by volume, with measuring cups and spoon in a home setting will achieve excellent results, too. For all of our recipes, if measuring dry ingredients, use a cup with an unbroken rim. Spoon the ingredient and allow it to mound over the top and use a flat blade or metal spatula to run across the rim to sweep off the excess. Do not tap or shake the cup to avoid packing in excess ingredient that could result in a dry heavy cake. Use a cup with a spout for liquids and take the reading at eye level. The bottom of the meniscus (clear bubble at the top of the liquid) should be read at the line marking on the cup.

TIP #7: Follow all the mixing steps and be aware of ingredient temperatures, below. Do not delay in between. Take care not to under- or over-mix. Mix the batter starting on low speed and gradually increase the speed to the designated number or description such as medium, or medium high. When using a stand mixer, make sure you are using the proper attachment, and at frequent intervals turn off the mixer and then scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Be sure to reach to the bottom and sides of the bowl, and scrape the mixer attachment.

TECHNIQUES FOR AERATING CAKES: Different mixing methods produce different types of cakes.

 

MIXING METHOD HOW CAKE TYPE(S)

Creaming (Fat-sugar, Cake  or Conventional)

The butter, margarine or shortening is beaten to soften it to a plastic state. Then, the sugar is beaten in, called the Creaming Method. Eggs are then added. Finally, flour and dry ingredients added alternately with the liquid ones in portions. The process begins and ends with the dry ingredients. Use the mixer's flat paddle attachment when mixing. 

Shortened cakes: American butter cakes, Pound cakes, some fruit cakes

High ratio (Two-Step) Mixing all the dry and sugar ingredients first, then beating in cold,
but softened butter. Then, the eggs and liquid ingredients are slowly added. Use the mixer's flat paddle attachment when mixing.
High ratio shortened (butter) cakes

Foaming (Egg-sugar, Sponge)

Whipping eggs (whole, yolks only or whites only) with a portion of the sugar. The egg foam is folded into the batter in the end. Or, egg whites are foamed and flour is sifted over, and folded in. Both methods call for the Whisk Attachment.

Unshortened or Foam Cakes: Whipping eggs (whole, yolks only or whites only): Sponge
Whole eggs: Genoises
Yolks w/ whites separately: 
Jelly Rolls or Biscuit Roulades
Whites only: Angel Food, Chiffon, Meringues (Dacquoise)

All-ingredient (Single stage, quick-mix, one-bowl or dump)

All dry and liquid ingredients are mixed together at once. 

Commercial cake mixes

Muffin (Two Stage) Dry and moist ingredients are mixed separately and then combined and blended until the dry ingredients just become moist. Oil cakes
Biscuit  Similar to the Pastry-blend method. Flour and all dry ingredients are combined. Fat is then cut into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Liquid is added last. Dough is mixed just until moistened.  
Pastry-blend The fat is cut into the flour. Once the flour is added, the dough should be mixed well, but not beaten at length for this will toughen the recipe.  

Little aeration

Ingredients stirred / whisked with minimal incorporation of air

Flourless cakes

INGREDIENT TEMPERATURES:
Ingredient temperatures are important in a recipe. Most recipes specify using room temperature butter and eggs. and other perishable ingredients, such as milk. SARAH SAYS: But, that is not really necessary any more when using today's stand mixers. At CraftyBaking.com, I have found, through extensive testing, that you can use them COLD right from the refrigerator; no more waiting for ingredients to come to room temperature. I have added this special innovation to my cake cake recipes, making it faster, easier, more foolproof to make cakes. 

SHORTENED CAKES: My research through scientific cake journals shows that the temperature of finished butter cake batter, whether its a yellow or white, Devil's Food or pound cake, should be around 68 to 72 degrees F. It is very important because its end temperature affects the viscosity of the batter which in turn affects both the stability of the batter and its ability to incorporate air throughout the mixing process.
Healthy Oven Carrot-Pineapple Layer Cake Recipe
I have found that cake batters will reach the proper 68 to 72 degree F end mixing temperature when using cold ingredients. Instead, when using room temperature ingredients, and then mixing with a stand mixer, the finished batter temperature can often be around 75 degrees F or higher, which is considered too warm to ensure a successfully aerated baked cake. Cakes will tend to be flatter and dense, as a result.

SHORTENED (BUTTER) CAKES: Through my extensive research, I have found that there are a type of recipes called "ice water" cake recipes, where ice water or milk is used instead of room temperature ingredients, resulting in very tender cakes. Upon adding water to a recipe, it hydrates the starch particles, the dough is initially formed, and it begins to hydrate the gluten proteins in wheat flour, where gluten is formed when it is subsequently mixed. The reason that ice water or milk will result in tender cakes is that it is a known fact that cold temperatures will help to inhibit gluten formation in recipes. 

UNSHORTENED (FOAM) CAKES: Typical recipes will specify "whip the egg whites" or "beat the yolks." These cakes rely upon eggs and/or yolks for their leavening. I have found through extensive testing that you can start with cold eggs right from the refrigerator. Its because they will quickly warm from the friction produced from the beaters, and will achieve their proper volume. It's really the age of the eggs that determines how well an egg will hold air, not their initial temperature when using today's stand mixers; the fresher the better. 

TIP #8: Quickly place the batter into the prepared pans. Gently smooth their tops. Unless otherwise specified, the pan should be filled no less than half and no more than two-thirds full. The batter in tube pans is an exception as it is usually about 1-inch from the top, as are cheesecakes. Their batters typically fill the whole pan. Gently and quickly smooth the batter with an offset or rubber spatula; do not press down when doing so.
   
TIP #9: Bake your cake immediately after filling your pans.
USEFUL CHARTS - BAKING TIMES AND BATTER AMOUNTS

If the batter is allowed to sit too long after mixing, carbon dioxide and air will escape, leading to poor volume and increases the coarseness of the cake. The pans should not be allowed to touch each other or the sides of the oven or directly above or below one another. Heat plays several important role during cake baking, and when the oven door is opened, it loses about 50 degrees F, and more.   

The optimum baking conditions for cakes are determined by such factors and the richness or leanness of the cake recipe, the flow and density of the cake batter, pan size etc. Cakes which are larger in size and / or are richer in formulation generally are baked at lower oven temperatures for longer periods of time when compared with leaner formulations and/or smaller size cakes.

OPTIMAL CAKE BAKING TIMES & TEMPERATURES: The ranges of bake times and temperatures for each variety provide the needed margins, however there are always exceptions and variables. It is ALWAYS important to follow the recipe's instructions, though, and not use this chart for guidance; the chart is strictly for educational purposes.

 

CAKE VARIETY

MIXING
METHOD

BATTER

PAN SIZE
Inches x
2" ht
(# of pans)

BAKE TIME
(MINS)

TEMP
(DEGS F)

CAKE RECIPE
EXAMPLE

SHORTENED

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Butter Layer - Yellow 

Creaming

Thick

9 x 2 (2)

40 - 45

350

Ultimate Yellow
Butter Cake

 

High ratio

Med

9 x 2 (2)

20 - 30

350

Scratch Yell w/
Box Qual

American Butter Layer - Choc

Creaming

Thick

9 x 2 (3)

30 - 40

325

Ultimate Chocolate Butter 

 

High ratio

Med

9 x 2 (2)

25 - 30 

325

Scratch Choc w/
Box Qual

American Butter Layer - White

Creaming

Thick

9 x 2 (2)

25 - 30 

350 

Classic White Cake

 

High ratio

Med

9 x 2 (2) 

20 - 30

350

Scratch White w/
Box Qualities

Pound - Yellow

Creaming

Dense

9 x 2 (2)

30 - 40

325

Cream Cheese Pound

Pound - Choc

Creaming

Dense

9 x 2 (2)

30 - 40

325

Choc Cream Cheese Pound

FOAM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angel Food - Vanilla

 Foaming

 

10-inch tube

35 - 40

350

Grandma's Angel Food

Chiffon

 Foaming

 

10-inch tube 

40 - 45 

350

Basic Chiffon Cake

Genoise 

 Foaming

 

9 x 2 (1)

20 - 25

350 

Basic Genoise Cake 

Sponge - American

 Foaming

 

9-inch spring

40

325

Priscilla's Orange Sponge 

Sponge - Hot Milk 

 Foaming

 

9 x 2 (1) 

25 - 30

350

Boston Cream Pie  

Joconde

 Foaming

 

12 1/2-x 15 1/2 

5 - 7

425

Opera Cake (Joconde) 

Biscuit Roulade

 Foaming

 

17 x 12

7

450

Vanilla Scented
Cake Roll

 


TIP #10: Do not open the oven door during the first 30 minutes of baking. Check for doneness at beginning of the baking doneness time range. Take the cake from the oven when its done and unmold to cool. Allow the cake to bake undisturbed before peeking until almost done. DON'T pull the cake out of the oven, by pulling out the oven shelf or removing it, to test because if it isn't set it will collapse in on itself and you can't save it from there. Open the oven door very slightly, leave the cake where it is and test for doneness. Be careful not to burn yourself while you do. 

Cake toothpick testSARAH SAYS: SHORTENED CAKES ~ CraftyBaking.com's test for doneness: If you insert a WOODEN skewer or toothpick in the middle and remove, there should be a few moist crumbs attached, but not batter. A metal cake pick or plastic toothpick will slide in and out of the cake and crumbs will not stick to it as readily, but will stick to a WOODEN skewer or toothpick, my preference!

Testing should be reserved for the last 5 to 7 minutes of baking, and done as infrequently as possible. Opening the oven door causes drops in oven temperature and may even cause the cake to fall in the middle.

In addition, when cakes are nearing doneness, they start to "wrinkle" at the pan edges. They should be removed before a gap forms between the cake and the pan. Another way to test for doneness is to touch the top of the cake lightly with a fingertip. You will hear a few air bubbles popping and it should spring back a little bit, indicating the cake is done. But, the skewer / toothpick test is the most reliable.

UNSHORTENED CAKES: The unshortened cake is baked when its surface is lightly browned and springs back when touched or feels firm. Using a toothpick to test for doneness does not work. Some will sound when tapped on the side of the pan with the handle of a wooden spoon.

SARAH SAYS: Know your oven; some ovens bake faster or slower than others. However, it could be because of the type of pans you are using (shiny pans reflect heat; dark pan retain heat); oven shelf placement (too high or too low); age and how well your oven holds and circulates heat (oven too crowded or not vented); improper aeration of your cakes (not creamed or emulsified enough, too much or too little folding); cake batter too dense, (too much flour from mismeasuring).

Cakelette Pops TutorialTIP #11: Cool cakes properly. Shortened cakes - should remain 10 minutes in their pans, and then unmolded and optionally, turned upright to the wire cake rack. Unshortened cakes - Sponge cake: unmolded immediately; angel food and chiffon cake: suspended upside down until cool; cakes in rectangular or square pans, jelly roll/sheet and springform pans: many remain in their pans to cool completely. The warm interior of a cake needs a chance to become firm, so any drastic movements jeopardizes its structure. The cake rack allows even air circulation to prevent condensation and sogginess. A spatula or thin knife can be inserted and moved around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake before unmolding it to the cake rack.

SARAH SAYS: If you have trouble removing a stubborn cake from a pan and it starts to crack, don't force it. Let the cake cool a few more minutes more and try again. However, it can also mean you left it too long in its pan, or did not prepare the pan properly. Unfortunately, sometimes you will have to get it out as best you can.

TIP #12: Finish the cake or eat as is.
Options for finishing a cake are numerous, such as filling, crumb coating, frosting and decorating. Some varieties, such as pound cakes and Bundt, a quick glaze is all they need before serving. Crumb and coffee cakes are finished already when they come out of the oven, and sometimes all they need are a simple glaze, a dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Fruit compote makes a perfect pairing with a freshly baked Angel Food Cake.
USEFUL CHARTS:

 

To cut layer cakes: use a sharp, long, thin knife; pound cakes: use a thin serrated knife. If the frosting sticks to knife, dip the knife in hot water and wipe with a damp paper towel after cutting each slice. To prevent pressing down and crushing angel food and chiffon cakes, cut in a gentle sawing motion with sharp, thin serrated knife or electric knife. 
USEFUL CHARTS - CAKE SERVING SIZES:

TIP #13: Properly store cakes.  Know what is perishable and what is not. Be aware of food safety information so no one gets ill.
SARAH SAYS: With every recipe, we have done ample research in advance and we advise you the best way to store your unfrosted and frosted recipes. Plus, we have storage charts for reference. Food safety is always at the top of our list!

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