10 Secrets to Baking Perfect Cakes

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Toss boxed cake mixes to the side and conquer your fear of homemade cakes with our secrets to baking the perfect cake.

10 Secrets to Baking Perfect Cakes

Cake Baking Secrets

If all the measuring, sifting, and mixing involved in cake-baking seems more like science class than fun, then keep clicking. With our ten secrets to cake baking, you WILL conquer the cake, and have fun doing it.

1. Good results start in the mixing bowl.

A cake is essentially a chemistry experiment—a series of ingredients mixed in a specific order to cause reactions that produce specific effects. Butter cakes, like pound cakes and most layer cakes, get their soft, fine texture and moistness—called a crumb—by first creaming together fat and sugar, adding eggs, and slowly incorporating dry ingredients into the mixture while alternating with a liquid, such as milk or buttermilk. Angel food, sponge, and chiffon cakes get their signature airy, foamlike textures when whole eggs or egg whites (depending on the cake) are whipped until voluminous, then folded into the batter. The air incorporated by whipping the eggs gives these cakes volume, making them springy and elastic. So whatever cake you’re making, be sure to follow the recipe instruction closely. The order and method described really counts when cake baking.

2. Know your oven.

To prevent an under- or overdone cake, get an oven thermometer—it’s the best way to be sure your oven is calibrated correctly. Bake the cake in the middle (too close to the top or bottom can cause overbrowning). Gently close the oven door—a hard slam can release air bubbles trapped in the batter. To check for doneness, lightly press the center of the cake; if it springs back, it’s done. Or insert a wooden pick; it should come out clean.

3. Choose the proper pan size (and color).

Your recipe calls for two 9-inch round cake pans, but you only have 8-inch pans. What to do? Go get two 9-inch pans. Pan size is specified in recipes because a cake increases in volume 50 to 100 percent during baking; if your pan is too small, the cake could overflow. Color is important, too; glass or dark nonstick pans usually require a 25-degree reduction in baking temperature versus silver-colored aluminum pans.

4. Use the right flour for the recipe.

Different flours contain varying percentages of protein—the more protein, the more gluten. Cake flour has the least protein and yields extra-light baked goods, like angel food cake. Bread flour has the most and is used for denser items; all-purpose is in the middle and produces tender cakes.

5. Weigh, don’t measure, flour.

If you don’t have a kitchen scale, it’s time to buy one. Weight is the only accurate way to measure flour. Depending on how tightly flour is packed into a measuring cup, you can end up with double the amount intended. That’s why we give flour measurements in ounces first.

6. Chemistry counts.

The intimate chemistry among key ingredients delivers the foundation for good cake. Flour thickens the batter and provides gluten, a protein that gives the cake structure. It forms when flour is combined with a liquid and agitated. Don’t overmix, which can cause your cake to turn tough. Leaveners, like baking soda or powder, produce carbon dioxide bubbles, which are trapped by the starch in the batter and expand during baking, causing the cake to rise. Fats, like butter, shortening, or oil, help retard gluten formation while providing moisture for the cake. This ensures a tender texture. Sugar breaks up gluten, keeping the texture tender; it absorbs liquid, keeping the cake moist; and it caramelizes in baking, enriching flavors and helping the cake brown. Eggs firm up when cooked, helping cake batters set in the oven. Egg yolks contain fat, as well as lecithin, an emulsifier that allows fats and water to mix smoothly and ensures even texture.

7. Give your cake a cooldown.

Cool cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then remove from pan. Once cooled, place a plate on top, invert the pan, and gently tap or shake it to release the cake. Angel food cakes are usually baked in tube pans, then inverted either on feet attached to the pan or over a bottle to cool upside down while still in the pan—gravity helps the cake keep its volume. When it has cooled, run a narrow spatula around the edges, and release onto a plate.

8. Frost like a professional.

Put a small dollop of frosting in the center of the cake plate, and place the first cake layer on top. This will keep the cake from moving as you work. Use an offset spatula to frost the top, add the next layer, then coat the whole cake with a thin layer of frosting. (This “crumb coat” holds loose crumbs in place.) Place the cake in the freezer for 15 minutes, then remove and finish frosting, starting with the top, then the sides.

9. Fondant may make for a beautiful cake, but...

Rolled fondant—the smooth coating seen on elaborate wedding and reality-show competition cakes—is a combination of gelatin, glycerin, and sugar that forms into an easily molded dough. It doesn’t taste very good, though. Poured fondant is a cooked-sugar syrup that’s used as a cake filling, in candies, or to top petit fours—you might know it better as the center of a Cadbury Crème Egg.

10. How to factor in a higher altitude.

Since there is less air pressure at higher altitudes, cakes rise more and can dry out because liquids evaporate more quickly. If you live above 3,500 feet, follow these guidelines: Increase the oven temperature to 375° and liquid by 2 tablespoons for each cup used. Decrease each cup of sugar by 1 tablespoon, each teaspoon of baking powder by ⅛ teaspoon, and the baking time by 5 minutes.

7 Rules For Baking The Perfect Cake (And What To Do When You Mess Up)

Don't let your cakes fall flat, dry out, toughen or crumble with these tips, each slice will be total perfection.

Baking is a science, and makes following the rules are a lot more important than you might think. (Photo, Roberto Caruso.)

When something goes amiss in the kitchen, it’s important to understand what went wrong. When baking a cake, there are a lot of little things you can do to improve your odds of a winning finished product. Similarly, there are a lot of bad habits that can have equal influence on your recipe to negative effect. To help you on your quest to bake the perfect cake, here’s a breakdown of important dos and don’ts:

11 Secrets to Successful Cakes

Aluminum pans reflect heat away from the cake and give it a tender, light-brown crust. Dark pans can cause cakes to have a thick, dark crust.

2. Use the right-sized pan.

As tempting as it can be, be sure to use the exact-size pan that’s listed in the recipe. Otherwise, baking time and temp will be off, and your cake might be over- or under-baked.

3. Prep the pan according to recipe instructions.

Don't substitute butter and flour for baking spray, or vice versa. Check to see if the recipe specifies how far up the pan you should grease.

4. Heat the oven 10 to 15 minutes before baking.

This helps makes sure that every inch of the oven is all the way up to temperature when your cake goes in.

5. Measure ingredients accurately.

The absolute best way to measure ingredients is by weight using a food scale.

6. Don’t over- or under-beat the batter.

Pay close attention to how much the recipe says to beat the batter. An over- or under-beaten batter can cause a cake not to rise correctly or can create an unpleasant texture.

7. Fill pans halfway.

Overfilling pans can cause cakes to overflow or fall in the middle.

8. Give pans breathing room in the oven.

If you're baking more than one pan at a time, make sure there is enough space between them for the heat to circulate.

9. Cool cakes completely before layering, frosting, and decorating.

A warm cake is much more likely to crumble or fall.

10. Be serving-size savvy.

If you're baking for a group, here's a handy guide for knowing what size cake will serve the whole crowd.

Size of Cake Serves
8- or 9-inch square cake 6 to 9
8- or 9-inch layer cake 12 to 16
13x9-inch rectangular cake 12 to 16
10x4-inch tube cake 16 to 20
12-cup Bundt ® cake* 16 to 20

* Bundt ® is a registered trademark of Northland Aluminum Products, Inc.

11. Keep a close eye on your cake.

Check for doneness at the minimum baking time. Then check at one-minute intervals until the cake is done. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, and when the top is rounded, smooth, and springs back when lightly touched in the center.

How to make cake: top 10 tips for success

Is there a secret to making great cake? Absolutely! Follow our ten commandments and let the baking magic happen.

If you’re a cook who can’t resist tossing in a handful of this and a sprinkle of that, you may find baking can be a bit hit and miss. Baking is an area of cookery that doesn’t take kindly to artistic licence. But follow a few basic baking rules and success is sure to follow…

1. Use a good recipe

For guaranteed results it’s important to follow baking recipes to the letter so your cake will only ever be as good as the recipe you use. Start with a recipe from a source you trust. A lot of recipes, particularly on the internet, haven’t been tried and tested (ours have!)

2. Use the tin size stated in the recipe and line it well

If you want to use a different one then you’ll need to adjust the cooking time.

Baking parchment works really well for lining as it’s non-stick. Softened butter dusted with flour, or oil dusted with flour, are alternatives. Don’t use too much fat though or you’ll fry the sides of the cake. If you’re cooking a cake for a long time (rich fruit cake, for example), it’s worth wrapping the outside of the tin too using brown paper and string to stop the edges from burning.

3. Preheat the oven

If you put a cake into an oven that’s not hot enough, it will affect the way it rises. Fan ovens can dry a cake slightly so for a longer shelf-life use the conventional setting.

Make sure you use the exact measurements and ingredients as stated in the recipe. You can’t just add more baking powder if you want your cake to rise more or substitute self-raising flour for plain. Use measuring spoons rather than tablewear to ensure accuracy. Also, avoid mixing imperial and metric measurements, pick one or the other.

5. Make sure ingredients are the right temperature

Most recipes require the fat and eggs to be at room temperature. If you take the butter straight from the fridge it doesn’t cream well and cold eggs are liable to curdle the cake mixture.

6. Get as much air into the cake as you can

Cream butter and sugar until the mixture lightens in texture and colour. This increases the air and volume of the cake, giving you a lighter result.

Sift flour and other stated ingredients together to mix, add air and make them easier to fold in. A large balloon whisk (used gently) is best for folding as it helps to avoid lumps of flour but doesn’t overwork the mixture. Don’t be tempted to whisk vigorously as this will knock out the air and result in a heavy cake.

7. Once the cake mixture is made put it straight into the oven

The raising agent will start working as soon as it comes into contact with any of the ‘wet’ ingredients so to ensure a good rise your cake mixture should go into the oven straightaway.

Cakes are generally best placed on the middle shelf to ensure even cooking.

Once the cake is in, avoid opening the door until it’s almost cooked. If you allow cold air into the oven the cake is likely to collapse, you need to wait until it’s properly set before taking a peek. Similarly, when you’re putting the cake into the oven, don’t hang about and let all the heat out.

9. Stick to cooking times

If you’ve used the right tin and you’ve got a good oven, the timings stated in the recipe should be accurate. As ovens do vary, check the cake just before the end of the cooking time. A cake that is cooked through should feel the same if pressed around the edges or in the middle. Also, a skewer inserted in the centre should come out dry. If your cake is not properly cooked but looking brown, you can cover it with a bit of dampened greaseproof paper.

10. Cooling cakes

Recipes will usually give instructions for cooling but as a general rule, most sponge cakes are best left for a few minutes and then turned onto a cooling rack to avoid soggy edges. Rich fruit cakes are better cooled in the tin.

How to Fill a Cupcake Liner like a Pro

The trick to perfect consistently shaped cupcakes is an ice cream scoop. We use a 3 tablespoon scoop which fills the cupcake liners 2/3 full which is the perfect amount of batter for each cupcake. Too little batter (liners 1/2 filled) and the cupcakes won’t rise over the edge of the cupcake liner. Too much batter (liners more than 3/4 filled) and the cupcakes will overflow onto the cupcake pan and turn out like a muffin.

If you don’t have an ice cream scoop yet, use the 3 tablespoons of batter as a guideline for filling each cupcake liner.

Another great tool, a 24 cup Muffin and Cupcake Baking Pan which will allow you to cook all your cupcakes in one batch in a single pan. Super helpful!

Top 10 Tips for Baking Perfect Pies

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Have you ever wondered what the secrets are to baking the most amazing pies? It's true, pie baking can seem daunting but, once you've learned our best tips and tricks, you'll be cranking out perfect pies like a professional. Learn how to say "sayonara" to soggy pie crusts with our pie crust baking tips, choose the best thickener for your pies, and so much more!

Tips for Pie Crusts:

  • It starts with the pan you're using. It's best to use a glass, dark or dull-metal baking pan. These types of pans are more neutral and will help allow your crust to brown evenly. A shiny pan or flimsy disposable pan won't let it brown enough.
  • Don't let the edges burn. What to do when your crust over-browns? Cover the edges with aluminum foil after it bakes for 15 minutes, or use a purchased pie crust shield. If it's a double-crusted pie, the edges need to be covered after 30 minutes.
  • No one wants a soggy pie crust! To prevent pie crust from getting soggy, you can try setting your pie pan on a baking sheet before putting it in the oven. Or, you can seal your pie crust by brushing it with a slightly beaten egg white. Refrigerate your pie crust in its pan for 15 to 20 minutes before you fill it . Yet another method is to "blind bake" your crust. After lining your pan with your dough, line it with foil or parchment paper, then add pie weights -- dried beans or rice will both work, too. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust turns golden. Let the crust cool and proceed with your recipe.
  • Leftover pie dough scraps? Don't throw them away! Sprinkle 'em with cinnamon-sugar, or go savory with grated Parmesan cheese. Pop 'em in the oven and bake until golden, usually about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Creating a golden crust: If you're using a lattice or other double pie crust topping, brush the top with beaten egg, milk, or cream for a nicely browned crust.

Tips for Pie Fillings:

  • Cornstarch or tapioca? Both of these will thicken a pie filling. We like to use tapioca when baking pies containing fruits that are more acidic -- like cherry or apple. All-purpose flour is a popular choice for apple pies, too. Cornstarch is the best choice for anything dairy or cream-based.
  • Is it done yet? When baking a custard pie, you can test to see if it's done by inserting a knife into its center. If it comes out easily, the pie is set.
  • Runny pie filling? You may not have baked it long enough for it to set. Pop it back in the oven for 10 more minutes and check again.
  • Time-saving shortcut: If you want to use a pre-made filling, you won't need to bake your pie for as long. You'll just need enough time to bake the crust and warm the filling through.
  • Prevent meringue from weeping: Making a meringue-topped pie? If you are, be sure to spread the meringue over the filling completely while the filling is still warm. You also want to make sure you beat your egg whites enough while making your meringue, until they create stiff peaks.

Now it's time to put what you've learned into practice! Click here for our collection of 74 Easy Pie Recipes, Plus 5 Homemade Crusts!

Show champion reveals secrets to the perfect sponge

Get into the spirit of the Royal Melbourne Show with these baking tips from last year’s winner of the best sponge cake competition.

Zowie Crump’s obsession with baking sponge cakes was inspired in part by her late grandfather’s love of the traditional treat. After claiming first prize in 11 local competitions around the Riverina region, she decided to enter three categories in the Royal Melbourne Show last year. To add to the challenge, Zowie had a newborn baby and a two-year-old, and had to drive three hours from her home in Mathoura to Melbourne to deliver the cakes.

“Two weeks later I got the email at about 10.30pm and I ran in and woke up my partner and said, ‘I’ve won, I’ve won’,” she says. Her chocolate sponge won the show’s coveted open sponge section and her ginger fluff sponge came second in its category.

Although the Royal Melbourne Show, which would have opened this week, has been cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic (with some events moving online), Zowie is still busy baking and giving away cakes to charity.

So what is the secret to the perfect sponge? After countless hours perfecting her technique, Zowie is reluctant to relinquish her recipe, but she does have a few expert tips to share.

Five secrets for baking the perfect sponge

Practise makes perfect

The secret for sponge-cake perfection, she says, is knowing your oven and “practice, practice, practice”. “I’ve given my old recipe to people and they’ve said, ‘It doesn’t work’. But you can’t make just one sponge and expect it to be perfect. It takes practice,” she says.

Triple sift your flour

Zowie uses wheaten cornflour and says it’s true that the flour must be sifted three times. The eggs should be at room temperature and the egg whites must be beaten until frothy and thick, a consistency that a cook develops “a feel for” over time. “People often don’t beat the egg whites for long enough,” she says.

Get to know your oven

The best temperature for cooking a sponge depends on your oven. Zowie sets her gas oven at 160 degrees fan-forced, but other recipes say 190 degrees. “It’s trial and error,” Zowie says. “I’ve read Liz Harfull’s Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook – she’s interviewed show cooks – and I tried their recipes and I couldn’t get them to work.”

Watch it like a hawk

Zowie says even a minute of under or overcooking can ruin a sponge. “You have to watch it and make sure it looks good and has risen,” she says. “Sometimes you take it out of the oven and it looks amazing and then you tip it out of the tin and it shrivels into a pancake.”

Keep it seasonal

Zowie usually puts her plain sponges together with raspberry jam and cream, plus strawberries when they’re in season, and passionfruit icing is popular with friends. “Milo cream is good in the middle of the chocolate sponge and I usually put golden syrup in the cream for the ginger fluff one,” she says.

While her award-winning recipe is a closely guarded secret, Zowie happily gives away her sponges, in the process helping local charities raise about $2000, including $200 for the NSW Rural Fire Service. “I’ve spent way too much time perfecting this recipe to give it away, although I might when I’m older,” she says. (And get the CWA's classic sponge recipe here).

The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) says the Art, Craft and Cookery Competition in the Royal Melbourne Show usually receives more than 4000 entries each year.

RASV CEO Brad Jenkins says although this year’s Show has been cancelled because of the pandemic Victorians of all ages can keep honing their skills for next year’s art, craft and cookery competition.

“We are looking forward to Victorians coming together when the Royal Melbourne Show returns bigger and better in 2021.”

In the meantime, if you’re missing your annual trip to the showgrounds, you can still enjoy some good old fashioned country-comes-to-the-city fun with these virtual Royal Melbourne Show activities, running until 29 September. Check updates on the show’s Facebook page.

How to get in the spirit of the Royal Melbourne Show from home

Bag a favourite

It’s just not the Royal Melbourne Show without show bags and this year you can get them home-delivered. There’s 150 to choose from, including the bargain $5 Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate crowd-pleaser and a new $30 AFL showbags. The bestsellers include Harry Potter, Barbie, LOL Surprise, Friends and Bluey.

Humans of agriculture podcast

Beyond showbags, rides and fairy floss, the beating heart of the show lies in the prize-worthy livestock, and the farmers who raise them. Tune into the show’s own podcast featuring personalities, including agriculture youth leader Aimee Bolton and dairy industry research scientist Dr Jo Newton, talking about their lives and commitment to agriculture.

Animal nursery

Who doesn’t love an animal nursery? Log on to the show’s farm-cam every day at noon as farmer Darryl Sheridan leads a tour of his animal nursery with baby goats, lambs, alpacas and chickens.

Dog dress-ups

Love a dog show? Dress up your own four-legged friend and share on the show’s Facebook page for a chance to win a share of $1200 of prizes.

Coffee fix

Get in before the show’s last day on 29 September to go in the draw to win a home espresso machine and eight kilograms of coffee.

Photo finish

Speaking of prizes, share your pictorial memories of previous Shows with the “flashback memory and photo” competition for a chance to win a boots-and-clothing pack worth $515.

Where to buy show bags online


Forget Uber eats, try getting your favourite show bags home-delivered. There’s 150 to choose from including the bargain $5 crowd pleaser Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate show bag to the new $30 AFL showbags. The bestsellers include Harry Potter, Barbie, LOL Surprise, Friends and Bluey.


You’re never too old to love a showbags. This supplier (I love showbags) has magazine, lifestyle and beauty showbags, including cosmetics, cleaning product boxes, DIY home improvement kits and dental care, as well as magazine bags like Better Homes & Gardens, Marie Claire, Men's Health and Girlfriend.


If you don’t have a sweet tooth, Showbagworld.com has novelty showbags from your child’s favourite movies, like Frozen II, Moana, Star Wars and Scooby-Doo. Other bags include Marvel Avenger, Baby Shark, Batman and a Los Angeles basketball showbag.


For those must-have Bertie Beetle showbags, the showbagshop.com.au has it all. For a real indulgence, try the monster bag with 250 Bertie Beetle chocolates and a limited-edition Bertie Beetle cap for $79 or if you’re on a budget or diet, there’s a $5 bag with 12 of the iconic choccies. If you love the beetles but not the centimetres they can add to a waistline, there are beetle socks, cups and mugs.


If you have a budding Cosentino in your family, the Gag Magic Showbag has the magic levitating wand, snake in a can and don’t forget the family favourite, the whoopie cushion for $16. You even get a magician’s top hat to wear when you perform the disappearing scarf trick. Other novelty bags are a police action squad bag, fairy girls bag, and farm world bag. There’s a range of full head masks like werewolf, unicorn, fox and a chicken.

5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."

Cake Baking Secrets: Tips & Tricks for Baking Flawless Cakes

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Whether you're baking with cake mix or baking cakes from scratch, these helpful hints will save you both time and money in the kitchen. From sunken cakes to dry cakes, these tips and tricks will give you the knowledge you need to make perfect cakes every time.

If you want to become a cake baking pro, the first thing you'll want to do is check to make sure your oven is heating at the correct temperature. If you've ever experienced common cake baking problems such as a sunken or collapsed cake, this could be because your oven isn't getting as hot as it says it is. An oven that's too hot could cause a dry cake. Invest in an oven thermometer -- your cakes (and cake tasters) will thank you!

How To Bake a Cake to Perfection:

  • Cakes baked in glass versus metal bake differently. If using glass, you'll want to lower your oven temperature by 25 degrees.
  • Preheat your oven before you start mixing and prepping -- it's best if the oven is preheated for 20 to 30 minutes at the proper baking temperature.
  • Be sure to use the correct pan size called for in the recipe.
  • Fat, eggs, and liquid (eggs, butter, milk, etc.) should generally be used at room temperature. Cold ingredients could cause the batter to curdle.
  • When combining butter and sugar, take your time to cream them together -- beat or cream together for at least 5 minutes. This helps to ensure a lighter cake, as it adds tiny air pockets to the batter. Sugar granules shouldn't be visible, but you can still feel them if you rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers.
  • Measure flour and other dry ingredients exactly. Use a knife or other flat surface to level off dry ingredients in a measuring cup or spoon.
  • And don't skip the sifting! This step helps to add air and ensures that all dry ingredients are properly combined. If you don't have a sifter, you can use a wire mesh strainer.
  • When baking foam cakes like angel food cake, take great care when adding the flour to the beaten egg whites. Fold the flour in three stages, very gently so that you don't lose the airy volume of the egg whites -- this is what keeps the cake so light.
  • Generally, the cake batter should fill the pan by at least 1/2 and not more than 2/3, unless otherwise instructed.
  • Try to bake the cake in the middle of the oven and, if baking more than one cake at a time, don't crowd them together, or they will bake unevenly.
  • For crumb-free slices, run your knife under hot water and dry it before cutting into the cake.

Frosting Tips:

  • Always wait for cakes to cool completely before frosting. Even the slightest warmth from a cake can quickly turn your frosting or icing into a mess.
  • Brush your cooled cake with a pastry brush (or your fingers if you don't have one) to remove excess crumbs.
  • Begin the frosting process by first applying a very thin layer of frosting to the cake. This is known as a "crumb coat." It will help to seal in the crumbs, and you can further help this process by refrigerating the cake for an hour or so at this point. The frosting will harden slightly and really hold in the crumbs. Now, you can frost as you normally would, starting with the top and finishing with the sides.
  • For a truly perfect presentation, wipe the spatula clean each time you swipe frosting onto the cake. You may want to spread it on smoothly for a clean finish, or you may opt to swirl it decoratively around the cake.
  • Check out our "How to Frost a Cake" video for even more guided information! Just click here.

Common Problems & How to Avoid:

  • Dry Cake: As mentioned above, this could be caused by an oven that's too hot. You may need to calibrate your oven or bake at a lower temperature. You may also have baked your cake for too long. Alternatively, a dry cake can be caused by too much flour or baking powder.
  • Sunken Cake: This can be caused by too much liquid, or an oven that's not hot enough. If the oven isn't hot enough, this could actually be a result of opening the oven door too many times while your cake is baking. In general, try to wait until the cake is nearly finished baking before you open the door.
  • Difficulty Removing Cake from Pan: Make sure to properly grease and flour the pan before you add the batter. You may also want to try lining the bottom of your pan with parchment paper, especially when baking layer cakes. Be sure to remove the cake from the pan at the right time allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes, then invert it onto a plate or rack to remove it from the pan and allow it to cool completely.

More Fun Facts & Substitutions:

  • No cake flour on hand? You can substitute this by using regular all-purpose flour and cornstarch. For each cup needed, start by adding 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to a 1-cup measuring cup fill the cup with all-purpose flour and level the top.
  • Self-rising flour is not to be used interchangeably with all-purpose flour. The difference is that self-rising flour has baking powder already in it. If you want to substitute all-purpose for self-rising, you can add 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt to 1 cup all-purpose flour.
  • To lower fat and calories in your cake, replace half of the oil with applesauce or yogurt. This will add moisture without adding fat.
  • Ever wonder why chocolate cake recipes call for boiling liquid to be added to the batter? The hot liquid helps to release the flavors of the chocolate.
  • If you're baking a layer cake and can't quite figure out how to divide the batter evenly between pans, you can stand a knife in each pan to see if the batter is measuring up to the same point.
  • Most cake recipes can easily be converted to cupcakes. The average cake recipe that would produce two 9-inch cakes should generally make enough batter for 24 to 36 cupcakes. Oven temperature should be kept the same, though baking time will change from anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the recipe. You'll have to keep an eye on them!

Got more questions on how to bake a cake? Leave it for us below in the comments section, and your question could be featured in our next Q&A with the Test Kitchen!

And to help get you started, here are our own Test Kitchen's top cake collections:

Keep the Oven Closed

Jeremy Woodhouse / Holly Wilmeth / Getty Images

Definitely keep the oven closed. It's tempting to look inside to see how things are going, but it's just not a good idea. If you're baking a cake, the influx of air, or even the vibration of the oven door, can cause it to fall. Not to mention, you let all the heat out, which is obviously going to affect the baking.

Some cooks recommend rotating pans of cookies midway through cooking, but the benefit you gain isn't worth the lost heat. Keep it closed.

10 Baking Tricks and Tweaks Only a Recipe Developer Would Know

Well, until now. Here's how a pro baker makes any cookie, cake, brownie or pie even better.


Processed with VSCO with 6 preset

Photo by: Wanwisa Hernandez / EyeEm/Getty

Wanwisa Hernandez / EyeEm/Getty

Ever wondered why that cake you just baked is not as fluffy as advertised? Or why the "chewy" chocolate chip cookies you threw together are kind of cakey? Or why that whipped cream topping on your no-bake pie is looking kind of floppy? As a seasoned recipe developer, I get it. It’s frustrating when you bake something hoping for a certain texture or look, and the recipe just doesn’t deliver.

I've learned a few bake-saving tricks over the years. I incorporate them into my own recipes, but they're handy to have in your back-pocket when I'm baking from someone else's recipe too — and I want you to know these secrets too! I turn to these tricks to ensure that whatever I'm baking, comes out looking and tasting exactly as I intended. You’d be surprised at how simple it is to twist and tweak cookies, pies and cakes to elevate from "meh" to "mmmmm."

An extra glug of vanilla and sprinkle of salt go a long way.

Vanilla and salt boost flavor, but, funnily enough, not their own. Instead, they enhance the other flavors in your treat, making a lemon cake taste more deeply of lemon, and a brownie more intensely of chocolate. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla, try doubling it. And an extra 1/4 (or 1/2) teaspoon of salt is just the pop you didn’t know your chocolate chip cookies were missing.


Freshly melted butter in a skillet

Photo by: Candice Bell/Getty

Substitute browned butter for regular when you’re feeling fancy — and make it in your microwave, to boot.

Browned butter has a lovely nutty, bold flavor and is spectacular when added to cookies, frostings, blondies and — my fave — crispy cereal treats (let the browned butter solidify if your recipe doesn’t call for melted butter). Although you’re probably used to browning butter low and slow on the stovetop, consider making it in your microwave it’s foolproof, hands-off and saves you from washing a saucepan. Microwave on high for 5 to 8 minutes, in a large, covered microwave-safe container (that will do double duty as your mixing bowl).

Add an extra yolk (or two!) to cake batter if you know what’s good for you.

Yolks contribute fat and are excellent emulsifier. Adding an extra one or two to cake batter amps up the moistness and tenderness of your crumb — leading to a cake with a crazy-delicious, soft texture.

Substitute ice water (yup, you read that right) for the milk or buttermilk in a cake recipe.

Ice water (like egg yolks!) contributes moisture and a lovely mouthfeel to a cake made with butter. Although the science behind this tip is a little sketchy, allegedly the temp of the water allows the butter to melt more slowly in the oven, creating a lusciously moist cake with a soft crumb. If you’re baking a chocolate cake, ice water plays a different role, amplifying the cake’s chocolatiness. Because it has no flavor, water doesn’t interfere with the pure taste of the cocoa powder and/or melted chocolate in your cake (the way that the same amount of milk or buttermilk might do) and is a great choice for all the chocolate-lovers in the house.

Use oil instead of butter for a cake that comes together quickly and stays moist and tender on the countertop for days.

An oil-based cake is truly a treasure. Not only does it save you time, as there is no softening of butter (or, uh, forgetting about softening of butter), but there is no creaming of butter either. Plus an oil-based cake stays incredibly moist (oil does not solidify at room temp, the way butter does) and thus can be baked on a Tuesday and enjoyed on Friday. Use 3/4 as much oil (like vegetable or a mild olive oil) as you would butter. So, if a recipe calls for two sticks of butter, substitute with 3/4 of a cup of oil). You may substitute all of the butter with oil, or just a portion. Some cakes will have less lift and be less fluffy if made with oil, but what they lose in stature, they will make up for in tastiness.

Omit an egg white when making cookie dough if you are on team chewy.

As mentioned above, yolks are golden (pun intended) when baking cakes, due to the moisture they contribute. But they also play a role when baking chewy cookies. Cookies with egg whites tend to be a bit more dry and cakey than those without. If you omit one of the egg whites when making your dough, (substituting a tablespoon of water or milk to make up for the loss of liquid) and add just the yolk, you will be rewarded with a fudgy, dense and chewy gem of a cookie.


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