Whether you are new to baking and want to learn how to make a cake or you consider yourself a baking expert... these helpful cake baking tips will make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable and time saving.
The most common cause of a dry cake is overbaking. You really can't go by just the timer. Start checking early. While most recipes tell you to use the toothpick test, there are several other sensory clues to doneness. I find that by the time a toothpick comes out 'clean', the cake is overdone.
The first thing you'll notice is smell. A soon as you begin to smell the cake permeate the room, start checking. The first visual clue I find is when it just starts to pull away from the side of the pan. Don't wait until it's pulled loose on all sides, just the beginning of it pulling loose usually means the cake is ready. Lightly touch the top of the cake with your finger. If it gives slightly, but springs back immediately, it's done. If it doesn't give, it's too late!
The toothpick test is only a last resort. People have different interpretations of what "comes out clean" means. It really means to look for crumbs attached to the pick that are cake-like and not batter-like. You can easily brush them off without getting gooey. If you wait for the toothpick to be totally clean, it's too late.
Here is the perfect substitute for buttermilk.
It could have too much flour. Many beginning bakers start with the 'dip and scoop' flour method. Dipping the measuring cup into the flour container and scooping it out packs in too much flour. This will cause a dense cake. The most correct way to measure flour is by weight. However, if you don't have a kitchen scale, you'll get much better results by stirring the flour in the container to lighten it, then spooning the loose flour into a measuring cup. Level it off with a straight knife.
Over beating is a common mistake by newbies just learning how to make a cake. As a rule, stir in the flour until just combined and smooth. You beat the air in during the earlier stages of creaming the butter, sugar and eggs. Once you start adding the flour & liquid, you want to keep the beating to a minimum to make a smooth batter.
For baking powder cakes, increase the baking powder somewhat.
Separate the egg whites, beat them and fold them in last.
Decrease the amount of sugar in the recipe.
Reducing the shortening will make it lighter & fluffier, but also drier.
Overbaking is a likely cause. Reduce time &/or heat.
There could be too much flour in the cake. Try sifting the flour into the measuring cup and measure it, or simply reduce the amount of flour in the recipe. Increasing the sugar or shortening will make a cake more moist, but will also make it heavier.
When beating egg whites, beat them only until they make soft peaks. If you beat them until they are stiff, the heat from baking will make the air bubbles expand even more and they will pop, deflate and leave cake holes. Mixing too long at a high speed can result in large air holes that cause the cake to fall in the center.
Before cutting or slicing any cake, it must be at least room temperature, not cold. If you have a big serrated knife, you can just cut through the cake with the knife. The easiest way to do this is by placing the cake next to two blocks (anything -- wood sticks, plastic containers, etc...) of equal height that come half way up side of the cake. Rest the knife on those blocks while you cut through the cake. The blocks keep the knife level and results in even layers. You can also do this without blocks. Toothpicks placed as markers around the cake is also a good alternative.
Another easy way to cut thin cake layers is to use floss. Begin by lightly cutting the side of the cake all around the outside. Wrap some floss around the cake (using the cut you made as a guide) and where the ends of the floss meet, pull the ends sideways until it goes through the cake.
There is a cake cutting tool made just for making thin cake layers. It is shaped like a giant cheese slicer.(SEE BOX LEFT) You can choose the thickness of the cut. You place the wire on one side of the cake, and slide the legs back and forth along the table while moving the wire through the cake. I have made 6-layer cakes with this tool. After the cake is cut, I slide flexible plastic cutting boards (not a lot thicker than a couple sheets of paper) between the layers. I then set the layers aside, place the filling/icing on top of each cake layer, and then slide the next layer back on top. It makes the process of how to make a cake much easier.
Shiny metal pans produce the best cakes. Dark non-stick or glass pans absorb heat. Cakes baked in these cake pans might do better in an oven set for 25 degrees lower than recipe specifies.
Spread icing or frosting on the bottom of a cake to keep it from sliding when cake decorating or transporting it to another location. You can also place the cake directly on the serving plate or cake board when turning it over after removing from the oven. The moisture that develops while cooling will anchor the cake to the serving plate.
Eliminate overcooked corners on a cake by using a round pan instead of a square one.
To keep nuts, raisins and other dried fruit from sinking to the bottom of cake batter, toss lightly in flour.
Thaw frozen cakes completely before removing the cake from the box or the taking the covering off. This will prevent condensation from forming on the cake. Condensation will leave water marks on your icing.
Before cake decorating, chill the cake for easier spreading of icing, filling and/or frosting. The cake will be much easier to work with. Apply a thin layer of frosting to the cake and then refrigerate until it is set before applying the final, heavier layer of frosting. This will seal in the crumbs and ensure a clean final appearance.
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