Here is a large assortment of notes I’ve accumulated over the years for troubleshooting problems and improving results when baking cakes. Keep in mind different recipes will provide different results, but overall I’ve found these do noticeably improve most recipes or make things easier.
- Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of meringue powder to your mix to help it rise a bit higher and make it a bit lighter in texture.
- Add 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin to the batter, helps prevent the surface from splitting or cracking.
- First add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the butter and sugar called for before mixing the rest of the ingredients. Helps make the cake lighter.
- Take your time creaming the butter, beat/cream for at least 5 minutes to get lots of air into the butter. Add the sugar and beat/cream really well again.
- Separate eggs first–beat yolks till golden and creamy then add to the butter/sugar mixture. Beat the egg whites until light and frothy before folding them into the butter mixture.
Keep in mind: Some recipes success depends on a specific ingredient or action. If one of these tips contradicts your recipe, your best bet is to follow what you have.
- Chocolate: Before adding the bicarb required, mix it with a teaspoon of vinegar.
- Dense or Fruit Cakes: Keep a heatproof dish full of water in the oven while baking (replace water if needed to keep it topped up).
- Substitute oil for unsweetened applesauce or plain yogurt. Your measure can be 1:1 or 50/50. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup oil, use 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce. Different types of cakes will offer different results for texture and taste, but a good start would try the 50/50. Not only helps for moister results, also cuts fat.
- Measure all ingredients to exact amounts first, then sift.
Homemade Magic Pan Grease: You can buy Magic Grease but how about making your own, it’s so easy! This is used as a substitute to greasing then dusting with flour when directed to do so.
Keep unused portion in an airtight container and refrigerate to use next time.
- First Version: Mix 1 cup shortening (like Crisco), 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup vegetable oil and apply evenly with a pastry brush.
- Second: 2 cups of Crisco and 1 cup of flour
More greasing tips:
- Apply with a cupcake wrapper, a paper towel, a piece of wax paper, the butter wrapper or a plastic baggy. You could also use a pastry brush.
- Try dusting the tins with a bit of the dry cake mix or cocoa (for chocolate) instead of flour.
- Apply shortening then line with a piece of wax paper to fit the bottom. Re-grease the top of the wax paper. Pour in the batter. To get the wax paper to size, you can either trace the bottom of the tin and cut it out, or after greasing, smooth a sheet of wax paper into the pan (pressing all around the creases), remove the wax paper and cut out along the crease. This is kinda messy though, better to trace then cut it out.
- To cut fat, try skipping greasing the pans even if the recipe instructs to do so. You can just place a waxed paper liner to fit the bottom, then pour in the batter. This will also help remove the finished product cleanly. For high varieties, you’ll want to still grease and flour sides of pans if specified.
Getting It Level
- Fill tins no more than 1/2 to 2/3 full to allow for even rising.
- Once you’ve poured the batter in, wobble the pan sideways a bit so the batter reaches up along each side (with the middle being slightly lower). As it bakes the middle and edges will meet and rise more evenly.
- If it rose high and uneven in the middle, you may need to slice a bit off across the top so it’s level.
- Preheat the oven first before starting, make sure the rack is in the center (unless directed differently) and keep tin in the center of the rack. If you’re baking more than one at a time, keep them at least 2″ away from the walls of the oven and from each other.
Check For Doneness
- Using a toothpick, wood skewer or a piece of raw spaghetti, test for doneness by placing the toothpick into the middle. If it comes out clean, it’s done.
Problems With Sticking To Tin
- Place a thick, clean towel in the kitchen sink and pour a kettle of boiling hot water over the towel to heat it (don’t plug the sink to retain the water, allow it to drain out). Set the pan on the hot towel and leave it for a minute or two, the cake should turn out easily.
- Turn pan over on a sheet of wax paper or a cooling rack. Place a clean, thin cotton towel on top and using a hot steam iron, heat the bottom for a few minutes. The tin should lift off cleanly.
- Cool cakes completely in the pans before trying to remove them. Don’t cool on the stove where there’s heat, they’re best cooled on a rack placed on the counter. Gently insert a knife between the outside of the cake and the inside of the tin. Run it along the edges to loosen things up before turning over.
- When done, take it directly from the oven and place it upside down on the neck of a bottle. This will help prevent the cake from falling as it cools. After 30 minutes, you can turn it over then remove from pan once cooled.
Frosting & Icing
- Don’t attempt to ice it until it’s completely cool. Dust the surface lightly with a pastry brush first, helps reduce crumbs in the icing.
- First ice with a thin layer, then refrigerate (covered). After an hour you can do a complete frosting job. This helps keep the crumbs at bay and your outer frosting layer should be crumb free.
- After frosting, you can use a hair dryer to slightly melt it. This will give things a smooth, glossy look. If you prefer you can use a metal icing spatula or knife first heated by sitting in hot water, wipe dry, then use the heated knife to smooth the icing.
- Have a bag of chocolate chips on hand? Just sit the whole bag in a bowl of very hot water, and mush the bag up every couple of minutes until all the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps. Snip the corner of the bag and squeeze out the melted chocolate directly onto the surface.
- Have two favorite frostings and can’t decide which one to use on a layer cake? Try both! Spread one version on one layer, and spread the other on the bottom of the other layer (you’ll want to flip the bottom ‘up’ when frosting). Then put the layers together. The middle will have a delicious two-flavor surprise :). Can also use this technique when filling the layers with a combination of fruit and whipped cream.
- To help prevent a flaking or cracking, add a pinch of bicarb when mixing the frosting.
- If icing is a bit too thin or runny, lightly dust the surface with flour then spread the icing. This will help hold it in place.
- For single layers, turn upside down before icing so that the top is perfectly flat and even. When icing two rounds or squares, place a layer of frosting on one round, then place the other round upside down on top for a perfectly flat surface.
- Easily Color Shredded Coconut: Shredded coconut can be a nice, decorative touch achieved easily. Simply put the coconut in a clean jar (only one half jar full at a time), add a few drops of food coloring in your choice of color, then cap the jar and shake it until all the coconut is evenly tinted.
- Heat a knife first before cutting for crumble-free slices. To heat the knife, you can run the knife under very hot water then wipe dry with a clean towel.
- Use unwaxed dental floss to slice (great for the gooey or sticky varieties).
- See this page for ways to get more servings and creative slice shapes.
Keep Cut Slices Fresh
Once you start slicing, the exposed or cut sides can dry out quickly. Here’s a way to keep things fresh:
- Wrap any leftovers with a few slices of apple or cubes of sugar or a slice of fresh bread set inside the pan (or in the open space of the plate). Make sure to store it in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic wrap.
- Dust the holder or platter with a bit of confectioner’s sugar before placing the cake on it, this will help keep it from sticking to the bottom.
- Use ingredients that are at room temperature, the butter soft but not melted or oily.
- When mixing sticky, goopy ingredients (molasses, honey, peanut butter), try spraying the measuring cups with non-stick spray first (just lightly). The ingredients will come out easier.
- You can make your own cake flour if you’re in a pinch (see this page), simply add two level tablespoons of corn starch to a one cup measure, then fill with bread flour. Sift three times then use as needed.
- Dust nuts and fruit with flour before adding to batter or try toasting nuts first. You can also just sprinkle the nuts across the top of the batter instead of mixing them in, this way the nuts will toast while baking.
- How To Make Bigger Cakes From Mixes: Add 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp. baking powder to the boxed mix.
- To Clean Edges Of Pan: Dip a raw potato into scouring powder to work on the rusted corners and edges. You could also try using bicarb with a few drops of lemon juice. Source.
And finally–sometimes it seems things just never turn out right. Try running through the following list to see if you can spot what the problem may be. A common issue is that the oven temperature isn’t true to what the dial says. Buy a thermometer, preheat your oven and test.