Cake

Follow These 10 Steps to Bake Your Best Cake Yet

July  6, 2015

Follow Alice's 10-step guide and your cake will turn out better than you ever expected.

Whether you're making a towering skyscraper of buttercream or a one-bowl wonder, baking a cake is an investment—in time, in ingredients, and in pride. And with so much on the line, it's only logical that you do everything you can to guarantee that your cake is realized as slices on plates rather than scraps in the trash can.

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With tips from Alice Medrich, baking expert extraordinaire, you—and your cake—are in good hands. From the recipe you choose to the time you allow your cake to cool before digging into it, Alice's 10-step program will help ensure your cake (and your ego) remain intact. 

Here's what to do:

1. Pick a reliable recipe from a book, website, or author you trust, and make sure you're using that book—its front matter, its headnotes, and its ingredient list—as its meant to be.

2. Before you get started, adjust your recipe to fit your pan size if necessary. You don't want to bake a 10-inch round cake in an 8-inch round pan.

3. Figure out what you need to do to prepare the pan: Depending on the recipe, you may leave the pan bare, line the bottom with parchment and grease the sides, or grease and flour the whole pan. 


4. Properly position your oven racks. If you're baking one cake, position the rack in the lower third of the oven. If baking two cakes on multiple racks, position one rack in the upper third and another in the lower third. Rotate the pans from upper to lower and from back to front a little over halfway through baking time.

5. Make sure your leaveners are fresh. It's more important to be vigilant with your baking powder than your baking soda.



6. Make sure your ingredients are at the temperature specified in the recipe. Cold butter and eggs and no time to wait for them to warm up? No problem. There are fast and safe ways to bring these ingredients up to room temperature.


  
7. Use a scale to measure your ingredients—especially non-wheat flours. (And make sure that scale is accurate!) 

If you're not using a scale to weigh flour, it's especially important that you're measuring the flour the right way: Never shake or tap the measuring cup to settle the flour, or you may end with a dense, heavy cake.



8. Check to make sure your cake is finished before you take it out of the oven. Alice recommends a toothpick rather than a metal cake tester.

9. It will be hard to wait, but you'll need to cool your cake according to the recipe's instructionsMost cakes baked in parchment-lined pans can be cooled entirely in their pans on cooling racks. Don't cool the cake on the stove—it doesn't make sense to cool a cake in the warmest place in your kitchen.


10. You're so close to victory! Don't ruin your cake when you remove it from the pan. Detach from the sides of the pan using a knife or spatula, then cover the pan with a rack, hold the rack and pan together, and flip the everything over. Remove the pan and peel off the parchment liner. To turn the cake right side up again, place another cooling rack on the cake, hold the two racks together gently, without squeezing the cake, and repeat the flip.

What are your tips for baking cake? Share with us in the comments below!

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30 Comments

onyia F. October 3, 2018
very helpful!
 
Mary M. March 23, 2018
Jessica-<br />Looks to me like an olive oil cake.<br />https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/olive-oil-cake
 
Jessica March 27, 2018
Thank you Mary. Do you think that's confectioner's sugar on top? It doesn't look like sanding sugar does it?
 
Mary M. March 27, 2018
It looks like confectioner's sugar to me. Sanding sugar would be more sparkly and grainy-looking.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. March 28, 2018
It's actually this cake! https://food52.com/recipes/31073-pear-and-almond-cake
 
Jessica March 23, 2018
Hi. What cake is pictured in the bottom photo? Thank you!
 
Mary M. December 19, 2015
About weights and measures- yes, for heaven's sake, include measurements by weight in ounces and grams! My other favorite baking site (the one with the funky knight on horseback) lets you choose with three radio buttons: Volume, Ounces, and Grams. I was surprised to see that a fantastic site like Food 52 does not do this for their baking recipes. It saves SO much aggravation.
 
Patricia W. September 29, 2015
I love baking cakes. I think the pan is so important. Excellent quality aluminum cake pans (Wilton) are all that I will use. Lately I've taken to baking small 6" layer cakes. They are adorable and people love them. They serve 6 people with cake to spare. I bake the cake one day, and frost it the next. That way I know it is cool enough to frost.
 
As an ex-pat American living in the UK for the past 30 years it amuses and frustrates me to see US recipes in cups. Weight in grams - even somewhat less specific ounces - certainly is nearly foolproof. I painstakingly write all of my blog recipes out in metric, cups and ounces to satisfy my US readers, but I fervently wish everyone would get over their deep-rooted prejudice against metric.
 
Ali July 8, 2015
I love metric.
 
jinal C. July 7, 2015
What I have been doing to measure flour w/o scale, I fluff the flour in the jar its stored and than spoon in to the cup measurement and than run a flat knife to get the leveled flour. My most time consuming portion of baking is finding the right recipe that will work. Once I find them I stick to the fundamentals first and play with variations at subsequent times. And like many self taught bakers, I rely heavily on feedbacks and reviews. It helps in narrowing my choices for recipe testings. And most important thing I believe is the ingredients, it matters the most. Use the best, quality ingredients.
 
Ann-Marie D. July 7, 2015
Hi Sara Jampel - I love food52. I wonder if you can spread the word to include all the recipes in grams, at least for all pastry-type recipes as a requisite for publishing. You have real die-hard chef/cooks/foodies, and I´m quite surprised this is not included. This could create a revolution in the US in terms of food preparation and for home chefs. Professional chefs certainly already weigh everything.
 
AntoniaJames July 7, 2015
Hear, hear! ;o)
 
Ali July 7, 2015
Yes please!<br />
 
Ali July 7, 2015
When I see a recipe given using cup measurements, I pass it by and silently curse the writer of the recipe for not giving weights instead!
 
AntoniaJames July 7, 2015
Ali, I have been doing the same thing, except I don't silently curse the author. Often, if I have time, I send a note or make a comment saying that I'd be interested in trying the recipe if weight measures are tested and included. <br /><br />Incidentally, I have found the BBC's food site, e.g., these from the Great British Bake Off and master classes, including dozens of outstanding recipes by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood - http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/search?programmes[]=b013pqnm and the food pages of The Guardian, to be helpful and interesting resources, with reliable recipes always stated in grams. ;o)
 
Ali July 7, 2015
Thank you for the link Antonia, I will check it out. ;o)
 
cooks4fun July 6, 2015
What about a recipe for the chocolate cake slice? That looks fantastic.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. July 6, 2015
The top picture? If you click on it, you'll see it's a Dark Molasses Cake! Enjoy!
 
cooks4fun July 7, 2015
Ah oops. I didn't notice it was clickable. Thanks!
 
Cate I. July 6, 2015
what is the recipe (link) of the cover photo or the last photo in the article?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. July 6, 2015
https://food52.com/recipes/31073-pear-and-almond-cake
 
Pjarroyo July 6, 2015
Please, please a recipe link to that beautiful looking marble cake in the photo??
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. July 6, 2015
Here it is! https://food52.com/recipes/27467-tiger-cake
 
AntoniaJames July 6, 2015
Please help me understand how there can be a "right way" to measure dry ingredients by volume. Given the huge disparity in grams/cup conversions from one recipe author to another, isn't the only "right way" whatever method was used by the author? Here's just a sampling of the wide range of grams/cup ratios found on this site alone:<br /><br />132 grams per cup (ciabatta by erinmcdowell) https://food52.com/recipes/30564-ciabatta<br /><br /><br />144 grams per cup (Cherry Hazelnut bread by fiveandspice) https://food52.com/recipes/25227-cherry-hazelnut-yeast-bread (instructions say to stir in one cup of flour at 140 grams)<br /><br />140 grams per cup (Pecorino Romano Cake by Sarah Jampel) https://food52.com/recipes/25227-cherry-hazelnut-yeast-bread<br /><br />125 grams per cup (Buttermilk Biscuits by erinmcdowell) https://food52.com/recipes/31811-buttermilk-biscuits <br /><br />150 grams per cup (streusel portion of this coffee cake by Sarah Jampel): https://food52.com/recipes/36588-blueberry-cake-with-peanut-streusel - while the ingredients for the cake itself calls for a 126 grams per cup ratio<br /><br />146 grams per cup (Hotline response to question about how much does 2 1/8 cups of flour weigh)<br /><br />128-130 grams per cup (Monita, in response to Hotline question)<br /><br />And 120 grams per cup: kingarthurflour.com (not on Food52 but mentioned in various Hotline answers)<br /><br />Thank you. ;o) <br />
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. July 6, 2015
There's obviously a lot of disparity in terms of the weight of a cup of flour, and that's why the tip is to use a scale to measure. But, for those who don't have a scale, Alice has tips for minimizing discrepancies.
 
AntoniaJames July 6, 2015
Minimizing discrepancies? I don't understand that. If the person who wrote the recipe did the various things that Alice tells you not to do (which seems likely for those where conversions come in well over 125 grams per cup), then following Alice's tips will actually increase your likelihood of failure, right? ;o)<br />
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. July 6, 2015
I guess it depends on what kind of flour they were using and whether they were writing the recipe for weight or for volume, right? It certainly would help if everything was standardized, but that isn't always possible!
 
AntoniaJames July 6, 2015
All of the recipes noted above involve all-purpose flour. And of course it is possible to standardize, by using weight measures only. I know I'm preaching to the choir. The widely disparate results in weight vs. volume just in those Food52 editorial team examples prove why it makes no sense whatsoever to use recipes stated in volumes. <br />It makes you wonder why there aren't more epic fails. (Believe me, I've had my share, which is why I rarely use any recipe stated in volume only anymore, and why I'm slowly but surely testing and re-testing all of my own recipes, to re-state in grams.) <br />Alice Medrich's suggestion to use reliable recipes is probably the best rule in the lot. ;o)
 
fitzie August 6, 2017
I've been baking for over 60 years with great success using measuring cups. I say if you want to weigh, by all means do it. If you want to use measuring cups, by all means do it.