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Secrets for Successful Butter Cakes

Use butter, stick margarine (with at least 80% oil) or shortening. The fat should be softened (at room temperature), meaning it is pliable when touched. Whipped, tub, soft, liquid or reduced-fat products should not be used.

Measure ingredients accurately, using the measuring tools and techniques suggested on pages 7 and 8.

Arrange the oven racks so that the cake will bake in the center of the oven.

Preheat oven for 10 to 15 minutes before baking.

Most butter cake recipes call for creaming the butter and sugar. Beat the softened butter or shortening and sugar with an electric mixer or wooden spoon to a light and fluffy consistency, about 5 minutes.

For better volume, allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using. Or, place eggs in their shell in a bowl of warm water while assembling the remaining ingredients.

Mix dry ingredients together to evenly distribute the leavener throughout the flour. This will ensure that it's evenly incorporated into the batter.

Stop the mixer occasionally - or between additions of ingredients - and scrap the batter down sides of bowl with a rubber or plastic spatula.

It's best to use the pan size recommended in the recipe. For substitutions, check the Bakeware Substitution Chart on page 10. Baking times may need to be adjusted.

For a tender golden crust, use aluminum pans with a dull rather than shiny or dark finish. If using glass baking dishes, reduce the oven temperature 25°.

Grease and flour baking pans for butter cakes that will be removed from the pans. Cakes that will be served from the pans should be greased but not floured. Some cake recipes call for the pan to be lined with waxed paper for easier removal of the cake from the pan. (See Lining a Baking Pan with Waxed Paper.)

Fill pans half to three-fourths full. A thin batter will rise more than a heavy batter, so allow more room for thin batters to rise.

Pour thinner batters into pans, then tap pans on the countertop to remove air bubbles. Spoon firmer batters into pans, then spread gently to even out the batter.

Leave at least 1 in. of space between pans and between pans and sides of oven racks, stagger pans in the oven so that they are not directly over one another. Switch pan positions and rotate pans from front to back halfway through baking.

Use a kitchen timer. Check for doneness at the minimum recommended baking time, then check every 2 minutes after that. Butter cakes are done when a toothpick inserted near the center of the cakes comes out clean. (See Testing Butter Cakes for Doneness.)

Cool cakes for 10 minutes in the pan, unless recipe directs otherwise. Loosen the cake by running a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn out onto a wire rack, place another rack over the cake and flip right side up. Cool completely before filling or frosting unless directed otherwise by recipe.

If a cake sticks to the pan and will not com out when inverted, return to a heated oven for 1 minute, then try again to turn it out.

Use a serrated knife or use a sawing motion when cutting. Warm the blade of knife in hot water, then dry and make a cut. Clean and rewarm knife before each cut.

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