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Birthday cakes, wedding cakes, gender-reveal cakes, Tuesday afternoon cakes… We never say no to a good cake. But plenty of people we know (good cooks included) are afraid to make a cake from scratch. Keep calm, and read on to avoid common cake mistakes.
Mistake 1: Using the Wrong Pan
There are oodles of different cake pans to choose from-spring form, Bundt, round, square. Plus, all of these different shapes come in different sizes. Our Buttermilk Pound Cake calls for a fluted 10-inch pan, while our Chocolate Bavarian Torte calls for two 9-inch round pans. Even grabbing a 9-inch pan instead of an 8-inch can totally change the texture of your cake.
What to do: Read the recipe carefully and make sure you have the proper pan before you start baking. If you don’t know a pan’s size off the top of your head, use a ruler to measure directly across its open end. (Don’t include the side walls in the measurements.)
Mistake 2: Baking in a Naked Pan
Yeah, we get it, greasing a pan can feel unnecessary, especially if you’re using nonstick. But skip the butter at your own peril: Your cake is very likely to stick, especially to corners and crannies of a pan. Everyone knows the bronzed exterior of a cake is the most delicious part, so you definitely don’t want to lose it.
What to do: Slick the pan with a pat of butter before baking, at a minimum. Or study up on our full guide to greasing a cake pan.
Mistake 3: Using Cold Ingredients
Sure, the recipe says to soften butter, but who’s got the time? The recipe isn’t bluffing, though. Certain ingredients really do perform better at specific temperatures. Room-temperature eggs give cakes more volume. Cold butter won’t fluff up as much when you mix it with sugar. Warm water will activate your yeast. You get the picture.
What to do: Plan ahead and get your ingredients to the proper temp before you bake.
Mistake 4: Scooping Flour from the Bag
It’s easy to dig your measuring cup right into the bag of flour. But this method is so imprecise! It has a tendency to pack the flour down into the cup, turning a 1-cup scoop into 1-½ cups. That will turn into one heavy cake.
What to do: If you bake frequently, invest in a digital scale. By weighing your ingredients, you’ll get the perfect amount every time.
Stuck without a scale? Here are easy ways to measure with cups and spoons:
- Never use a liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients.
- When working with an ingredient like flour, fluff it up inside its container, then scoop out with a smaller spoon into the measuring cup. Level off the cup with a knife so the top is smooth.
- Grease your cups before measuring sticky ingredients like honey. This will help it pour out clean.
Mistake 5: Not Measuring Ingredients in Advance
We’ve all been there: You’re busy cracking eggs, digging through the cabinets for baking powder (or was it baking soda?), and microwaving milk-all while your cake batter is slowly congealing in the mixer. That’s stressful, and a sure-fire way to make a mistake. (Ask me about the time I forgot to put the sugar in my cake.)
What to do: Mise en place! This is a fancy term that means, essentially, get organized. Measure out your wet and dry ingredients in advance. Crack your eggs into a separate bowl instead of right over the batter, so you don’t risk any pesky shells or a bad egg ruining the mix. If you have everything ready to go, mixing the cake together is a snap.
Mistake 6: Under (or Over-) Beating the Batter
When it comes to whipping up the batter, the way you mix matters. Excessive beating will toughen the cake, but undermixing can cause it to crumble.
What to do: Most cake recipes will call for alternating wet and dry ingredients into the creamed fat. This somewhat tedious method helps prevent gluten from forming, which is what causes cake to become tough. Once all the ingredients are in the bowl, mix until they’re just combined.
Mistake 7: Baking on the Wrong Rack
All racks are created equal, right? You just throw the cake in the oven and you’re done. Wrong! Baking on the wrong rack makes the cake cook and brown unevenly.
What to do: For the best bake, position the cake pan on a rack in the center of the oven. This will help it cook evenly and prevent overbrowning on a single side. If you need to use two racks, it’s a good idea to rotate the pans halfway through baking. That means the bottom cake goes on top, and vice versa. Try also to rotate the pans midway through the bake so that the front faces back.
Mistake 8: Baking by Time Only
You’ve set your timer, and when it dings it’s done! No-brainer, right?
Nope. Baking times are guidelines only. In reality, humidity, air temperature, oven temperature and altitude will all impact how long it takes your cake to cook. It might be done earlier or later than the recipe suggests.
What to do: Check your cake for doneness starting five to 10 minutes before the recipe’s baking time suggests. Use the toothpick test: Poke a small hole in the center with a toothpick or a spaghetti noodle. When it comes out clean, your cake is cooked.
Mistake 9: Slicing into a Warm Cake
By the time it bakes, it smells so good, it’s almost impossible to resist digging in.
What to do: Stay strong! Let your cake cool completely. Your cake will continue baking and setting while it’s fresh from the oven, so the final texture and volume will be at their best when it’s cool.
It’s best to cool cakes on a wire rack, which allows air to circulate, preventing moisture from building and rendering your cake soggy.
Mistake 10: Baking with Boxed Mixes
Don’t let us scare you off! Baking a homemade cake is totally doable. Grabbing a box of the pre-made stuff might be easier, but it won’t taste anything like a from-scratch slice.
What to do: Start small with one of our easy cake recipes.