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Baking the Perfect Cake: Must-Have Tips and Tricks

Cake Baking, Parchment, Parchment Paper

All I wanted to do was bake a nice cake – for whatever occasion – but the cake stuck to the sides and bottom of the pan, breaking every step of its way to the cake plate, and I really wanted a cake that was taller than an inch, and the taste? It has to be perfect for serving to guests. Of course I cannot forget the impossible hump that magically appears in the middle of the cake as it bakes – that always makes a cakes appearance breathtaking!

Now is the time to forget about all of these common problems! Here you will find the answers that have worked time and time again for me over the years so that now baking a cake is fun and stress free – like it should be. You will learn everything from how to make the quickest, most delicious cake mix, how much batter to put in the pan, how to eliminate the magical cake hump, and even a no-fail way to cut your cakes for layering.

Tools you will need

First thing is to gather the tools and items you will need. You will need your cake pan(s), parchment paper, measuring cups, dental floss, a pen, small notebook, a rack, and your mixer (hand mixer or tabletop). As far as food supplies go you will need your cake mix, 2 eggs, and water. At this point I would preheat the oven at 325 degrees. Now let’s get those cake pans prepared for the batter.

Preparing the cake pan

Forget everything you have been taught about preparing your cake pan – oil sprays, Crisco, Crisco and flour, butter – you can put them away forever and follow these instructions beginning immediately for a no-fail-no-stick cake! Put parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pan. To do this, take a piece of parchment paper and lay it down on your table so that it curls upwards. Place your cake pan onto the paper with the bottom down on the paper. Now trace around the bottom of the pan so that you have markings on your parchment paper and cut this paper out. Flip the paper over so it now curls down and place this into the bottom of your cake pan. This also allows for any ink that was on the parchment paper to be facing the bottom of your pan and not your cake. At this point you are ready for your batter. It is not necessary to use any other product to be able to get your cake safely out of the pan. I sometimes use Wilton Cake Release product on the sides of the pan, but it really is not necessary. Now let’s mix up some of that delicious cake batter.

Preparing the batter

There are many options these days when it comes to cake mixes. I always use Duncan Hines, but I do not follow the box ingredients. Whether it is the golden butter, yellow, white, or chocolate cake mix flavor, I follow the same recipe. I use the dry cake mix and add 1 and 1/3 cups of water and 2 eggs. I follow the box directions when mixing the batter because you do not want to over mix. The instructions usually tell you to mix on low for 30 seconds so that all of the ingredients get incorporated. The difference is in the second step of the mixing instructions, it tells you how long to mix the batter together once incorporated – follow these instructions off of the box. That’s it, quick and easy.

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How much batter to use?

If you are like most people, you picture your final product being a very light, fluffy, tall, beautiful, and most importantly, delicious cake. One that will warrant compliments all evening long. The fact is that cake mixes aren’t what they used to be. The first thing to making a tall cake is to use enough batter for the size of pan that you are using. Here are the guidelines: 9×13 inch pan needs 7 cups of batter, an 8 inch round = 3&1/2 cups, a 6 inch round = 2 cups, and an 8 inch square cake pan needs 4 cups of batter. These are the 2 inch deep pans and the measurements are for one layer. If you want a two layer cake, you would need to bake two cakes with the measurements listed above. If you have the deeper 3 inch pans you can put enough mix in the pan so that you can torte, or cut the cake in half, and place your filling in it and it would be tall enough. Here is my favorite site for anything dealing with cakes, some of the information differs from what is in the article only because I have taken the classes and have baked over the years to find what works perfectly for my cakes. You can always visit http://www.wilton.com/cake/cakeprep/baking/index.cfm to find answers to any questions you have. They have a forum and everything you need to know about cakes.

Once you have your batter mixed, be sure to use a measuring cup to measure the appropriate amount of batter for your pan size. I have found that one cake mix yields 5 cups of batter. This may not be the same for you so be sure to measure the first time so that you know. Yours may differ based on how long you mix the batter and whether you are using a hand held mixer or a tabletop mixer – I use my tabletop mixer only because it is easier. It was mentioned above to have your oven preheated and your pan prepared; this is because it is best to bake the cake immediately after mixing the batter to get the most uniform size of cake after it bakes. If the batter is left out and then baked, the cake seems to rise, this is not good if you are baking two layers, you will want them to be almost uniform in size for appearance purposes.

Baking the cake

No matter what the box instructions say, I always bake my cakes at 325 degrees. The 9 inch round cake takes exactly 32 minutes to bake at 325 degrees. You can use this as a guideline but once you bake your cake properly for the first time you must take notes so that the next time you bake it will be simple and quick, with no thought or worry involved. It is great to have a small notebook to keep with your baking supplies and keep track of the brand and flavor of cake mix used, how many cups of batter the mix made, what size pan used and how many cups of batter used in the pan, and lastly the time it took to bake. Taking the time to write this information down the first time will make your cake baking not so much of a daunting task but more of a fun adventure. Who needs to worry about cake problems? You should be using the time to think about what to decorate it with instead.

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When the cake is done

Now that 32 minutes has gone by I use a toothpick poked in the middle of the cake to see if it comes out clean. If it does, then the cake is done. Once the cake is out of the oven begin to take a knife and go around the outside of the cake. You will notice that the only part that is stuck to the side of the pan is the very top edge of the cake and your knife should go easily through this. This step is important to getting the cake out of the pan successfully so be sure it is completed. Immediately take a piece of parchment paper and put it right on top of the cake and press it down into the pan so that the top of the cake is completely covered and the parchment paper is sticking up the insides of the pan. Next place the rack upside down on top of the cake pan and using hot pads, flip the cake pan and rack over and place this on the table so that the cake will end up on a piece of parchment paper on the rack. Next begin tapping on the bottom of the cake pan with the back end of a knife, spoon, or whatever is handy. When tapping, you are listening for a hollow sound. A hollow sound means that that part of the cake has released from the bottom of the pan already. Sometimes the middle part of the cake takes a few minutes to release, but just keep tapping until it sounds hollow. Once the cake has completely released from the pan, take hot pads and lift the pan from the cake. Leave the cake here until it is completely cool before icing it. By following the procedures above you are fixing two common annoying cake baking problems. First by immediately putting the parchment paper on top of the cake the hump will be gone by the time the cake cools. That is great! Also, this parchment paper keeps the rack lines from forming on your cake. That part of the cake will be the bottom anyway when icing it, but still, who needs to worry about it!

A few other important tips

Now that you have baked your cake successfully there are still a few important tips that need to be shared to make your life easier. To start off, I feel that layered cakes are so elegant that they are worth taking the time to do, every time. Even if you just fill the inside with the icing you will use to decorate the cake, it will be worth your time. One trick I have learned if you make the tall cake that needs to be cut in half for the filling, is dental floss. I use dental floss to cut the cake in half. I have tried the cake leveler and it is not a bad tool at all, but using floss is much easier for me. You may want to give it a try. Cut a long piece of floss, then starting on the side of the cake opposite of your body make a slight cut in the cake with a knife at the halfway point. Grab the floss at both ends and stick the middle of your string of floss into this cut part. Begin sawing back and forth, slowly bringing the string of floss towards your body. When you are halfway through the cake you need to bring both hands with the floss to the front and criss-cross it, changing hands with each end of the floss. Continue to pull the two ends of the floss towards you until the whole cake has been cut. This makes two equal pieces of cake for you to put your filling in.

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Cake baking products

Now a few words about cake baking products – I highly recommend the Wilton line of products. I say this from personal experience – they give great, consistent results so that you will know what to expect every time you bake. It does not get much better than that, who has time to worry about the little things? You just want to have fun. Now you may be thinking about the cost of the Wilton line of products. The prices are not that bad at all. But, let me share with you how to get them at a price most other stores can’t even beat. Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michaels are your friends! Visit both websites at www.joann.com and www.michaels.com and sign up to be on their mailing list. By doing this you will always have coupons in your email that you can print out and use to get your supplies. With these coupons you will almost always get the products cheaper than at other retail stores. Use the coupons to buy the pans, parchment paper, cake release, and any other products and tools you need for baking and icing your cakes. The emails always have more than one printable coupon so that you can go back to the store several times to get all of the items you need. The coupons are usually for 40% off of any regular price item. If you need parchment paper, go buy just that and use the coupon to get it at a 40% discount. You will find that it will be cheaper than your usual store. Print out another coupon and go back to get the next thing that you need on your list. Also be sure to get on their home mailing list, this will be delivered to your home with more coupons included. The ads that you will find at the stores will not have coupons in them – most of the time anyway.

At this point you should be well armed with the knowledge and tools needed (at a discount) to bake the perfect cake. You know what temperature to bake at, how to prepare the pan, how to make a delicious-tasting batter, and how to torte your cake quickly to fill it in a jiffy. You will no longer have to worry about your cake sticking to the pan and tearing or coming out of the oven one inch thick with a huge hump in the middle. Be sure to print this article, add it to your favorites, email it to your friends – those that you want to be stress-free anyway – and be sure to check for my article on The Perfect Icing and how to decorate cakes.