Cakes are a hobby of mine, and I would love for you to check out my cakes tab to see some of my work. I have been a student of cake making, reading a lot and asking professionals for advice. I also love to get the kids involved in my cake making adventures, and I think it’s a great way to bond with your kids and teach them their way around the kitchen. Of course, since I’m working on being more intentional in my parenting, they are even more involved then they have been in the past. So, today we worked on making cakes together. I thought I would give a quick cake tutorial for anyone checking in here that has been intimidated by the cake process. I call it Cake Making 101, and it is the basics of learning to bake and decorate a cake. Cake Making 201 will teach more about fondant decorating.
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One way to get a great cake is start out with an amazing recipe. I want to give you a few of my favorite recipes here:
White Velvet Cake (This is the one I use the most.)
My Favorite Chocolate Cake
Mild Coconut Cake
Red Velvet Cake
Best Buttercream Frosting Recipe (This is my go-to most of the time.)
Salted Caramel Buttercream
Trophy Cupcakes Buttercream Recipe
I don’t generally do this, but you can add a simple syrup to add moisture to your cake. I think my cake recipes stand well on their own, but many cake makers do this step. To use a simple syrup, wait until cake and syrup is cool and brush the cake.
Tip #1: The first piece of advice I have for baking is to measure everything accurately. I think that’s the biggest mistake of those who say they can’t bake. Level everything off to the exact top of your measuring cups and follow the recipe to the T.
Tip #2: All ingredients should be at room temperature.
Tip #3: I trace a circle around the cake pans onto parchment paper. Cut out the parchment circles. Grease and flour the sides and then stick the parchment paper on the bottom of the pan. This ensures an easy “out of the pan” experience.
Tip #4: I like to put both pans on a kitchen scale to make sure I have even batter amounts in both pans. This will yield cakes the exact some size.
Tip #5: I also use Wilton’s “Bake Even Cake Strips.” This is a strip you wet with water and then attach around the edge of your pan. It cools the side of your pan so that the cake bakes more evenly, and you don’t get as much of the dome shaped cake.
Tip #6: You’ll want to test your cake in the center with a toothpick to insure it comes out clean. Also, if you press on the center lightly with your finger, it should spring back nicely. Once the cake is finished, take it out of the oven and set on top of a cooling rack to cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
Tip #7: I then lay paper towel on my cooling rack. The paper towel is there to avoid having the cake get the lines from the cooling rack imprinted on it. Put a small knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake from the sides if needed. Next, put the cooling rack with paper towel over your pan and flip the cake out of the pan. I let the cake sit until completely cooled.
Tip #8: Level off the cake with serrated knife or cake leveling tool, one of my favorite cake tools. They also make a serrated level tool, but I have never used that. Having level layers is key to the stability of your cake.
The top of the cake is great for “quality control.” Corban gave this one a thumbs up.
Tip #9: Put your cake on a cardboard cake round the size of your cake.
Tip #10: I then freeze my cakes. Freezing them insures they are cooled completely, helps retain moisture and makes them easier to frost. It is also convenient, as you can make your cake in advance. I wrap them in plastic wrap (I was out, so I used a Ziploc bag here), and then I wrap them in foil and label them with a Sharpie. I put them in the freezer for at least one night, but they can be frozen for up to 3 months. If you don’t want to freeze, make sure they are cooled completely (experts say one day) before you frost.
Tip #11: I frost my cakes straight out of the freezer. Take a bunch of your frosting out of the main bowl and put it in another bowl. This becomes the bowl you don’t mind getting crumbs in.
Tip #12: Add your filling. I just put my frosting in the center of this one, but you can add a homemade filling or even use pudding as a filler. If you are doing a filling other than just your buttercream, you can create a dam around the outer circle of your cake by piping out your frosting using a large tip. Then, you put the filling in the center.
Tip #13: Put your other layer on the top. Make sure it is level at this point with your eyes or a small level you can put on top. If it is not level, you can add more of your frosting to your inner layer level to build up one side.
Tip #14: Next, do your crumb coat. That is the main reason you have a bowl set aside. This process will get all your crumbs on your cake spatula (an essential tool, if you ask me), and you don’t want your crumbs getting in your main bowl of frosting, which acts as your final coat. You’ll take a large cake spatula and spread frosting around the top and side of your cake. This will be a very thin layer of frosting. It’s called a “crumb coat” and basically seals all of your crumbs to the cake. It won’t look pretty, but don’t worry about that. Put this cake in the refrigerator to solidify the base/crumb coat. Another tip (not shown) is to add parchment strips under the edges of your cake while decorating. This makes for easy clean up because you can just pull the strips away and leave a clean dish underneath.
Tip #15: After it’s been in the refrigerator a little bit, I pull it out to do one last thin coat. You can use your cake spatula or a frosting smoother. This is much easier to do when you have a revolving cake stand. Because I’m doing fondant on this cake, the outer edge doesn’t look super presentable at this point. However, I do try to get it really smooth so that imperfections don’t impact the quality of the fondant job that will be done.
Tip #16: If you are just doing frosting, you can add more layers in this way and smooth as you go. I have a great respect for people who are good at making a perfect frosting layer because it’s really hard. One technique that has helped me is to have a glass of hot water. I continually dip my cake spatula and wipe it off with a paper towel – keeping it clean and warm. Another technique I’ve used is the “Viva” paper towel method. You set the smoothly frosted cake in the refrigerator to set. Then, you put a “Viva” paper towel over the top and sides and smooth with a fondant smoother.
I hope this tutorial has been helpful as you set off on your cake pursuits. Have fun with it.
Please see my post Cake Decorating 201 for more great cake decorating techniques, tricks and tips.