Everyone knows how to make cake, right? Ingredients come together, oven magic happens and hey presto, cake! The problem is, quite a few of us have a dirty kitchen secret – we can’t actually make a cake. We view dessert making as some sort of strange kitchen voodoo that is best left to experts. Or our adventures in cake baking have left us with flat, inedible brown things that can only be consigned to the garbage. Do not fear though, we’re here to shed a little light on the mysterious art of baking and have you whipping up batter like a pro. Discover everything you need to bake a cake below and unleash your inner baking guru.
Your Baking Toolkit
If a bad workman blames his tools, then a bad baker can blame the ancient scales, leaky cake tin and worn old mixer that makes up their baking kit. It’s worth investing in a few key items before beginning your cake baking journey. These don’t have to be expensive and you don’t need to set your kitchen out like a professional bakery, just have some good quality basics. We’ve outlined your baking essentials below.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Most recipes set out ingredients in these defined measures and having them easily to hand will make your life much, much easier. One of the biggest mistakes when making a cake from scratch is getting quantities wrong, so be prepared with this baking essential. A pair of electric scales can also be a handy addition but measuring cups will normally get the job done.
So, this ranks pretty high on the obvious scale but if you’ve ever wrestled with cake mix in a teeny-tiny, overflowing bowl you’ll know just how important this is. Choose a 5 quart and a couple of 2 ½ quart bowls to get started. Try to pick sturdy designs that won’t buckle in the dishwasher and will sit solidly on kitchen surfaces.
Want to know the secret of how to do cake well? Pretty simply, it’s parchment paper. Trying to persuade a solidly welded cake from a tin is not a fun experience. Parchment paper takes away this pain and opens up a world of smooth edges and easy turnouts. Go buy parchment paper, buy lots.
The world of cake pans is wide and varied. For starters, a 9-inch circular pan and a muffin pan are probably going to meet all your cake baking needs. Yes, the poodle shaped pan is very cool but probably not necessary for a beginner.
A Silicon Spatula and Wooden Spoon
Mixing cake batter with your hands is not advisable. Metal spoons can interact with your baking chemistry. Choose simple but effective mixing tools that get the job done. Silicon can deal with heat better than regular plastic and sometimes for tougher mixes, only a sturdy wooden spoon will do.
A Wire Rack
A well cooled cake is a happy cake. No, really! A wire rack allows air to circulate around your bake effectively and stops the sweaty, heaviness of a cake cooled on a flat service. Your oven may even have an internal wire rack that you can use for this purpose.
A Stand Mixer
This is a sneaky not quite essential, essential. A stand mixer is a piece of kit you’ll often find in baking tutorials and there is no doubt it makes cake baking a whole lot easier. However, if you’re only planning to make a cake once a year it may not be an economical investment. A hand mixer can make a good mid-range option that lowers the amount of cake muscle required.
Simple Cake Recipe
The list of delicious cake recipes is never ending. From Red Velvet to Mississippi Mud it can be hard to know which mouth-watering cake to begin with. Like all new skills it helps to make small steps at first, so learn how to bake a simple cake that you can adapt and embellish. The truth is that most recipes are based on classic quantities so by getting the basics down you’ll have a great foundation for more complex cakes. Try this straightforward cake recipe to start building your cake collection.
Classic American Sponge
This is a hardworking, all round cake that is a treat served as it comes, with a little icing sugar, or filled with cream and fruit for a decadent summer dessert. This mix also works as a delicate iced cupcake at a traditional tea party or baby shower.
1 1/3 Cups Cake Flour (Sifted)
¼ tsp Baking Powder
1 Cup Sugar
6 Whole Eggs (Separated into Yolks and Whites)
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
2 tbsp Water
¾ tsp Cream of Tartar
1 ½ tsp Lemon Zest
1 tbsp Icing Sugar (to dust)
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius)
- Combine the Flour and Baking Powder in a bowl and set aside
- Add 2/3 of the Sugar to the Egg Yolks in a separate bowl and beat together
- Add the Vanilla, Water and Lemon Zest to the Egg Yolks and combine
- In a third bowl whisk the Egg Whites until they become foamy and begin to become opaque
- Add the remaining Sugar and cream of Tartar to the Egg Whites and continue to beat until stiff peaks begin to form
- Slowly fold the Egg Yolk mixture into the Flour and Baking Powder
- Now, slowly add the Egg Whites into the mixture and fold in a little at a time
- When mixture is smooth and combined, gently pour it into a lined 9-inch cake pan
- Bake for around 25 mins or until Cake springs back to the touch and a knife or tooth pick, comes out clean
- Allow Cake to cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with Icing Sugar whilst still just warm to serve
Quick Cake Tips
You have your tools and some amazing recipes to try, what’s next? Before you fire up the oven there are a few baking secrets that can help you create a cake that tastes great and looks amazing. Follow our easy tips below to make sure your cake is a baking hit.
Check Your Ingredient List (Twice!)
There is nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a recipe only to find you are missing an important ingredient. Make sure you have everything on your baking list before you start breaking eggs. It’s also useful to check that your ingredients are in good shape and in date.
Keep Decoration Simple
Novice bakers often make the mistake of thinking that complicated decoration equals an awesome cake. When you bake a cake, simplicity can often be more effective than overdone design. Before you begin wielding your piping bag, remember that bad decoration can ruin the best cake. Fresh fruit, icing sugar and a clean finish are simple ways to create a great looking cake.
Use Room Temperature Ingredients
If you’re grabbing your butter and eggs straight from the fridge, you could be ruining your rise. Ingredients at room temperature create an emulsion that holds on to air. This air expands in the heat of the oven, creating light and airy cakes. Set out your ingredients 30 minutes before you bake for the best results.
Grease or Line Pans Carefully
As with most things, preparation in baking is key. Failure to grease or line your pan, baking tray or mould will undo all the hard work you have put into your cake. Always take a few minutes to prepare your pan before you begin to bake.
Use Accurate Measures
When is a cup not a cup? When you dive straight into your bag of flour or sugar and take out a heaped, over packed measure that changes every time. Take a careful scoop of your dry ingredient, ensure it’s not compacted and level off the measuring cup with a spatula or knife. This will ensure perfect proportions and an awesome tasting cake.
Use an Oven Thermometer
Your oven is probably lying to you. It turns out that all ovens aren’t created equal and many, many models aren’t completely accurate when it comes to temperature. Accuracy is really important for creating the best cakes, so pick up a specialist oven thermometer and make sure you are baking at just the right heat.
It’s so tempting to have a sneak peek at your beautiful cake. And it’s so easy for one peak to turn into five. This reduces your oven temperature, creating an uneven rise which makes for close textured, unappetizing cakes.
Learning how to make a cake from scratch is one of those life lessons that will always pay dividends. Whether you’re impressing at a work bake sale or making a special cake for the one you love, great baking always brings a smile. And the big secret is, there is no big secret, just simple guidelines and great recipes. Grab your apron, roll up your sleeves and follow our easy guide to start creating all kinds of baked deliciousness.
What are you waiting for? Go bake a cake. Scratch that, go bake a great cake.