8 Top Tips to Help You Become a Star Cake Baker!

Whether you’re a seasoned baker or just beginning, cakes can be a triumph or a tragedy. If you’re having problems, apart from the cake recipe possibly being a duffer, here are 8 things to check before switching to a different bake.

1.  Pre heat the oven & invest in an oven thermometer

The oven is the first thing to look at if you’re having problems with cakes sinking in the middle, bakes over cooked or under cooked, burning or rising unevenly.

All ovens are different, some run hot, some run cool irrespective of whether you use them on a fan or conventional setting. The best way to test your oven temperature is to put your oven on with an oven thermometer on the middle shelf and see what the temperature read out is after about 1 hour. Keep an eye on it during this time so that you get to know how long the oven takes to come up to heat, whether you have to set the thermostat a little higher or lower to achieve the heat required in the recipe for baking.

This is especially important if you’re working with a stove (eg. Aga etc) because  not only are the various levels in the oven different temperatures, but the temperature will change if the lids have been lifted etc.

If your cakes are rising unevenly, this could be a sign that there is something wrong with the oven element, it’s easy enough to move bakes round half way through cooking, but if the oven is struggling to come up to temperature or very hot and burning things, it’s time for an engineer to test the elements and thermostat.

4. Cooling the Cake

When your cakes come out of the oven, they are still cooking, so let them sit in the tin for a bit before turning out.

6. Helping the Icing Stick

There’s nothing worse when you’ve made a beautiful cake, start to cut it into pieces and the icing falls off. Melt a little apricot jam and brush on to the top of the cake before icing.

This is also important if you’re doing a marzipan layer first.

7. Use solid fat in cakes, not soft spread

Using block butter or margarine in cakes will give a better result as it has a higher melting point than soft, spreadable butter or margarine.

Use it at room temperature or warm it on the defrost setting of the microwave to soften. If the butter or marg is too hard, you’ll find it really hard to beat smooth and may find there are small lumps in the cake mix.

Spreadable fats usually have extra oil or water added to them to make them stay soft straight out of the fridge. While this is fine for spreading on bread or toast, when it comes to a cake it melts too quickly in the oven and can lead to a cake that sinks or has a coarse texture.

2. Preparing Tins

Always prepare your tins before you start measuring and mixing a cake. This is because as soon as you mix your cake together,

a) any raising agent starts to work as soon as it becomes wet.

b) if your recipe is using egg whites to raise the cake, they will lose volume as they sit. Over folding egg whites will also result in a thinner sponge (take a  look at the Folding in Egg whites for hints and tips there).

So, to ensure you have maximum lift and a nice light, airy cake, don’t hang around once you’ve mixed everything together. As quickly as possible, put the mixture into the tin and get it into the oven.

3. Use Non Stick Baking Parchment to Line Tins

If you normally use greaseproof paper to line your tins and find you’re ending up with ragged edges or corners breaking off, switch to non stick baking parchment or re usable liners for lining tins. They will peel off your bakes more cleanly and cakes will have a less crumbly bottom and sides making them easier and cleaner to ice.

5. Avoiding Cooling Rack Lines

If you’ve made a delicate cake, one for a special occasion, or you’re just not going to ice the top and want it to be perfect, avoid the pattern of your cooking rack imprinting on the top of the cake by draping a tea towel over the rack before you turn the cake out.

Another way to avoid the pattern  imprinting is to have two cooling racks. Turn the cake out onto one, put the other over the upturned bottom of the cake, hold both racks firmly, flip over and remove the rack from the top of the cake. This takes a degree of confidence and if you’re not very adept, could end in disaster!

8. Don’t over cook your cake

It’s easy to cook your cake for a bit longer if you lack confidence to know when it’s ready.

Over cooking your cakes will make them dry and crumbly. I always set a timer for 5 minutes less than the recommended cooking time and check them with a skewer in the middle.

Take a look at the outside edge of your cake too. It should be very slightly wrinkled, but not darker in colour than the middle and it shouldn’t have shrunk back from the sides of the tin.

A skewer should come out clean and if you press your fingers very lightly in the middle of the cake it should feel firm.