Did you know that baking a cake from scratch is simple and easy? Here are 10 baking tips for successfully baking a perfect cake from scratch. Also included is a recipe and step-by-step instructions to guide you through.
Table of Content
- Why bake a cake from scratch?
- 10 baking tips to bake from scratch
- 1. Have your ingredients ready
- 2 - Measuring ingredients
- 3. Temperature of ingredients
- 4. Don't over or under mix
- 5. Prepare your cake pans
- 6. Cake strips and heating cores
- 6. Oven rules
- 8 - The "cake done" test
- 9. Cooling the cakes
- 10. Storing the cakes
- Ingredients and substitutes
- How to bake a cake from scratch
- Printable Recipe
- Join the conversation
I have been baking since I was a little girl alongside my mom. Spending hours in the kitchen with mom, while she created all her orders was fun. She always baked from scratch. So, for her, there were no shortcuts. Even, if she needed cake flour she made it herself. She taught me the basics and that has been my foundation all these years. Over the last several years, I've shared with you 100s of cake recipes, from coffee cakes, layer cake, bundt, etc., in all three blogs. And guess what? Each and every cake is baked from scratch.
Why bake a cake from scratch?
The truth is, baking a cake from scratch is easy. It really is. I think the real problem is that people perceive it as hard. Otherwise, why would there be so many box mixes out there? Right? I don't use box mixes, and yet I can't think of how it would be any easier than baking a cake from scratch.
First of all, let's look at the ingredients in a basic cake - butter, sugar, flour, leavening, and liquid. I bet these are ingredients you already have on hand. So, in truth, the box mix is an extra ingredient that you need to buy. So how it is easier? Let me know in the comments.
And yet, baking is a science, each ingredient plays an important role and has the ability to alter the end product. Hence, it requires a specific process and procedure that we must follow to get the best results.
10 baking tips to bake from scratch
Now, I know that there are many articles out there that give you a long list of baking tips and no explanation as to why. That changes today.
In this post, I share with you my 10 baking tips. And I will tell you exactly why you should or should not do something. So, no more following blind rules.
In fact, once you understand these tips they will come to you naturally. Understanding your ingredients and the baking process is a great way to really become a good baker.
So, let's start with the baking tips.
1. Have your ingredients ready
This is often the reason for cake disasters.
- Always prepare all your ingredients on the table before you start mixing. That way you won't forget anything. And, you won't over or undermix ingredients while trying to look for something.
- Follow the steps mentioned in the recipe. There is a reason why a recipe says - to preheat the oven, prepare your baking pans, etc. This gives you just enough time for preheating, measuring, sifting, creaming, etc.
2 - Measuring ingredients
Always measure the ingredients properly. And the best way to do that is to use weight measurements, not volume. If the recipe calls for one cup, then use one cup, not a few tablespoons more or less. It makes a big difference.
For example- A few extra tablespoons of flour can make your cake dense, and crack on top. While a few tablespoons less can cause the cake to sink.
Also, if we both scooped a cup of flour, guess what, they wouldn't weigh the same. So, the best way to ensure you have the right amount is by weight rather than volume. Read measuring ingredients by weight and volume in more detail.
3. Temperature of ingredients
Most people never realize that this makes such a huge impact on baking. Not just with cakes but also with pastry, bread, and other baked goods. And yet, it's very critical to cakes. There is a reason why a recipe calls for room-temperature ingredients.
- Butter - If the butter is not at room temperature it will not cream well with the sugar and will stay lumpy. And, if it won't cream, it won't' become light and fluffy.
Pro tip - To thaw butter quickly, don't put it in the microwave. Instead, invert a warm glass bowl over it. It takes about 5 to 7 minutes to thaw.
- Eggs - Start at room temperature. This will help them combine well with the rest of the ingredients and not give you a curdled batter.
Pro tip - If you need to separate eggs, separate them when they are still cold. Eggs separate better when they are cold but whip better when they are warm 😉.
- Sugar - Use finer or small-grain sugar that will cream well. Since coarse granulated sugar takes longer to cream and ends up staying grainy or warming the butter too much.
Pro tip - If you cannot find fine-grain sugar just pulse the coarse sugar in a food processor for a few seconds.
4. Don't over or under mix
I know this is very confusing. What does it mean to overmix or undermix a cake? How do I know when it’s enough? And, no it has nothing to do with your hand mixer, stand mixer, or if you use a whisk or spatula. But, it has to do with the ingredients and how they blend together or how they change when combined with other ingredients.
Most recipes will tell you how long to mix. And yet, if you’re still not comfortable, use a kitchen timer. (I do it all the time, mostly because I’m multitasking).
Most standard cakes have a simple formula:
- Cream the butter and sugar - You will know when this it's done because it will appear light, fluffy, and creamy. (Usually about 2 to 3 minutes.) When overmixed, the butter will get softer and soupy rather than creamy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, and incorporate each egg well. What it means is, to add each egg at about 20-sec intervals, and combine the first until no yellow is visible. Then, add the next one, and so on. It is important to mix the eggs well as this can give your finished cake that light and airy texture we all love. When you overmix, the batter will curdle or separate.
Pro tip - The batter is still good to use. Just add a tablespoon of flour and continue to mix (you probably just lost a little volume - but no biggie).
- Adding the dry and wet ingredients - Always alternate the dry and wet ingredients, starting with the dry and ending with the dry (dry/wet - dry/wet-dry). It is important to combine them until they are incorporated completely. But, this is where we do not want to overmix. When overmixed, we activate the gluten in the flour, which makes the cake dense (sometimes chewy).
5. Prepare your cake pans
There is nothing worse than to have your cake stuck to the pan. Is there? All that hard work! But, what is the best way to prep your pans?
- You can buy a special spray for baking, which is a combination of flour and oil. But, the simplest is of course to brush the pan with butter and coat it with flour. Shake the pan so the flour coats the surface properly then tap the pan over the sink to shake out the excess flour. It is important to tap out the excess flour otherwise it can affect the texture of the crumb of the cake.
- For me, the rule of thumb is to grease the pan and line it with a piece of parchment paper on the bottom.
- In some cases, if you do not prepare the sides of your pan, it can affect the rise of your cake. So, when necessary, I use the same approach: grease and line with a piece of parchment paper on the sides as well. And at other times, I will use an oil spray for the sides and its good to go.
- In addition, always fill your pan ⅔ full leaving enough room for the cake to rise.
6. Cake strips and heating cores
- Cake strips - As a cake decorator I hated domes! Why? Well, it had to be cut away, which means less height on my cake, especially my layer cakes.
You can buy these ready-made cake strips, which saves you a lot of hassle but you can make your own cake strips using paper hand towels and aluminum foil.
- Heating core - You don't need these for all cakes but they are a huge advantage for larger or deeper cakes by helping them bake evenly.
You see, the cake bakes from outside in. So, with large cakes, the center is still baking while the outside is already baked and starts drying out. But with a heating core, you are also baking from the center. Cool trick! I use large flower nails as a heating core.
6. Oven rules
- Oven temperature
- When baking, the oven's temperature is very important and can affect the end result of your baked goods. I know most professionals recommend buying an oven thermometer. It is a great investment. Having said that, if you do not own one, then keep track of your oven.
- For example, if your recipe says to cook for 20 minutes, but your cake is done in 15 or 30 minutes. If this happens, often you can estimate how much hotter or cooler your oven is. Also, you can call the technician to calibrate the oven. Or next time, make the adjustments accordingly and keep track again.
- Never open the oven door
- Every oven has a glass door for a reason, so you can look through it. So, NEVER open the oven door. Why? It instantly reduces the temperature of the oven by 25%, which can be very critical to some cakes. In fact, it can cause a cake to sink by deflating all the air pockets you incorporated in the mixing process.
- As a rule of thumb, never open the oven at least for the first 80% of the baking time. Most recipes will tell you how long to bake your cake.
- In addition, a great indicator is the cake aroma from the oven when the cake is almost close to being done.
- Always preheat your oven
- A good practice is to have your ingredients ready, switch on the oven and start mixing. This gives you approximately 15 minutes of preheating time.
- If you forget, it is often better to delay the baking than to put the cake in a cold oven. Why?
- A cold oven will melt the butter in the batter making a greasy cake.
- Also, it will deflate all the air pockets you worked so hard to incorporate into the batter.
- Never overcrowd the oven
- First, it reduces the temperature of the oven and restricts air circulation. For example, the temperature of a room with 4 people will be higher if the same room now has 10 to 12 people. Right?
- Overcrowding the oven can cause similar problems from uneven baking as well as sinking. Hence, it's best to place the cake on the middle rack and away from the side of the oven. Also, make sure the pans do not touch each other when baking.
8 - The "cake done" test
- The toothpick test - My mom swore by the toothpick test. Poke a toothpick or cocktail stick into the cake and take it out. If the toothpick comes out clean without any cake batter, and you feel no moisture, the cake is done. If not, give it a few more minutes and then test again.
- Bounce back - Another indication when a cake is done is that the cake bounces back. Meaning, that if you press on the top of the cake it will spring back up. While this is a good indication it should be used as a secondary option not the primary method of testing.
- Cake leaves the sides of the cake - Another indication that the cake is done is that it leaves the sides of the pan.
9. Cooling the cakes
- Never leave your cakes in the pan for too long after baking. Instead, cool them on the wire rack so air can circulate all around them. Why?
- Leaving your warm cake in the pan for a long can cause some cakes to sink. Especially the light and airy ones. In particular, cakes like angel food and genoise need to be taken out of the pan as soon as they are out of the oven so that they do not sink.
- Also, leaving the cake in the pan can cause the steam to cool down in the pan, which can make the cake wet, damp, and sometimes greasy.
- Instead, invert the cake from its pan onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely. If you have prepared your pans properly, this will be an easy job.
10. Storing the cakes
After the cake is done, no matter how tired you are always store your cakes correctly.
- Leaving the cakes open on the counter can cause the cake to dry out with the air. So, wrap them in plastic.
- If you plan to keep the cake in the fridge, wrap it well in double plastic. The fridge sucks up moisture and cakes can dry out easily. (keep a slice of bread open in the fridge and see how dry it becomes in a few hours - that's what happens to cakes too).
- If you must leave your cake for longer, wrap it well and keep it in the freezer. The freezer does a wonderful job of keeping the cakes moist.
- And, always cool cakes completely before you frost them otherwise the frosting will melt on warm cakes.
Ingredients and substitutes
A great way to become a better baker is to take a moment to understand your ingredients. That is why in every recipe I have a section dedicated to ingredients and substitutes.
When you take a moment to think about what this ingredient is, or how this ingredient works, you are already on the path to becoming a good baker. I don't plan to give you the whole history or encyclopedia, and yet here is some background information that will help you better understand your cake ingredients.
First of all, a cake has mainly 5 basic ingredients that are used in almost all basic cakes. As you explore more recipes, you will learn how these can be used in many ways to get different outcomes. My mom would refer to this as playing with your ingredients. She'd smile and say: "have fun and let's see what happens."
- Flour - Have you ever wondered how this single ingredient can be used in different recipes, and yet produce very different outcomes?
- From wonderful, flaky, tender pie crust to dense chewy bread? Read - Baking basics - how flour affects our baking. And
- Have you heard that cake flour can give delicate texture cakes with a soft crumb? Have you wondered which cakes are better with cake flour while others are better with all-purpose flour? Read - Baking basics - homemade cake flour and substitutes.
- Fat - Most bakers don't realize that fat can make a huge difference in their baking. Whether it's the type of fat or the temperature at which it is used. Most cakes use butter or oil. And while butter is better for flavor in some cakes oil is better for texture. Read more - Baking basics - how butter affects our baking.
- Eggs - Eggs add structure in the form of protein and help balance the texture when combined with flour and fat. Also, egg yolks contain emulsifiers that give a thick and cohesive batter helping to keep all the ingredients together. Read more - Baking basic -how eggs affect our baking.
- Sugar - While sugar is used to add sweetness to cakes it also adds structure, texture, color, and flavor. So, often, you will get a recipe that calls for white sugar, brown sugar, dark brown sugar, etc. They all provide a different depth of flavor to your baked goods apart from their sweetness.
Did you know that sugar is a wet ingredient not dry? Yes, it is often referred to as a wet ingredient in baking. Because when heated it's in a liquid state. Read - Baking Basic - How sugar affects our baking.
- Leavening - These are an essential part of baking. And too much or too little can create different results. Leavening agents release carbon dioxide gases into the cake when mixed into the batter. This helps the batter rise. Also, it gives a light and airy texture when combined with eggs, sugar, and flour. It is very important to follow the exact measurement of the leavening agent in your recipe. Too much of it can cause very undesirable results in your baked goods, including a dry after-taste when too much is added. Read - Baking Basic - Baking Powder vs Baking Soda
- Liquids - The added moisture to the cake batter not just adds flavor but also helps hydrate all the ingredients. The liquid in cakes can be from simple water, milk, juices, or thick sour creams. And the liquid helps create steam that expands the air cells and creates that volume we like in light fluffy cakes. In addition, liquid also contributes to tender and moist cakes.
How to bake a cake from scratch
- Preheat the oven to 325°F / 165°C / Gas Mark 3.
- Grease and line 3 x 7-inch round cake pans or 2 x 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
Pro tip - You can also make 4 x 6-inch round cakes for a tall cake.
- Dry ingredients - Vanilla cake - Sift flour with baking powder and salt. And set aside. Chocolate cake - Sift flour with baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Pro tip - We want to add some volume to the batter and the sugar is completely dissolved. So, make sure to cream well.
- Next, add eggs, one at a time. Followed by the vanilla extract.
Pro tip - Ensure the eggs are at room temperature or the batter will curdle. If that happens, just add a tablespoon or two of flour and combine well.
- Then, add the flour mixture and milk alternating in three batches.
Pro tip - Since whipping cream is thick the batter looks a bit stiffer than regular vanilla cake but the cream will melt in the oven so don't add any more milk.
- Scrape the sides of the bowl, ensuring you have a smooth batter. Then, divide the batter between the prepared baking pans.
Pro tip - Use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly in the pan so it bakes evenly.
- Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Pro tip - I like to use cake strips to ensure my layer cakes bake flat.
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then invert on a cooling rack and cool completely. Always cool cakes completely before you decorate or store them away.
Pro tip - Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for an hour. This will make fewer crumbs when torting and leveling the cake.
The best way to bring your new journey of baking from scratch is to start simple. Easy recipes that help you master the basics. For example -
1. Start with my one-bowl vanilla or chocolate recipe. This uses less effort but the cakes will help encourage you.
2. Then start with simple sponge cakes - the recipe is in the recipe card below. This will share the standard baking method used for most cakes.
3. Then, take it. to the next level with cakes like fluffy vanilla cake that need separating and whipping the eggs separately.
Did you know that I have more than 50 layer cake recipes?
First of all, organize yourself. Try not to multitask. (I know, easier said than done).
Also, get all the ingredients ready before you start, so you don’t forget anything.
And remember, baking is food science. While in regular cooking you can always add more salt or have the luxury of forgetting something. In baking, each ingredient has a key role and can affect the end result of your hard work.
Finally, baking can be fun and exciting; it all depends on how you approach it.
So take care of the basics and the rest is fun.
There are a few things you can do to make your cakes light and fluffy.
1. Cream the ingredients such as butter and sugar properly.
2. Add eggs one at a time.
3. Don't overmix once you add the dry ingredients.
4. Whipping the eggs separately to add more air into your batter.
5. Often we, separate the eggs and whip the egg white meringue to make a fluffy cake.
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- My cake is too soft and breaks - Adding too much flour or adding less butter and eggs can cause the cake to be very dry and crumbly. This is why always follow the recipe correctly.
- How do I avoid overmixing cake - Overmixing can make cakes dense and chewy.
- Often, the reason could be that the ingredients were not at room temperature. This lead to ingredients not being fully combined.
- Follow the recipe correctly so you know the steps.
- Have all your ingredients ready so you don't go looking for things.
- Do the right amount of creaming, beating, and folding. Do not undermix or overmix.
- The skewer comes out clean but the cake is still wet - There are a few reasons this can happen but the most common culprit is underbaking. Here are some other reasons:
- The oven was too hot so the outside cooked faster leaving the middle still underdone.
- The cake was not baked long enough - follow the time given in the recipe as a guide because every oven is different. The true test is the toothpick test explained above.
- And, yes, you can still put the cake back in the oven to continue baking.
- My cake is too dry - The two common reasons for dry cakes are
- Too many dry ingredients - measure properly.
- Overmixing the cake - activates the gluten in the dough so the flour absorbs more moisture.
- Overbaking the cake - once baked, the moisture in the cake dries out if not removed from the oven in time.
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- Preheat the oven to 325°F / 165°C / Gas Mark 3.
- Dry ingredients - Vanilla cake - Sift flour with baking powder and salt. And set aside.Chocolate cake - Sift flour with baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.2 cups All-purpose flour, 1½ teaspoon Baking powder, ½ teaspoon Salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer hand mixerwith the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.Pro tip - We want to add some volume in the batter and the sugar completely dissolved so make sure to cream well.1 cup Butter, unsalted, 1 cup White granulated sugar
- Next, add eggs, one at a time. Followed by the vanilla extract.Pro tip - Ensure the eggs are at room temperature or the batter will curdle. If that happens, just add a tablespoon or two of flour and combine well.4 large Eggs, 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
- Then, add flour mixture and milk alternating in three batches.Pro tip - Since whipping cream is thick the batter looks a bit stiffer than regular vanilla cake but the cream will melt in the oven. So, don't add any more milk½ cup Milk
- Scrape the sides of the bowl, ensure you have a smooth batter. Then, divide the batter between the prepared baking pans.Pro tip - Use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly in the pan so it bakes evenly.
- Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.Pro tip - I like to use cake strips to ensure my layer cakes bake flat.
Recipe Notes & Tips
Other sponge variations
- Lemon sponge cake
- replace 2 tablespoon milk with lemon juice.
- Add ¼ teaspoon lemon extract along with the vanilla extract.
- Adding 2 drops of lemon yellow food color is optional
- Orange sponge cake
- replace the milk with orange juice
- Add ¼ teaspoon orange extract along with the vanilla extract
- Adding 2 drops of orange food color is optional
- Strawberry sponge cake
- replace the milk with reduced strawberry puree (pulsed in the food processor)
- Add ¼ teaspoon strawberry extract with the vanilla extract
- Adding 2 drops of pink food color is optional
- Fondant cake - This cake can be covered with fondant. It is a butter-based cake and works beautifully in tiered wedding cakes.
- Lighter cake - You can whip the eggs separately to make the cake light and fluffy just as I have done in my recipe for fluffy vanilla cake.
- Celebration cake - this is a simple recipe but can be frosted to make a celebration cake as I did with my Vanilla Birthday Cake
- Freezing the cake - Freeze it on a baking tray for a few hours then wrap well in cling/plastic wrap, followed by the parchment paper and then aluminum foil. Thaw wrapped in the fridge for 24 hours so the condensation will stay on the papers, not the cake.
- Once decorated the cake does not need to be refrigerated.
- It can stay at room temperature for two days or in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Once cut always cover the cut side of the cake with cling/plastic wrap so the cake does not dry out.
Other pan suggestions
- If you don't want to make a layer cake like this,
The nutrition information and metric conversion are calculated automatically. I cannot guarantee its accuracy. If this data is important to you please verify with your trusted nutrition calculator. Thank you