Don’t you love layer cakes? There’s something about a soft moist cake combined with a thick creamy frosting that brings back sweet childhood memories. And even as we’re all cutting back on sugar these days, there’s a time and place for a great layer cake ~ what would a birthday be without one? Here are my favorite baking tips for making yours the BEST!
The Homemade Strawberry Cake recipe, above, is coming out on the blog this week, (Tip #5 came in handy for this recipe) are you SUBSCRIBED?? Just sign up here to be the first to know when this cake (and all my new recipes) hit the airwaves. You’ll get a special e-book just for subscribers, and you’ll be a part of the inner circle here at tvfgi. Plus it’s free 🙂
Baking Tip #1 : room temp ingredients ~
You’ve probably heard it before, because it’s true. It’s important to have your ingredients at room temperature when mixing up cake batter ~ when soft butter and sugar get beaten together they form an emulsion that traps air, and that makes the most divine texture in cakes. Cold ingredients hamper that process, but no one likes waiting for butter to soften at room temp. Here are my little tricks for warming up your butter and eggs pronto:
- I soften my butter in the microwave all the time, who remembers to put it out the night before? Simply place the cold wrapped stick of butter directly into the microwave and microwave for exactly 5 SECONDS at a time, flipping the stick to the next side after each 5-second interval. Be precise, it takes exactly 20 seconds to get perfectly softened butter with no melting. (Two sticks will take 5 seconds more.) Note: if your butter is wrapped in a foil wrapper, remove it first. You can soften cream cheese this way, too.
- I place my fridge-cold eggs in a bowl of very warm tap water as I’m gathering the rest of my ingredients. Once I’m ready for them, they’ve warmed up.
Baking Tip #2: creaming butter and sugar ~
If you’ve ever made a cake in a stand mixer and had trouble with the softened butter collecting at the bottom of the bowl and not getting mixed in properly, I’ve got an easy fix.
- Add the sugar to the bowl of the mixer first, and then your softened butter. Ta-da! No issues with a buttery bottom.
Speaking of creaming butter and sugar, do you say “good enough” after about 30 seconds of mixing?
- I definitely recommend going a full 4-5 minutes, set a timer, it makes a huge difference in the texture of your cakes!
- I’ve also beat reeeeeaaaaalllly well after each egg addition, which helps add extra air and volume into your batter. This translates to a better cake.
BLUEBERRY LEMON LAYER CAKE
Baking Tip 3: pan prep ~
We all know prepping our baking pans is essential for baking cakes, but I always go the extra step and use parchment paper on the bottom.
- Butter the whole pan, and then add a circle of parchment paper to the bottom of the pan. Your cake will never stick.
Do you worry about getting equal amounts of batter divided between your pans? It’s not rocket science and you don’t need a scale.
- Eyeball it, and if one pan looks fuller, steal a little and add it to the other pan until they look even.
ORANGE CREAMSICLE CAKE
Baking Tip #4 : check your oven temperature (and thermometer!) ~
Oven temperature is something I talk about all the time on the blog ~ it’s surprising how many people’s ovens are off by a little bit (including my own!), and what a difference that can make in baking.
- Get an oven thermometer and checking your oven temperature and making adjustments if necessary. But don’t stop there, oven thermometers need to be replaced regularly (like mascara) so have a spare handy.
CLASSIC VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE
Baking Tip #5: how to fix runny frosting without adding more sugar ~
A runny frosting can be so frustrating. No one wants their cake layers sliding around! I find cream cheese frostings and fresh fruit frostings are especially prone to getting a bit runny, and adding more sugar can dull flavors and make them too sweet. Luckily you’ve got a few options:
- If you’re happy with how your frosting tastes, it’s a good idea to refrigerate it anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more. Most of the time, your frosting ingredients are at room temperature when you are blending them, and sometimes all it takes is a bit of chilling to get it to the right consistency. Most frostings can survive a bit of time in the fridge just fine ~ just give them a good stir when they come out of the fridge. If you’re leaving it longer, place a piece of plastic wrap up against the surface to prevent a crust from forming.
- Add a tablespoon or two of cornstarch, which helps absorb some of the moisture.
INA GARTEN’S CHOCOLATE CAKE
Baking Tip #6: got lumps?
This is probably one of the best tips in the bunch. If you have a frosting that has little lumps of un-sifted powdered sugar, cold butter, or even just too many air bubbles, I have two words for you: food processor.
- Simply place your frosting into the bowl of a food processor and process briefly. Voila, silky, creamy frosting! Now, I’ll say that this is a last-resort kind of fix, because of course it’s a bit messy, and you always lose some frosting when you have to transfer it between bowls, but it has definitely worked well for me in a pinch.
RASPBERRY LEMON CAKE
Baking Tip #7: how to get swoops and swirls in your frosting ~
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert on the bakery-perfect kind of frosting and cake decorating thing ~ but I do love layer cakes that have a homey charm. My favorite simple but pretty way to frost a cake is with generous, swirly swoops of frosting.
- Make sure you have a generous amount of frosting for the top of your cake ~ I usually plop a big pile onto the top of the cake before I frost the sides.
- Spread a thick layer of frosting on the top of the cake, and then use the back of a large spoon to make little half swirls. I try to make sure its a little random and not too “regular” looking.
- It helps to scrape the extra frosting off the back of your spoon between swirls.
CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH CRANBERRY BUTTER CREAM
Baking Tip #8: the best way to slice a cake ~
Once you’ve got your beautiful cake all decorated, the last thing you want to do is ruin it trying to slice it!
- A large, sharp knife is best for most kinds of cakes. Save a serrated knife for very delicate, tender types of cakes like angel food.
- A cake that has been chilled for at least an hour will always slice more cleanly than a cake at room temperature.
- Wipe your knife clean between slices for the best results.
EASY STRAWBERRY CAKE
Questions and Reviews
New baker here! Thanks for sharing these tips 🙂
Any tips on getting your buttercream super white?
Experiment with different butters, that’s what will give it a yellow tinge. And of course you could use shortening instead, but I prefer butter.
Enjoyed reading your tips, i have made cakes for many years and about 6 yrs ago began to think i was losing my touch as the cakes all seemed heavier to me. a friend told me she had the same thing happen. Her solution was to switch to nonGMO flour and her cakes returnedto normal. i have done this as well and now my baking is back to normal. another trick she shared was if a recipe always seems a bit heavy add a teaspioon of meringue powder to lighten the batter.
That’s so interesting!
Thanks for all the tips! I’ve tried most of them, however, one thing is not great, that I feel my cakes are not raising enough. I store baking sod and baking powder in the fridge, I take them out before I bake along with the other ingredients. I buy small amounts so they won’t get old. I add them with dry ingredients and sift when I can or remember . I’m not sure what is going wrong? I bake good cake, but i’m looking for a fluffier taller ones.
Very good list of tips. I always wanted to know how long I was to mix after the ingredients were moist. This was a very helpful post. Thank you.
I found a recipe for pan release on one of the cake blogs I read, and it changed my baking life! Mix 1 cup solid shortening (Crisco), 1 cup vegetable oil and 1 cup flour with mixer until smooth. This can be stored in the pantry. Use a small brush to coat your pans. I’ve never had a cake not release perfectly with this, and only use a parchment liner on layers over 8″ diameter. Another fun tip I saw was to use the butter wrapper as your pan liner. I haven’t tried that yet.
Hello! I am a pretty decent baker but layer cakes are one thing I have not figured out! I would love some advice! No matter what I do, what I have tried, my layers always, always slide! I’ve begun sticking toothpicks in between the layers to keep them in place. I cannot figure out the trick for anything. I would absolutely love to make a layer cake without this happening, and I can’t figure out what it is that I’m doing incorrectly.
Hey Jennifer, a couple of things come to mind. I like to stack my layers bottom to bottom, in other words, I put the first layer down with the bottom (flat) side up. Spread a layer of frosting (make sure it’s thick) and then put the next layer on with the flat side down, domed top up, if that makes sense. Then you get a nice stable center. Also be sure your frosting is nice and thick, because a runny frosting will slide. And finally, make sure you reaaaalllly cool down those layers until there is no warmth left at all. Even a little bit can radiate up into the frosting and destabilize your cake.
Make sure you slice of any domed top on your cake. Also, chill or freeze your cake layers before you fill and ice your cake. If you’re using a filling on the inside and icing on the outside, pipe a “dam” of icing around the outside of each layer before adding the filling. You don’t have to have a piping tip to do this. You can just use a zip lock bag that has one corner snipped off.
Thank you! Guess I’ll keep on trying!
A legitimate absolutely flat no-lip cake plate means you can slice your cake all the way through in one elegant swoosh. Combine that plate with a plastic dome cover from a restaurant supply place and you are in storage heaven. My setup has served me well for 30 years!
GREAT tip, I was just noticing the cake-plate-lip-effect on the most recent cake I made!
Great tips Sue. All very helpful.
I always beat my egg/s together before adding to butter/sugar mixture and add them in small amounts – butter and sugar will never split and waste all the hard work that has been put in to getting lots of air into the butter and sugar cream. Takes a bit longer but no curdling!
Thanks for your tips – will print them out as a reminder. :))
I’ve never heard of that one Mary, thanks, it makes sense!
To keep my cakes from having that mound on the top I found a product on Amazon that you soak in water, wring it out and wrap it around the cake pans (it has Velcro to adhere) it works great! Now I don’t have to waste cake by cutting the tops to give a flat top. Thank you so much for these fixes, I know several will come in handy.
I’ve seen that but haven’t tried it. I think I grew up with round top cakes and it never bothers me, but every once in a while I do need a flat top on a cake, so I’m going to grab one, thanks Paula!
Just like Paula, I too have used that wrap with velcro. You moisten it first with water then wrap it around the exterior of the cake pan. I wish I knew why it works but all I know is that the cake doesn’t create a dome at the top when I use it.
Just ordered it 🙂
I always wondered if they worked. Thanks for the info!