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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.