Guide to successful cakes
Troubleshooting tips and tricks of the trade to help you create the perfect bake.
Spending an afternoon baking is fun and creative, some people would even call it an art, but the mixing of ingredients in careful quantities is also a science. If you know the rules you'll have a lot more success. Follow our top tips for the best baking results.
1. Always start with a good recipe
Not all recipes are created equal and it's particularly important when baking to get the quantities and method right. A lot of recipes, particularly on the internet, have not been tried and tested so where possible get them from a source you trust. To get you started, we have an extensive cakes & baking recipe hub.
2. Use the tin size stated in the recipe
If you want to use a different one then you'll need to adjust the cooking time.
3. Line the tin
Baking parchment works really well for lining as it's non-stick. Softened butter dusted with flour, or oil dusted with flour, are alternatives. Don't use too much fat though or you'll fry the sides of the cake. If you're cooking a cake for a long time (fruit cake, for example), it's worth wrapping the outside of the tin too using brown paper and string. The outside edges will cook faster and you don't want them to burn before the middle is done.
4. Where possible use good quality ingredients
As with any recipe, what you put in is what you'll get out!
5. Preheat the oven
There's a good reason why recipes suggest you preheat the oven. Put a cake into an oven that's not hot enough and it will affect the way it rises. Fan ovens can dry a cake slightly so for a longer shelf-life use the conventional setting.
6. Weigh ingredients carefully and use those stated in the recipe
Make sure you use the measurements and ingredients as listed. You can't just add more baking powder if you want your cake to rise more or substitute self-raising flour for plain. The results can be disastrous. When required, use measuring spoons rather than tablewear to ensure accuracy.
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7. Use either imperial or metric measures
Avoid using a combination of both. If you try to use a mixture, the balance of ingredients will be wrong.
8. Make sure ingredients are the right temperature
Most recipes require the fat and eggs to be at room temperature. If you take the butter straight from the fridge it doesn't cream well and cold eggs are liable to curdle the cake mixture.
9. Cream butter and sugar until the mixture lightens both in texture and colour
This will increase the air and therefore the volume of the cake, giving you a lighter result.
Watch how to cream butter and sugar
10. Sift and fold in the flour gently
Sift the flour and other stated ingredients together to mix them, add air and make them easier to fold in. If used gently, a large balloon whisk is best for folding as it helps to avoid lumps of flour but doesn't overwork the mixture. Don't be tempted to whisk vigorously as this will knock out the air and result in a heavy cake.
11. Once the cake mixture is made put it straight into the oven
The raising agent will start working as soon as it comes into contact with any of the 'wet' ingredients so to ensure a good rise your cake mixture should go into the oven once it's ready. One exception to this is a rich fruit cake which you don't want to rise.
12. Put the cake on the correct shelf
For cakes, this is usually the middle shelf and ensures even cooking.
13. Don't open the oven door until the cake is almost cooked
If you allow cold air into the oven the cake is likely to collapse, you need to wait until it's properly set before taking a peek. Similarly, when you're putting the cake into the oven, don't hang about and let all the heat out.
14. Adhere to cooking times
If you've used the right tin and you've got a good oven, the timings should be more or less accurate. As ovens do vary, check the cake just before the end of the cooking time. A cake that is cooked through should feel the same if pressed around the edges or in the middle. Also, a skewer inserted in the centre should come out dry. If your cake is not properly cooked but looking brown, you can cover it with a bit of dampened greaseproof paper.
15. Cooling cakes
Recipes will usually give instructions for cooling but as a general rule, most sponge cakes are best left for a few minutes and then turned onto a cooling rack to avoid soggy edges. Rich fruit cakes are better cooled in the tin.
16. Storing cakes
Make sure cakes are properly cooled before storing them. Victoria sandwich-type cakes (with equal quantities of butter, flour and sugar) are best eaten fresh. Moister cakes, using yoghurt, oil or melted ingredients will last around five days. Store these in a cake tin or plastic container.
Rich fruit cakes like Christmas cake can last for two to three months or more. Wrap them in greaseproof paper and store them in a cake tin. Avoid putting fruit cake in a plastic container as mould may grow over time and foil is a no-no unless you cover it well with greaseproof first as the fruit can react in direct contact with it. Store cakes in a cool, dry place.
17. Freezing cakes
Most sponge cakes can be frozen. Freeze them once cooled and fill or ice them once defrosted for best results. Defrost at room temperature.
Do you have any foolproof baking tips you'd like to share?
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