How to make cake: top 10 tips for success

Is there a secret to making great cake? Absolutely! Follow our ten commandments and let the baking magic happen...

Carrot cake with tea

If you're a cook who can't resist tossing in a handful of this and a sprinkle of that, you may find baking can be a bit hit and miss. Baking is an area of cookery that doesn't take kindly to artistic licence. But follow a few basic baking rules and success is sure to follow...

1. Use a good recipe 

For guaranteed results it's important to follow baking recipes to the letter so your cake will only ever be as good as the recipe you use. Start with a recipe from a source you trust. A lot of recipes, particularly on the internet, haven't been tried and tested (ours have!)

2. Use the tin size stated in the recipe and line it well 

If you want to use a different one then you'll need to adjust the cooking time. 

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 (rich fruit cake, for example), it's worth wrapping the outside of the tin too using brown paper and string to stop the edges from burning.

3. Preheat the oven 

If you put a cake into an oven that's not hot enough, it will affect the way it rises. Fan ovens can dry a cake slightly so for a longer shelf-life use the conventional setting.

Sponge cake with lemon curd
4. Be accurate with weights and ingredients 

Make sure you use the exact measurements and ingredients as stated in the recipe. You can't just add more baking powder if you want your cake to rise more or substitute self-raising flour for plain. Use measuring spoons rather than tablewear to ensure accuracy. Also, avoid mixing imperial and metric measurements, pick one or the other.

5. 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.

6. Get as much air into the cake as you can 

Cream butter and sugar until the mixture lightens in texture and colour. This increases the air and volume of the cake, giving you a lighter result.

Sift flour and other stated ingredients together to mix, add air and make them easier to fold in. A large balloon whisk (used gently) 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.

7. 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 straightaway.

Raspberry bakewell cake
8. Put the cake on the correct shelf and keep the oven door closed 

Cakes are generally best placed on the middle shelf to ensure even cooking.

Once the cake is in, avoid opening the door until it's 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.

9. Stick to cooking times

If you've used the right tin and you've got a good oven, the timings stated in the recipe should be 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.

10. 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.

Our top ten cakes for you to try:

1. Lemon drizzle cake
2. Ultimate chocolate cake
3. Carrot cake
4. Chocolate brownie cake
5. Raspberry Bakewell cake
6. New York Cheesecake
7. Sponge cake
8. Strawberry cheesecake in 4 easy steps
9. Sticky stem ginger cake with lemon icing
10. Blueberry soured cream cake with cheesecake frosting

These are just a few suggestions. Do you have any tips for making great cakes?

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Comments, questions and tips

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Be the first to comment...We'd love to hear how you got on with this recipe. Did you like it? Would you recommend others give it a try?
George Chisom
13th Apr, 2020
Pls I want to now how to get proper measurement in baking, how many gram of butter goes to a particular sugar, flour baking powder and other ingredients
Esther_Deputyfoodeditor's picture
15th Apr, 2020
Hey, Esther from the food team here! It all depends on which baking recipe you're doing. The ingredients list runs down the side of each recipe, thats accurate and tested. For a basic plain sponge we recommend 200g butter, 200g self raising flour, 200g sugar to 4 eggs. Thanks for your question!
Juliet Godwin's picture
Juliet Godwin
20th Mar, 2019
Thanks for the tips, it is very helpful. But please what do you mean by " A large balloon whisk "?
goodfoodteam's picture
21st Mar, 2019
Thanks for your question. A balloon whisk is handheld non-electrical whisk. There's a picture of one at number 22 in the following guide:
Barbara Howell's picture
Barbara Howell
3rd Jun, 2018
How do i make a chocolate Victoria Sandwich cake?how many grams of coco. and do i take out the same amount in flour.
goodfoodteam's picture
5th Jun, 2018
Thanks for your question. We'd recommend using one of our chocolate cake recipes rather than adapting a Victoria sandwich recipe. We have a great selection here:
27th Aug, 2017
I have this wonderful cake recipe that everyone loves but the sides of the cake crumble and when I icing it the sides sometimes fall apart. Does anyone have a remedy for this?
goodfoodteam's picture
28th Aug, 2017
Brushing the sides of a cake with warm sieved apricot jam or smoothing over a thin layer of buttercream or ganache helps to contain loose crumbs. You can then cover the cake with marzipan/ sugarpaste (fondant) icing or add another layer of buttercream or ganache. Hope this helps!
6th Dec, 2015
Hi GF team, I am using Mary Cadogan's xmas cake recipe from your 1998 issue for my friend's wedding cake - I've baked it many times and used it for another pal's wedding and it always goes down a storm. My question is about changing measurements as the recipe is for an 8" cake but I want to do a 9" and 11" cake. I'm assuming it's ok just to do the basic maths, although some of the results are odd figures so can certain things be rounded up/down? Is there a simple rule of thumb I should follow? Please can you help I would really appreciate it. Many thanks, keep up the good work! Regards, Maria Meades
goodfoodteam's picture
14th Dec, 2015
Hello Maria, this is a very good cake, perfect for a wedding. As you thought it is a simple case of maths, so you sound like you know what you are doing. If you work in metric and just use the direct calculations rather than rounding them up or down you will get the best results. 
Marie Brogan's picture
Marie Brogan
3rd Dec, 2017
I would like to know if I can freeze the chocolate brownie cake Thank you.