How To Bake a Cake from Scratch
So many things can go wrong when you bake a cake from scratch. But don't fret! Follow our tips for sheet cakes, cheesecakes, pound cakes, and bundt cakes so you'll never make the same mistakes again.
Solutions for Common Cake Baking Problems
- If your cake falls, it could be because your oven was not hot enough or you did not bake the cake long enough, the batter was undermixed, or too much baking powder, soda, liquid or sugar was used. To avoid this, try not opening the oven door while baking and being very accurate with measuring your ingredients.
- If your cake peaks in the center, your oven may have been too hot at the start of baking, or you could have used too much flour and not enough liquid. Again, be precise in your measurements to avoid this common mistake.
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- If your cake is heavy, you probably overmixed the batter when adding the flour and liquid. Also, your oven temperature could be too low, or you may have used too much shortening, sugar, or liquid.
- If your cake is coarse, you most likely did not mix the batter enough. If mixing more does not resolve the problem, it could be because the oven temperature was too low, or too much baking power or soda was used.
- If your cake is dry, it could be because of overbaking, overbeating egg whites, using too much flour, baking powder, or soda, or not enough shortening or sugar.
- If your cake cracks and falls apart, try not removing it from the pan too soon. Also, it could be a result of too much shortening, baking powder, baking soda, or sugar.
Related: Tips for Baking a Perfect Pound Cake
Sheet Cake Tips
- Be precise with measurements. Measure any dry ingredient by spooning it lightly into a dry measuring cup, letting it mound slightly. Then level it with a spatula or knife. Measure liquids in a glass or clear plastic measuring cup with a spout.
- Be sure not to overmix the batter. Mix ingredients just until flour is no longer visible or just until eggs are blended.
- Use a serrated knife for serving. You'll get the cleanest slices this way. If crumbs and frosting cling to the knife, just wipe the blade with a damp towel before cutting the next slice. Many cakes slice best if they have a few hours to set up or even chill after they've been assembled.
- Let the cream cheese stand at room temperature at least one hour to soften. This will make it much easier to blend with the rest of the ingredients.
- Never beat cheesecake batter at high speed. Doing so will increase the chance of cracks on top. If it does crack, just cover it with a topping. It will still taste just as good!
- Use a knife dipped in hot water to cut the cake. Wipe off the knife after each cut. Or put the cake in the freezer until almost frozen. It will cut cleanly.
Pound Cake Tips
- Use name-brand ingredients. Store brands of sugar are often more finely ground than name brands, yielding more sugar per cup, which can cause the cake to fall. Store brands of butter may contain more liquid fat or flours more hard wheat, making the cake heavy.
- Have ingredients at room temperature. This results in a pound cake with maximum volume.
- Be patient. Beat softened butter (and cream cheese or vegetable shortening) at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. This can take from 1 to 7 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until light and fluffy. These steps are so important because they whip air into the cake batter so it will rise during baking. When baking, place the cake pan in the center of the oven, and keep the door closed until the minimum baking time has elapsed. If the cake requires more baking, gently close the oven door as soon as possible after testing to prevent jarring and loss of heat—both can cause a cake to fall if it's not completely done.
Bundt Cake Tips
- Beware of bright-colored silicone Bundt pans. The results tend to vary, but many buckle when heated and can bake unevenly, producing lopsided Bundt cakes that stick to the pan.
- Coat the inside of your Bundt pan with solid vegetable shortening. This will ensure that a Bundt cake releases easily from the pan. Use a pastry brush to generously coat the inside of the pan, then sprinkle with flour, tilting and tapping the pan to evenly cover all the narrow crevices. If the pan has a nonstick coating, vegetable cooking spray specially made for baking working equally well.
- Double-check the size of your Bundt pan by filling it with water. Depending on the brand, a 10-inch pan may hold 10, 12, or 14 cups. If you use a smaller pan than is called for in a recipe, fill the pan no more than one-half to two-thirds full. Refrigerate the remaining batter up to 1 1/2 hours, return to room temperature, and bake as cupcakes or miniature loaf cakes.