Do your cakes double as doorstops? Follow these easy tips to avoid baking disasters.
coconut cake
coconut cake
| Credit: Hector Sanchez

A cracked sheet cake or too-dense pound cake can make you want to hang up your oven mitts for good. Don't get discouraged. Making just one small change can completely transform your baked goods. Read on to find out what you might be doing wrong, and how to fix it.

The two keys to successful baking are also the most obvious:

1. Read the recipe
Always read a recipe from start to finish before you get started, especially if it is your first time making the recipe. Unlike cooking, which allows more wiggle room for improvisation, baking is a science. If you go rogue and substitute ingredients (low-fat bakers, we're looking at you) you may get unexpected results. Pay attention and follow directions.

2. Check your oven temperature
If you've had a lot of baking failures, it might not be you—it might be your oven! If your oven is even just a few degrees off, it can really mess up a recipe. If you suspect this could be an issue, check the accuracy of your oven with a good oven thermometer.

Read on for our best baking tips for light and fluffy results every time:

Layer cakes
Layer cakes, like the towering Coconut Chiffon beauty above, should be so tender that you can sink a fork straight through a slice. Yum. Carefully measure (don't overpack your measuring cups) and sift your dry ingredients for the lightest, most tender crumb. And make sure your pans are greased, floured, and lined with parchment so the cake layers won't stick to the pans. When your cake layers are fresh from the oven and still warm, carefully run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to separate the cakes from the pans.

Don't overbeat the batter. You want the ingredients to be thoroughly combined but you don't want to add too much air to the batter, which will cause the cheesecake to rise nice and tall in the pan… and then deflate as it cools. (Sad trombones.) Beat the batter on medium speed just until it is smooth and all the ingredients are incorporated. Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature, which will help them combine better.

Pound Cakes
The overmixing rule applies to pound cakes as well. You can also avoid overly dense pound cake by alternating wet and dry ingredients when you make the batter. If you add the flour to the wet ingredients all at once, it can create a heavy, tough cake. Remember "dry-wet-dry" when you're combining ingredients for the most even results.

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Sheet cakes
A sheet cake with a sunken middle is a sad sight. While you can hide most mistakes with a thick layer of buttercream, it's better to prevent them in the first place. Check your baking powder if you can't remember when you bought it. Baking powder stays fresh for about a year if stored in a cool, dry place. Check to see if yours is expired by placing a ½ teaspoon of it in about ¼ cup water. If it is still fresh, it will start to bubble.