Are you tired of your cakes ending up like slabs of rock, or sinking in the middle?
Unlike everyday cooking, baking is much more scientific, and throwing a handful of this and that into the mix tends to mess with the careful ratios of ingredients that need to be followed.
Often, the reason that your cakes fail can be because the recipe isn’t great to begin with, or you’ve been less than exact in your ingredients measuring, but fear not – follow these ten tips for heavenly cakes every time!
1. Make sure the recipe you use has been tested
If you want guaranteed results, it’s important to use a tried-and-tested cake recipe from a source you trust. A lot of internet recipes haven’t been tried, and you can end up disappointed and blaming yourself if your cake isn’t good, when it really isn’t your fault.
2. Use the correct cake tin size – and line it well
Using a 9-inch round cake tin when the recipe calls for a 13-inch rectangular one isn’t going to end well. If you want to use a different size cake tin, you need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Baking parchment is non-stick, and works well for lining cake tins. You can also use softened butter or oil dusted with flour as an alternative. If you’re cooking a cake for a long time, such as a rich fruit cake, it’s good to wrap the outside of the tin with brown paper and string to stop the edges burning.
3. Preheat the oven
Putting a cake into an oven that hasn’t heated up properly will affect the way it rises, so always heat your oven to the correct temperature first. Fan ovens can dry a cake out slightly, so use the conventional oven setting if you have it.
4. Measure ingredients exactly
Stick to the same weights and measures as stated in the recipe, and use the same ingredients. You can’t just swap self-raising flour for plain flour and expect your cake to rise, for instance.
Use proper measuring spoons instead of tableware for accuracy, and don’t mix metric and imperial measurements – choose one and stick to it.
5. Have ingredients at the right temperature
Many recipes need the fat and eggs to be at room temperature before mixing, as butter straight from the fridge doesn’t cream well, and eggs from the fridge can curdle the cake mixture.
6. Get air into your cake mixture
Cream the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy, as this increases the air in the mix and gives you a lighter cake.
Always sift your flour, cocoa powder etc. to add air and make them easier to fold in. Use a large balloon whisk to gently fold the flour in as it helps to avoid lumps, but doesn’t overwork the mixture. Never whisk vigorously – this will knock the air out of the mix, and you’ll have a heavy cake.
7. Put the mixture straight in the oven
Don’t leave your cake mix hanging around. The raising agent will start working as soon as it comes into contact with any wet ingredients, so put your cake into the oven straight away to make sure it rises well.
8. Put the cake on the middle shelf, and don’t open the oven door while it’s cooking
Cakes usually cook better on the middle shelf, and once you have put it in, leave the oven door shut until it’s almost cooked. Opening the door lets cold air in to the oven, and will probably make your cake collapse.
9. Keep an eye on the cooking time
If you’ve followed all the instructions in the recipe and used the right-sized tin, the timings given should be accurate.
Because ovens vary, you should check the cake just before the end of the cooking time, by inserting a skewer into the centre – it should come out dry if the cake is cooked.
10. Follow the cooling instructions
Most recipes will give instructions on how to cool your cake, but a general rule is that most sponge cakes are best left for a few minutes, then turned out onto a cooling rack, and rich fruit cakes are best cooled in the tin.