Are homemade cakes giving you trouble? Here are some of the 5 most common cake-baking problems and our solutions for avoiding these pitfalls.
RELATED VIDEO: How to Decorate a Layer Cake with Bridget Lancaster on our Online Cooking School
Problem: Cake Layers are Uneven
Solution: Portion the Batter Carefully
Portioning the batter evenly is essential to making level cake layers that stack easily when layered. It's worth taking a few extra minutes to make sure the batter is evenly divided between the pans. Weighing the filled pans is the most accurate way to gauge even portions, but if you don't have a scale, use a ruler to measure the space between the top of the batter and the top of the pan. Then re-portion the batter if needed.
Problem: Cakes Crack and Dome
Solution: Slice Off the Tops
Cake layers with a domed top are difficult to stack and frost. Using a smaller cake pan than the size called for in a recipe can cause a cake to dome. Also, make sure your oven is running at the right temperature by using an oven thermometer. If it's too hot, the heat can cause your cakes to crack and dome. That said, if your cakes do crack and dome, you can simply slice the domed section off.
Problem: Cakes Stick to the Pan and Tear
Solution: Prep the Pans
A good cake pan can make a big difference. For a perfect release of the cake from the pan, be sure to thoroughly grease the pans. Then place a parchment paper round in the bottom of each pan and dust them with flour. While a cake generally pulls away from the sides of the pan as it bakes, the bottom can still tend to stick and the round of parchment provides extra assurance for a clean release. The paper also helps prevent the formation of a tough outer crust and helps the cake hold together when it is removed from the pan.
Problem: Frosting is Marred by Crumbs
Solution: Brush the cake with a pastry brush
For a crumb-free finish, brush the cake layers gently with a pastry brush to remove any unwanted crumbs before frosting the cake. This will prevent the crumbs from getting embedded in the frosting.
Problem: Cake Slices Look Ragged
Solution: Run the knife under hot water
For neat slices of cake, it is helpful to clean the knife with hot water before slicing each piece-you can do this at the sink or in a pitcher of hot water if you're cutting the cake at the table-and wipe the knife dry before slicing. This prevents the cake and frosting (or cheesecake filling) from sticking to the knife, which can make for quite a mess as you try to slice your third or fourth piece of cake.
RELATED VIDEO: How to Prepare Cake Pans with Bridget Lancaster on our Online Cooking School
RECIPE: FLUFFY YELLOW LAYER CAKE
Fluffy Yellow Laker Cake, America's Test Kitchen
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: We adapted a chiffon cake technique when devising our fluffy yellow layer cake recipe, using a large number of whipped egg whites to get high volume and texture. For moisture, we used a combination of butter and oil in our yellow cake recipe, and for tenderness we increased the amount of sugar and substituted buttermilk for milk.
MAKES TWO 9-INCH CAKE LAYERS
Nonstick cooking spray can be used for greasing the pans (proceed with flouring as directed). Bring all ingredients to room temperature before beginning. Frost the cake with your favorite topping.
2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 3/4 cups sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch-wide by 2-inch-high round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper. Grease paper rounds, dust pans with flour, and knock out excess. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/2 cups sugar together in large bowl. In 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and yolks.
2. In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With machine running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist). Transfer to bowl and set aside.
3. Add flour mixture to now-empty mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment. With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape whisk and sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.
4. Using rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of whites into batter to lighten, then add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans. Lightly tap pans against counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.
5. Bake until cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pans and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen cakes from sides of pans with small knife, then invert onto greased wire rack and peel off parchment. Invert cakes again and cool completely on rack, about 1 1/2 hours.
This recipe is included in Classic Cakes on our Online Cooking School. We teach the fundamental principles of cooking, as well as test kitchen-developed tips, techniques, and approaches that are unique in the culinary world. You'll learn much more than how to cook; you'll understand why recipes work--and why they don't. Start a 14-day free trial today.