10 Things I wish I knew when I first starting baking and decorating Cakes
I was talking to a friend recently who said to me, “I could never make cakes like you do!” “Really?” I replied, “The first cake I baked all by myself caught on fire in the oven!” No joke. I was so upset! I had this vision of baking and decorating this beautiful stacked cake for my sister, and all I was left with was a charred mess (in HER oven, no less!). All because I didn’t know that you should measure your cake batter for the size of the pan.
So not every cake I’ve ever made was wildly successful and I assured my friend that of course, she could do it! Everyone starts somewhere and this inspired me to write this post.
Here are the top 10 things I wish I knew when I first started baking and decorating cakes:
Line the bottom of the cake pan with wax or parchment paper. This will make it super easy to get the cake out of the pan after it’s cooled for a bit! I like to use wax paper, because it’s really easy to score a mark to use as a cutting guide. Just turn your cake pan upside down, lay wax paper over the bottom.
Take your scissors and gently scrape along the edge to make a mark. Then use your scissors to cut out the shape.
Then just pop this into the bottom of the cake pan before you fill with your batter. (NOTE: Don’t forget that you will need to peel this away before stacking and frosting!!)
Measure your cake batter for the pan size. As I mentioned in my story, if you overfill your pan, the batter will rise as it bakes, spill over the edge and leave a mess! Here’s a handy chart (courtesy of Wilton.com) to help you out: (NOTE: Once you’ve been baking for a while, you’ll get a sense for how much to fill the pan and you may not need to actually measure anymore, but the chart still comes in handy for calculating how much batter you’ll need).
Wrap your cakes in plastic film and refrigerate to cool them before you frost. This helps in several ways: 1. A warm cake is much more likely to fall apart when handling, 2. A warm cake will melt your frosting. I often freeze my cakes if I’m baking ahead. I let them defrost on the counter top until they are no longer frozen but still cold.
Use a sharp, serrated, wet knife to slice the “dome” off the top of your cake layers to level it before stacking. Why a wet knife? Because if the knife is dry, it can more easily tear through the cake, which defeats the purpose of leveling. (BONUS NOTE: using a sharp and wet knife for cutting and serving the cake will also give nice clean slices).
Sprinkle a sugar syrup on the freshly leveled layers to keep them moist. A simple sugar syrup is just equal parts of granulated sugar and water cooked in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Once it’s cooled slightly, add some vanilla extract or other flavor. Once it’s cooled completely, you can pour it into a condiment container and gently sprinkle a little onto your cake after leveling and before stacking.
Use a hot glue gun to glue several cardboard cake boards together for added stability. I have found that using only one cake board is not sturdy enough for most cakes. I use a hot glue gun to stack several cake boards onto each other (usually 3-4).
Speaking of hot glue guns, use one to glue the cake board foil / paper onto the board. Most cake boards are covered in cake foil / paper before you place a cake on them. Using a small line of hot glue is much faster for attaching this than cutting lots of pieces of tape! (NOTE: there are cake boards that are coated or waxed that you don’t have to cover, however, I usually cover all of mine anyway just for a more finished look).
Place a spoonful of buttercream or frosting on the cake board before you place your first layer down onto it. This will help “glue” the cake in place while you are stacking and frosting it.
Pipe a “dam” of buttercream before putting a layer of filling down. When filling between stacked cake layers with anything other than your buttercream or other frosting, if you pipe a “dam” around the edge first, this will helps keep your filling from squishing out and also helps keep your layers from sliding.
Use an offset spatula to frost the cake. You’ve heard the saying, “it’s all about having the right tools.” I wholeheartedly agree! You’ll not regret investing in this tool. To frost your cake once you’ve stacked and filled all of your layers, you’ll start by placing a large amount of buttercream or other frosting on the top of your cake and gently spread it toward the edges. Then you’ll use your offset spatula to gather and spread more frosting around the edges.
BONUS tip: invest in a turntable! Even if it’s a small inexpensive one, it’s a must for frosting cakes.
I hope this was helpful for those of you who want to start baking and decorating cakes. Watch for more tips for beginners and intermediate decorators to come!