Tips for Special Occasion Cakes

(Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Buttercream and Fresh Strawberries, Covered in Fondant)

Let me preface this post by saying I am in no way an expert in cake baking/decorating. I have had a lot of trial and error and many many mistakes. Cakes that stuck to the pan, cakes that cracked right down the middle and of course, cakes with frosting that slid right off the surface. Thank goodness for the invention of cake balls. What on earth would we all do with all that sad leftover cake? (I suppose you could eat it all…but that would be pretty fatty. Even for me.) But believe me when I say,my cake baking skills are a work in progress. However, over the years I have accumulated a number of great cake baking tricks, so I thought I would share them all with you.

1. Always, always use parchment paper. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had a beautiful cake come out of the oven, waited the appropriate amount of time to let it cool, only to watch my masterpiece stick like glue to the cake pan. And this happens even with the use of cooking spray or a butter & flour combination. I’ve found parchment paper is the only foolproof way to assure that your cake will release from the pan smoothly. Just trace the bottom of your cake pan onto your parchment paper, and cut out. Spray underneath the cake with cooking spray, place the parchment paper in the pan, and spray again.

2. Sift your dry ingredients. It takes a few more seconds to filter your flour through a fine seive, but the result is worth it. Getting rid of all those pesky lumps makes for satiny, smooth batter which results in a much more evenly baked cake.

3. Once you have filled the cake pan with batter, lightly hit the pan on the table a few times. This process breaks any air bubble that may be present in the batter. If you skip this step, you may end up with a bumpy cake. And unless those bumps are filled with buttercream, a la Sander’s famous Bumpy Cake, I’m guessing you won’t be too thrilled.

4. When frosting the cake, start with a very thin “crumb layer.” This thin layer will catch any loose crumbs that may otherwise get caught in your decorative frosting, resulting in a messy final product. I like to spread on the crumb layer, and let sit for 20-30 minutes to really let the frosting set. I then follow with a thick layer of frosting for decorative topping.

5. When in doubt, add more frosting. Many cake mistakes can be solved with the addition of some extra frosting. For example, say you lightly scrap a small chunk out of the side of a cake and go on to swear profusely and panic. (This situation is totally hypothetical, of course) No need to worry. An extra glob of frosting can easily fill in any mistakes. In addition, adding an extra layer of frosting all over the cake will  make for a smoother finish. Plus, extra frosting is more delicious. So that is a major plus.

I hope these novice cake baking & decorating tips help you in your next cake adventure!


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