Tips for Baking a Better Cake

If your idea of baking is buying a Duncan Hines cake mix and a tub of frosting, then you are probably okay with your resulting cakes. However, if you want to go a step further and turn out a really impressive creation, why not try your hand at baking a cake from scratch. You may be pleasantly surprised to find it is not nearly as difficult as it seems, and the cake you bake from scratch will have a taste that is head and shoulders above a boxed cake mix. Give it a try, and see for yourself!

First-Have a Great Recipe

This is really not as difficult as it might sound-after all, the Internet is overflowing with really great recipes, or perhaps you have one that has been passed down from generation to generation in your own family. If you are web-surfing for the best cake recipe, try The Food Network's site-you can find virtually any recipe you can imagine on their site, and they have all been thoroughly tested by the country's most famous cooks. If you prefer recipes that have been tested by the average person, probably pressed for time just like you and I, try All Recipes, which advertises "real recipes from real people." It may take trying several recipes for you to find your very favorite one.

The Right Equipment is Key

If you are wondering just which kind of cake pans to use, it is somewhat dependent on your preferences for the final product. Non-stick bake ware makes a darker crust, but glass will cook more quickly, requiring you to adjust your cooking time, and possibly even the temperature. Both stainless steel and aluminum pans will require either a non-stick cooking spray or shortening on the sides and bottom, then a good dusting of flour. If you are making a chocolate cake and don't want the white flour to show on the outside, use cocoa to dust the pan instead of flour. Prepare your cake pans ahead of time, before you start the actual cake mixing process.

Ingredients and Mixing Tips

Have all your ingredients measured before you begin, and let everything settle in to close to room temperature. If your recipe calls for milk, but you want a bit of a better texture, try buttermilk, but add ½ tsp. of baking soda to each cup of buttermilk due to its higher acid content. For a lighter, airier cake, separate the eggs, adding just the yolks to the butter mixture first. Whip the egg whites separately until soft peaks form, then fold them gently into your cake batter. Here are a few more cake-enhancing tips that will make your cake the absolute hit of the party:

· Add 1-2 TB of meringue powder to make your cake have a lighter texture.

· Add 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin to the batter and the top of your cake won't split or crack.

· Add a tsp. of lemon juice to the butter and sugar before adding the remaining ingredients for a lighter cake.

· Beat your butter for at least five minutes, add sugar and beat for another few minutes.

· For a moister chocolate cake, mix the baking soda with a teaspoon of vinegar.

· For a moister cake and less fat, substitute either unsweetened applesauce or plain yogurt for half of the oil the recipe calls for.

Baking and After-Baking Tips

Always preheat your oven, and make sure the both the rack and the cake pans are as close to the center of your oven as possible. If you have trouble with your cake sticking to the pans even though you have greased them properly, make sure you cool the cakes completely before trying to remove them. Gently insert a knife between the outside of the cake and the inside of the pan before trying to turn the cake pan over. Never try to frost the cake until it is completely cool. First ice with a very thin layer of frosting, then cover and refrigerate. Let it cool for an hour, then remove and frost completely. If you desire a smooth glossy look, use your hair dryer-gently-to slightly melt the frosting after it is on the cake. With a little practice you can be a cake pro in no time at all.