Extra Helpings: Preventing Cake Disasters


Everett asks: The cakes I bake come out of a box, but I still want them to look good. They rarely do. Either they are lopsided, or crack when I take them out of the pan… or the top layer slides off the bottom layer after I’ve frosted it. Help!

Mama feels your pain, Everett. I am not a baker by any stretch, but I can offer up a few tips to help you bake (and present) a beautiful cake… even if it comes out of a box!

Brush the crumbs off the cake!

  • Make sure the ingredients are at room temperature.
  • Measure your ingredients precisely. If you have a kitchen scale, use it!
  • Make sure you use the right size pan for the amount of batter you have. Use aluminum pans with vertical sides. Shiny pans are best because they reflect the heat. Disposable aluminum pans are flimsy so give those a pass.
  • Grease the pan! Use vegetable shortening or butter and lightly dust with flour. I always line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper (or wax paper) as well (grease and dust the paper, too!).
  • Don’t overfill the pans! One-half to two-thirds full is about right. Shake the cake pan slightly to level the batter. If you really want to make sure you have the exact same amount in each pan, weigh it on a kitchen scale and divide evenly between pans.
  • Check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer… if it is too hot, the sides will cook before the rest of the cake and it will get a big hump in the middle or crack.
  • Bake the cakes on the middle rack.

    Measure and mark before you slice!

  • When you put the cake pans in the oven, make sure you have enough space in between (about 2-inches from each other and from the oven wall) so the heat can circulate. For some reason, if the pans are too close they’ll end up lopsided.
  • Begin checking to see if the cake is ready about 8 minutes before the directions say it will be ready. The cake is baked if the center springs back when touched lightly, and the sides pull away from the pan. You can also insert a toothpick into the center… if it comes out clean it’s ready.
  • Cool the cake in the pan 10 to 15 minutes before loosening the edges with a knife. Cover a wired rack with parchment paper and turn the loosened cake onto the rack. The parchment paper will keep the wired rack from tearing the crust or leaving dents in the cake. Finish cooling the cake on the rack.
  • If you want to make multiple layers from a single layer, use a ruler and insert a toothpick to divide the cake into two equal layers at four different points on the cake (across and to the sides). Use a long serrated knife for a clean, even cut. Watch where the blade enters the cake and not the knife tip and cut with a firm, but slow, sawing motion.
  • Brush off loose crumbs with a pastry brush before decorating.
  • Your cake should be totally cool before frosting it (wait at least one hour). Frosting a still-warm cake causes the frosting or icing to melt in between the layers and the top layer to sliiiiide off.
  • Before frosting, slip four wide pieces of parchment or waxed paper under the cake to keep the plate clean.
  • Be careful to keep cake crumbs out of the frosting!

Well, as usual, you asked Mama a couple of questions and she went on and on and on… but at least you’re well equipped to create cake enchantment!

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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: mamashighstrung@gmail.com