Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Novice Baking Rules

I think I am about to change my title from novice baker to intermediate baker. I am nowhere near experienced and can only hope to one day become a master, but for now, I think I have moved on to the next level.

I would like to share some "baking rules" for all the other novice bakers out there. Things that maybe you didn't know you were supposed to do because I definitely didn't when I first started.

(Interested in the red velvet cake pictured? Read about it here)

First: Learn the jargon. I watched tons of YouTube videos to learn the proper way to cream butter and sugar (mix your butter by itself until nice and fluffy and then add in the sugar. Believe me it is easier this way.), how to beat egg whites until stiff, how to fold in said egg whites (L helped me with this one), and alternate your ingredients. I always way over complicated that last one - it just means 1/3 of your dry ingredients, 1/2 the wet, 1/3 dry, 1/2 the wet, 1/3 dry. See? Easy.

Second: All of your ingredients should be room temperature. Yes, this sometimes means letting your milk and eggs sit out for HOURS but that's fine. They won't spoil, believe me. I've left them out over night or all day while I'm working, which usually means up to 10 hours of warming up. If you don't have that much time, get them as close as possible but don't use your microwave. Break eggs and put them in a cup or at least take them out of the carton. Measure out your milk - a half-cup warms up much quicker than a half-gallon. Slice up your butter - the more surface area exposed the quicker it will come to temperature. Do this even for box mixes.

Third: Sift. Sift! SIFT! Whether scratch baking or using a mix, you'll want to sift all of your dry ingredients together. Even if you're using pre-sifted flour, sift it. I usually sift my flour into a bowl first, then measure out the amount that I need. Then I sift all my other ingredients, whisk them around, and sift them at least one more time. You'll want to sift them after they've been combined. It makes everything much lighter and fluffier. Do this even for box mixes.

Fourth: Try to avoid over/under baking, but also avoid opening your oven much during baking, especially during the first half of your bake time. Of course this just comes with much practice but it will help keep your cakes from sinking. To help with this, preheat your oven after measuring all of your ingredients. If it beeps while you are mixing, turn it off! Then wait until you are filling your pans to re-preheat. Doing this ensures that you are putting your cake in the oven when it is at 350 degrees, not 350 or 360.

Fifth: Once your cake comes out of the oven, give them 10 minutes to cool before flipping. If I end up with a cake with a dome on top, I flip mine face down on a plate and then reinvert them face up, on parchment paper, on my cooling rack. If they have a dome, resting on it can cause your otherwise would be flat bottom to sink or crack. Using parchment paper on your cooling rack will prevent your cake from having lines across it: this is a cake and not a steak, after all.

Speaking of domes,  I HIGHLY reccommend spending money (although it's not much) on baking strips. You can read here why I think this.

After you have flipped them, you can freeze them directly if that is your plan, or leave them out to cool, but you don't have to cool them completely before freezing. And yes, freezing is fine for cakes and does not hurt them. Of course if you leave them in there for days they will not be day one fresh, but they will still be good.

Sixth: Before you stack and decorate, you will need to level your cake. You can do this with a bread knife or, my favorite, a cake leveler from the store. These are inexpensive, easy to use and work really well. This gives you a blank canvas on which to begin your art.

Alright newbies, I hope these tips help you! I'll post some more tips later on the basics of filling a cake/cupcakes, how to get smooth icing, and some other decorating basics (read decorating cheats).

 Bake on, cakers.


  1. I haven't sifted flour, much less a cake mix, in years. I'll have to hunt for a sifter! I'm sure that would make my cakes/brownies taste lighter. Thanks for these tips. I think you've definitely moved to an intermediate baker!

  2. Thank you so much for linking up to Tasty Thursdays last week. Hope to see you again this week!! The party is live at

    Nichi - The Mandatory Mooch