One of the things that I did to increase my cake decorating skills was to take a Wilton Cake Decorating class. My mom and I took all three courses together. Two hours a week for 12 weeks. I loved spending that time with my mom and having something that we could share together. Plus it was a night out of the house every week! If you're interested in the classes, you can take them at places like Michaels, Hobby Lobby, or Joanns (I think - if you have a bigger Joanns). Also some specialty stores offer the classes too. We took our classes at Michaels mostly because I worked there up until I had Andrew (dream job, right!) and I knew the instructor. I figured if I was going to pay for something, I would help a friend out, right?
But before you can really make awesome cakes like that, you need some fundamentals - you have to start with the basics. And what's more basic than the actual cake itself?! So I thought I'd give you all some tips on making a great cake.
|Picture from cakes-you-can-bake.com|
- Cakes from scratch are usually always better, but if you're going to use a mix, use a higher quality mix. My favorite is Duncan Hines but I'll also use Betty Crocker or Pillsbury. Mostly I just stock up when they go on sale! I also HIGHLY recommend my favorite cake recipe in the whole world. It's a box mix with some additives. Best thing in the world!
- Mix your cake mix VERY WELL. I don't know if you've ever actually read all the directions on the cake mix box, but it tells you to mix the cake mix for around 2 minutes. Do it! It is well worth it. Unlike brownies that you're only supposed to mix until moistened, a cake batter needs the smoothness and the air that it gets from being whipped for so long. And make sure that you're scraping the edge and bottom of the bowl two or three times during that 2 minutes so that everything is mixed evenly.
- Use good, quality cake pans. And looks for pans that have cornered edges rather than round edges, especially if you're going to be stacking cakes. Rounded edges require more work - having to fill them in and such. Also, heavier pans just last longer and cook your cakes better.
- Grease and flour your pans EVERY SINGLE TIME! Try and make it fairly smooth, also. Get into all the cracks and crevices of your pan with the shortening, especially if you're using the character-type pans that have lots of bumps in them. You want all of those details to show in your cake. Remember that you're trying to create a good covering on the cake - the crust. You want the cake to come out smoothly, evenly, and with nothing left behind in the pan. The non-stick sprays really aren't the best thing to use. If you want a spray, Wilton (and probably other cake decorating manufacturers) make a spray with the flour already in it.
- Tap some of the air bubbles out of the batter after you pour it into your pan. If you want a firmer cake, tap out more for longer. If you like the crumblier type cake, then don't tap for so long. I usually just bang mine against the counter. I always feel like I'm going to drop it if I tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, so I always just hold the pan firmly and bang the bottom of the pan against the top of the counter. You should see bubbles in the batter rising and popping when they reach the top.
- DO NOT OVERBAKE YOUR CAKE! I can't stress that enough. Along with that though, don't underbake it either otherwise it will fall and you'll wind up with a crater in the middle of your cake.
- Try not to open your oven within the first 20-25 minutes of baking. At at any point during the baking process, do not slam your oven door. Again - you'll wind up with a big gaping crater.
- The old toothpick or knife trick to test for doneness is not the best way. If your cake is close to be doing done but not quite, then you could actually cause it to fall. That's no good. The best way to test for doneness is to A) look at the color, and B) test the springiness of the cake. To do that, gently touch the top of the cake with your finger. If it doesn't spring right back up, it's not done. Also, the best (and hardest) way is to listen to the cake. If when you push on it, you still hear a crackling or bubbling noise, it's not done yet either. Go for one or two more minutes and check it again.
- Don't take the cake out of the pan right away. Let it cool for about 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. If you do it too soon, you may crack your crust. Too late and you'll have the same problem. If you wait until your cake and pan are cooled completely, you'll wind up with more craters. Instead of just taking it out, warm your oven up a big again and put the cake back in enough to help release the cake from the pan. What happens if you wait to long is the shortening that you greased your cake with firms up again and causes the cake to stick.
- If I have time, I always freeze my cakes right away too (after the 10 minute cooling period). Have some plastic wrap ready before you take the cake out of the pan - enough to cover the cake completely. When you take it out, transfer it directly to your cake circle/cardboard and then immediately wrap it in the plastic wrap. Put it in your freezer (this is hard to finagle sometimes) for at least a few hours, preferably overnight. This not only speeds the cooling process, but wrapping it in plastic wrap keeps all that steam in as moisture. It then goes back into your cake to help keep the cake moist. Freezing the cake is also very helpful if you're going to be carving or shaping the cake. It's much easier to cut when frozen.