I love baking cakes, but even more than baking them, I love admiring the finished product (and eating them, obvi). It makes me so happy when a cake turns out just the way I hoped it would. It makes me equally unhappy (we're talking outrage and tears) when I have a cake fail. My most memorable cake fail was my 30th birthday cake. Bear with me as I take you down memory lane for a moment...
My friends and I had planned a huge picnic at the park for our families, and naturally, I offered to make the cake. I chose to do Sweetapolita's Campfire Delight Cake (a cake I had made several of times and had only great success with, so I knew it wouldn't let me down). It's a incredibly delicious dark chocolate cake with marshmallow filling and malted chocolate frosting. She's actually made a few tweaks to the recipe in her new cookbook, so I'm dying to get my hands on it and give it a test run.
Anyway, back to my birthday cake. The day of the picnic, I made the marshmallow filling and the malted chocolate frosting. When both of those were complete, I pulled out my chilled chocolate cakes and started my assembly. Instantly, I knew something was off, but I kept stacking and filling. I could tell the marshmallow filling wasn't holding up like it had in the past, and the cake itself was about to give up on me. I quickly got it in the freezer to set but it was too late. I checked in on it after 15 minutes and it looks like this:
You guys! My own birthday cake was a complete fail and there was absolutely no way of salvaging it, and certainly no time to start over. After my initial meltdown, I did what any rational human being would do and grabbed a fork and started digging in. I started crying harder. It tasted SO good and now no one was going to enjoy it but me. That's not how I like to enjoy my cakes.
Luckily, before I finished eating the entire cake myself, my sweet friends convinced me to pack my cake mess in some tupperware and serve it just how I had eaten it, as a trifle. By the end of the night, there wasn't a lick left. It was a mostly happy ending.
So, this little story leads me to the real purpose of the post: how to avoid your own cake fails. With my 30th birthday cake and a few other cake debacles, I've learned a few things about how to make a good cake and I'd be doing you a dishonor if I didn't share them.
In no particular order:
1. Butter or spray your pans, line them with parchment paper, butter or spray them again and then flour them.
2. Use a scale to weigh your cake pans with the batter in them to make sure your layers are even.
3. Let your cakes cool to room temperature before covering and chilling them.
4. Always level your chilled cakes to equal heights.
5. Get eye level with your cake to make sure the frosting is on evenly as well.
6. Chill your cake after the crumb coating - I like to freeze mine for 30 minutes to get it really firm and easier to manage during frosting.
7. Make sure your fillings are strong enough to hold your cake layers. If you're using a curd or jam filling, make sure to pipe a wall around the edge of the cake layer to hold the filling in.
8. Try to avoid baking and frosting your cake in a hot kitchen (I think this was a major reason my birthday cake fell apart - my house was just too warm inside).
9. Don't overbake your cake! Typically, cakes are almost done when you can smell them in the kitchen. Keep an eye on them at this point. When a toothpick comes out clean, or almost clean, they're done.
10. Don't disturb your cakes before 20 minutes.
11. Use middle racks, unless otherwise instructed.
12. Use ingredients at room temperature.
13. Once you've added the dry ingredients, mix on low until just incorporated.
14. Weighing the ingredients on a digital scale is the most accurate method of baking.
15. If you use measuring spoons, scoop your dry ingredients into the measuring cup with a spoon and then level off with a knife.
16. Read your recipe well before you actually start baking to make sure you have all the right ingredients. I usually don't start substituting ingredients until I've made the cake at least once and know what it's supposed to taste and look like.
17. Use unsalted butter, unless otherwise instructed.
18. Give yourself plenty of time to bake, assemble and decorate so you're not rushed and forget one of these helpful tips ;)