10 Baking Tips for Perfect Cakes

Cake baking tips to help you become a cake master. Never bake a cake disaster again!

cake baking tips with cake layers on white cake stand

With every recipe I publish and tip I share, my goal is to help you become a better baker. As a home baker turned cookbook author and recipe publisher, I’ve made THOUSANDS of mistakes in the kitchen, especially when it comes to making the perfect cake. Let me share the cake baking tips I’ve learned over the years.

This useful information will help guarantee your next cake is the perfect cake.

cake ingredients


1. Follow the Recipe

This sounds obvious, right? Following the recipe is the most important cake baking tip you’ll ever hear/read. It’s also the most ignored. We often substitute ingredients in recipes based on what we have. Subbing out eggs, reducing sugar, using liquid sweetener instead of dry, all-purpose instead of cake flour, baking soda for powder, egg whites instead of whole eggs, etc. I do not recommend doing this unless the recipe suggests alternatives. Don’t sabotage your time, effort, and money. I’m guilty of this, too! Sometimes I’m in a rush and just not paying attention or I’m making a substitution because I ran out of an ingredient. But ingredients are needed for a reason and, more often than not, a cake fail is because the recipe wasn’t properly followed. I always recommend following a recipe the first time you try it, then making changes as you see fit the next time.

Likewise, make sure you’re using the appropriate size pan. Unless otherwise noted, don’t substitute a 6-inch cake pan for a 9-inch cake pan or a 9-inch round pan for a 9-inch square pan. You can *usually* get away with swapping 8-inch round cake pans for 9-inch round cake pans (and vice versa). 8-inch cakes will take longer since they’ll likely be thicker.

But to prevent dense cakes, sunken cakes, overflowing cakes, and flimsy cakes, use the correct size pan.

2. Room Temperature

This tip could get a little long so let me direct you to my entire post on the subject. “Room temperature” isn’t listed next to ingredients for fun. There’s science and legitimate reason behind it. If a recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, use room temperature ingredients like eggs, sour cream, butter, and milk.

To paint you a picture, let’s focus on room temperature butter in particular. Most cake recipes begin with creaming butter and sugar together. Butter is capable of holding air and the creaming process is when butter traps that air. While baking, that trapped air expands from the heat and produces a fluffy cake. Not only this, room temperature ingredients bond together easier and quicker since they’re warmer– thus reducing over-mixing. Simply put, cold ingredients do not emulsify together. Period.

Room temperature butter is about 65°F (18°C), which might be colder than your kitchen. It’s cool to touch, not warm. If your cakes are dense, you’re probably softening the butter too much. Allow the butter to sit out on the counter for about 1-2 hours before beginning your recipe. To test it, poke the butter with your finger. Your finger should make an indent without sinking or sliding down into the butter. The butter should not be shiny or greasy. It will be cool to touch, not warm. Sometimes our schedules don’t allow 1-2 hours for softening butter prior to beginning a cake recipe. Don’t take a shortcut and microwave the butter because it will not heat evenly. But guess what? I have a foolproof trick for softening butter quickly. 🙂

stick of room temperature butter

3. Measure Properly

This tip also sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s where we most often make mistakes. The difference between a recipe success and a recipe failure could lie within 1 mis-measured tablespoon of sugar. Measuring ingredients properly is imperative.

Flour is the most common mis-measured ingredient. When measuring flour, use the “spoon & level” method. Do not scoop the flour out of the container/bag with your measuring cup. In some cases, scooping the flour could give you 150% of the correct measurement. Disaster ensues. Rather, using a spoon, scoop the flour into the measuring cup. Do not pack the flour down and do not tap the measuring cup– both cause the flour to settle in the cup. After you’ve spooned the flour into the measuring cup, use the back of a knife to level off the top of the measuring cup. Now you have spoon & leveled flour.

Baking is not very forgiving. Understanding the correct measuring technique for a particular ingredient will guarantee better baking results. See my post about how to properly measure baking ingredients for a deeper dive into proper measuring practices.

4. Cake Flour

The more cake baking experience I have, the more often I reach for cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. You see, cake flour is a low protein flour that’s finely milled into a delicate consistency. This soft, tender texture directly translates into your baked cake. However, some recipes simply cannot withstand fine cake flour. Chocolate cake, for example, already has cocoa powder— which is a VERY fine dry ingredient. In my experience, the combination of cake flour and cocoa powder results in a flimsy chocolate cake. Likewise, spice cake, carrot cakehummingbird cake, and banana cake contain additional wet ingredients (the fruits or veggies), so cake flour usually isn’t ideal.

These days, I stick to cake flour when making vanilla cake, white cake, red velvet cake, and other cakes where a fluffy texture is favorable. I’ve been successful substituting cake flour for all-purpose flour to create softer pineapple upside-down cake and funfetti cake. Make a 1:1 substitution with no other changes to the recipe.

I’m not being paid to type this, but Swans Down and Softasilk are my preferred cake flour brands. I use unbleached when I can find it, otherwise I just stick with bleached. Both brands provide consistent quality results for a good price. You can find cake flour in the baking aisle next to the all-purpose flour. If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, use this cake flour substitute.

5. Don’t Over-mix, Don’t Under-mix

Whether a recipe calls for mixing batter with an electric mixer or simply using a whisk, make sure you’re mixing the cake batter together *just until* the ingredients are combined. Over-mixing batter, whether that’s for cakes, cupcakes, breads, muffins, etc, lends a tough-textured baked good because you’re deflating all the air and over-developing the gluten.

Don’t turn on the mixer then leave the room!

Likewise, don’t under-mix. Obviously we want all of the ingredients incorporated together.

6. Use Parchment Paper Rounds

First, make sure you have quality cake pans. From one baker to another– I swear by Fat Daddio’s cake pans. Incredible quality for the price. I’m not working with this brand, I’m just a genuine fan.

No matter what size or brand cake pan you use, make sure you prepare it appropriately. These days I ALWAYS use parchment paper rounds. Trace the bottom of the cake pans(s) on a large piece of parchment paper. Cut out the parchment circle(s). Then, very lightly grease the cake pans with butter or nonstick spray. I usually use coconut oil nonstick spray or “baking spray” which has a little flour in it. Place the parchment round inside, then grease the parchment round too. Yes, grease the pan AND the parchment. This promises an ultra non-stick environment for your cake. Never any sticking. I usually keep a stack of parchment rounds on hand just in case I’m in a rush to get a cake in the oven.

When the cake has cooled, run a thin knife around the edge, invert the cake on your hand or work surface, then pull off the cake pan. Peel off the parchment round.

If you’re serving the cake right out of the pan, such as a sheet cake, no need to line with parchment. (Though you certainly could if desired.) Just grease the pan.

2 images of cut out parchment paper rounds and parchment paper rounds in cake pans

7. Don’t Open the Oven

Don’t open the oven 25 times as the cake bakes. This lets in cool air and the drastic temperature change causes the rising cake to sink. (Temperature change is the same reason cheesecake can develop cracks. See How to Prevent Cracks in Cheesecake.) Rather, follow the baking time in the recipe and check the cake one or two times for doneness. (Next tip.)

It’s also wonderfully helpful to own an oven thermometer. Unless you have a new or regularly calibrated oven, your oven’s temperature is likely inaccurate. When you set your oven to 350°F, it might not be 350°F inside. An inaccurate oven can ruin your baked goods. The inexpensive remedy is an oven thermometer. While cheap, they are totally irreplaceable in a baker’s kitchen. Place it in your oven so you always know the actual temperature.

Also, if you use a convection oven, always reduce the oven temperature by 25°F. It’s best to reduce the baking time as well– for cookies, it’s around 1 minute less. For cakes, cupcakes, bread, brownies, bars, etc (items with longer bake times), it’s usually reduced around 5 or so minutes. My recipes are written for conventional ovens.

8. Bounce-Back Test

You can determine if a cake is done by testing with a toothpick. Stick a toothpick in the center of the cake and if it comes out clean, it’s cooked through. But let me tell you what I do instead. And you don’t need to waste time and fumble around for a toothpick:

Remove the cake from the oven or leave it in, your choice. Gently press down on the cake. If the cake bounces back completely, it’s done. If your finger left a dent in the cake, it needs more time. So easy. I always do this!

This little trick can be used on muffins and cupcakes as well.

9. Allow to Cool Completely in Pan

This sounds like a no-brainer, but we’re often in a rush– myself included. Assembling and/or decorating cakes before they’re completely cool is literally a recipe for disaster. The flavor hasn’t settled and the frosting will melt.

Some bakers may disagree, but I always cool my cakes completely inside the pans. I do the same for cupcakes, quick breads, and more. Place the pan on a wire rack and leave it alone until completely cool. If I’m in a rush, sometimes I’ll place the rack and pan in the refrigerator to speed up the cooling process.

If I’m in a major rush, I cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes. Then I remove it from the pan and place it on a baking sheet inside the freezer for about 45 more minutes. Depending on the size of the cake, it’s completely cool in a little over 1 hour.

10. Storing & Transporting Cakes

Unless otherwise noted, cakes taste best at room temperature. (Love chocolate mousse cake cold though!) If you prepare cake one day ahead of time, you can bake and cool it, then cover it tightly and keep at room temperature. Fresh frosting tastes best, so assemble and frost the day of serving. If storing a frosted cake, keep it covered in the refrigerator. Set it on the counter before serving so it warms to room temperature. All of my cake recipes include make-ahead instructions.

How do I cover a frosted cake without ruining the frosting? A cake carrier! I own a handful of these and they’re an absolute lifesaver when it comes to storing and transporting cakes. I use this cupcake carrier for storing and transporting frosted cupcakes, too. The cupcake carrier is excellent for 9×13 inch cakes, round pies, and more.

11. Bonus Baking Tip: Easy Decorating

When it comes to cake decorating, I prefer classic and simple. This is mostly because I’m impatient and need more practice with any intricate decor. But I’m an expert on EASY and BEAUTIFUL cake garnishes. Naked-style cake is probably my favorite and requires zero special skill. Easy buttercream flowers only require 2 piping tips and I have a video tutorial showing you how to replicate this look. Or try two-toned frosting roses! Whipped cream swirls, as shown in my lemon cake, are just as lovely as they are easy.

And here’s my piping 101 guide with my 5 favorite piping tips!

Helpful Cake Tools

  • Quality Cake Pans
  • Stand Mixer
  • Hand Mixer
  • Cake Turntable (for decorating). This works for any size cake. You can watch me use it in my naked cake video. If you don’t want to serve the cake on the cake turner, you can carefully lift the cake off of the cake turntable onto a serving plate or cake stand using a friend and a couple thin flat spatulas.
  • Bench Scraper (for decorating). This works for any size cake. If you’ve never used one before, you can watch me use it in my vanilla cake video. They’re very handy!
  • Straight Icing Spatula or Offset Icing Spatula. I prefer using a straight spatula for decorating large, tall layer cakes. I prefer using a small offset spatula to decorate sheet cakes that are served inside the pan or even small 6 inch cakes.

6 inch vanilla cake with sprinkles on a teal cake stand

More Cake Baking Tips

I have more lessons for you!

73 Comments

  1. Kelly clements says:

    I am new to your site and want you to know that I won’t make anything anymore without consulting your site first! You have such excellent tips and everything you say is spot on and works! Thank you so much for all you do in the time you spend it really helps me a lot!

  2. NOOR RAIN ABDULLAH says:

    Thank you very much for a great information. I am just starting to do some baking. Previously i was working. I dont cook much . I have retired now for a good 4 years already. Before i retire, i told myself that i will learn to bake cake and cookies as soon as i retire. I did. I learn fr the internet. One of the first cookies i made was shortbread cookies using your recepies. My sons like it. Then i learn to bake cakes. Of course there were many ‘not successful cakes’, but i continue reading articles on tips for baking. Last week i bake a cake for my grand daughtet birthday. Not the main cake but additional cake for everyone to eat.

  3. I have an old spice cake from my mother, made during the depression (1929( this cake ALWAYS HAS A DENSE BATTER–ALWAYS FOR OVER 90 YEARS). It’s made in a loaf pan.
    problem – if I bake the cake at recommended temperature for the duration noted, in order to bake the center completely, the outer cake all around becomes dry. Do I turn the temperature down, and cook it longer to bake the center completely? My mother’s cake came out perfectly every time, but that secret was not told to me and now she’s passed. I cannot get the center completed baked and keep the rest of the cake moist as it should be? What’s the solution? Thank you.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nancy, Any chance you are using convection/fan forced settings on your oven? The flow of air from convection heat can cause baked goods to rise and bake unevenly and it also pulls moisture out of the oven. If you do use convection settings for baking, the general rule is to lower your temperature by 25 degrees F.

  4. Whenever I try to transfer a cooled, moist cake, it always sticks to the plastic wrap or cooling wrack. I would leave it on a cut out of parchment paper, but this will only work for one layer. I’ve tried putting them in the fridge, leaving on counter, etc. Any tips on transferring? Thank you!

    1. Hi Beth! I would love to help, but I’m not sure I understand your question. My apologies if I’m not reading it correctly. Do you mean transferring the cake to a serving plate or cake stand? Unfortunately some cakes are just so moist that they’ll stick no matter what. Great for taste, but they’re definitely sticky.

      1. Laurie StGermain says:

        Yes, I meant transferring from plastic wrap or the cooling rack to a plate. I guess enough icing can hide anything though!

  5. Hi Sally… Really loved reading your very informative tips on baking right. I have a few queries. Can oil be used instead of butter. Is it advisable to use oil and butter in combination for a moist crumb. I have seen many recipes that use only oil or oil butter combo. Is egg always essential or can be substituted with some other alternatives. Thank you in advance for your time and patience and advice. Rgds, Priya

    1. Hi Priya, oil isn’t typically the best replacement for butter in cake recipes. Most traditional cake recipes call for creaming butter and sugar together and you can’t really do that with oil since it’s liquid. Coconut oil works at times, but that really depends on the recipe. I’m not a pro at eggless cake recipes, so I would seek out cake recipes that are formulated specifically without eggs. If you’re interested, here are all of my egg free baking recipes. Thank you!

  6. I am learning to bake a bundt cake, 1st one a disaster. OK, I made changes in how I mixed it, anyway, Can you give me tips so I can be successful. I have a new 6 cup Nordicware Bundt pan. Also, can I add Poppy seeds without messing up a recipe?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Daryl Ann, If it’s one of our recipes then we can definitely help you troubleshoot. It may be easier over email so feel free to send us a note to [email protected] and one of us will reply. But yes, you can usually add poppy seeds without making any other changes (see Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake for an example)>

  7. Thank you for all the great cake baking tips. I can’t wait to cook your white cake. I’ll be using my caramel icing on it. I just couldn’t find a moist cake recipe until I found your site. Merry Christmas

  8. Sally — Thank you for a wonderful site! Your rolled sugar cookies with royal icing are my go to holiday cookie!

    Can you confirm that you lightly grease, but do not flour your pans?

    Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Irene, Yes! We just lightly grease with a non stick spray – no flour – and then use a parchment round as described in #6. I hope this helps!

  9. Kathy Cadieux says:

    I love your baking tips and impressed with so much information . I love baking and my family is into me dropping off baking for them. I want to bake cakes in 8”pans so they have room in there fridge for them. How do I change your recipes to fit from three 6” pans to two 8”pans!

  10. I adore your website! I’ve been baking for awhile now, but am having a big problem lately with the crumb being very dry. Recipes called for sour cream, cream cheese, etc., but all with the same result. The ingredients are all at room temperature and I’m also sure to pour and level the dry ingredients. I just don’t know what to do and am fearful to continue baking…

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Karen, we’re so glad to hear you’ve been enjoying our recipes. It sounds like your cakes may simply be over baked. Unfortunately, it only takes a small window of time for a cake to go from perfect to over baked — we write all about this and other ways to prevent dry or dense cakes in this blog post. I hope these tips help!

  11. Tracy Westerfield says:

    Can you help solve the question of storing cake in the fridge? Should frosted cake in a plastic cake saver container be stored on the countertop or in the fridge? If the frosting is cream cheese frosting then I would store in the fridge, but doesn’t storing in fridge dry out cake? I find conflicting information on this. Some of your steps say cake can be stored on countertop and others say store cake in fridge, can you clarify? I made your red velvet cake frosted with cream cheese frosting, stored in fridge – and I will say it was a great cake and very fun to make. Other cakes I have made have been dry and I find some info that storing cake in fridge dries it out.

    1. Hi Tracy, I’m glad to help. I usually store cream cheese frosting frosted cakes in the refrigerator after 1 day. Usually it’s fine for 24 hours at room temperature, but if your kitchen is particularly warm or you live in a humid environment, it would be best to refrigerate. No matter what, I usually place it in the fridge (covered) after 24 hours. For buttercream frosted cakes, usually 1-2 days at room temperature is fine. But, again, the environment will affect its freshness so if it’s too hot, I recommend refrigerating. I always like to bring cold cakes to room temperature before serving (unless otherwise noted in my recipe). I hope this helps clarify a bit.

  12. Brenda Thomas says:

    Love the tips! I bake often and have been experiencing dense cakes which drives me crazy. It started when I bought Fat Daddios cake pans, 3 inches deep. I’m finding however, that the paperwork included with the pans calls for quite a bit of batter. Sometimes filling the pan almost to the top! Using the baking time, and they’re still not done. I bake for others and it’s so embarrassing when they tell me it was rather dense. Suggestions? I have an oven thermometer and check it faithfully, weigh my ingredients, always use room temperature, time my mixing time, sift my flours and sugar, and measure my batter before putting it in the pan. Any suggestions would be deeply appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brenda, without knowing and testing the recipes ourselves, it’s difficult to say for sure. However, we usually recommend only filling cake pans 2/3 full with our recipes. We also have a blog post on How to Prevent a Dry or Dense Cake that you might find helpful!

  13. Debbie Thompson says:

    New baker here! Thanks for these tips.

1 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

With kitchen-tested quality recipes and step-by-step tutorials, my goal is to give you the confidence to bake and cook from scratch.

Sally's signature

Recipes You’ll Love

Archives

Categories

Join the community on the 1st of every month as we tackle a new challenge recipe.Review Sally's Baking Challenge FAQ page if you have any questions.

View More

A tradition since 2013, every December we countdown to Christmas with 10 new cookie recipes in a row!

View More

The first week of every November is all about Thanksgiving Pies.

View More

My Cookbooks

Sally's Cookbooks

About Sally

Welcome to my Kitchen!

I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally

×