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

slice of white two layer cake with whipped frosting on pink plate

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.

Video: 10 Baking Tips for Perfect Cakes

Learn How to Bake the Perfect Cake:

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.

cake ingredients

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 why room temperature ingredients are important. “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 to soften 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 recommend them in this Best Cake Baking Tools list, too. I also love this cupcake carrier for storing and transporting frosted cupcakes. And not just cupcakes/muffins—this carrier is also excellent for transporting 9×13-inch cakes, round pies, cookies, and more.

cake carrier

11. Bonus Tip: Easy Decorating

When it comes to cake decorating, I prefer classic and simple. This is mostly because I need more practice with intricate decor. But I’m an expert on EASY and BEAUTIFUL cake garnishes. Naked cake style 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 tips tutorial with my 5 favorite piping tips!

Helpful Cake Tools

Here is my complete Best Cake Baking Tools page. Some favorites:

  • 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).
  • Straight Icing Spatula. I prefer using a straight spatula for decorating large, tall layer cakes. A small straight spatula is handy for running around the edges of a cake to remove it from the pan or to spread frosting on a smaller cake. I prefer using a small offset spatula to decorate sheet cakes that are served inside the pan or even small 6 inch cakes, too.
6 inch vanilla cake with sprinkles on a teal cake stand

Even More Cake Baking Tips

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Hello Sally,
    I have a question. I really want to bake a cake but I only have one thin 9″ cake pan. The height of the pan is about 2 or 3 inches tall. Do you think that while baking the cake batter doesn’t overflow in the oven? Do you also suggest to cover the sides on the pan little higher than the pan’s height with parchment paper to ensure that even if the cake rises it doesn’t overflow while baking? What would you suggest. Thank you for the answer in advance. You are the best baker!

    1. Hi Kylie, if you only fill your pan half way, you shouldn’t have to worry about overflowing. If have more batter than that and are wanting to make several layers, you can leave the extra batter covered at room temperature while your one layer is baking. Hope this helps!

  2. Hi there.
    I have a couple 8inch square pans.
    First time I tried to use it, cake fell seemed like the sides were done before the center.
    Any pointers you can give me.

    1. Hi Christy! When cakes fall, they’re almost always under-baked. You can use the toothpick test to check for doneness. If the edges are baking much faster than the middle, your oven may be running a bit hot – you can try lowering the temperature a bit to see if your cakes bake more evenly.

  3. dear sally i have old dark heavy cake pans . my cakes never turn out just overall done on bottom sides i’ve tried everything. what are good cake pans please? also can or should i lune bunt pan. thank you and your recipes are the best family used

    1. Hi Cheryl! We’re happy to help. The most likely culprit for the air pockets in your cake layers is over mixing the batter. Over mixing can create dense, squat cakes and allow for the formation of the holes you mention. For next time, keep a careful watch on how long you’re mixing for and mix until the batter is just combined. Hope this helps!

    1. Hi Molly! We wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful:

  4. Hi Sally,
    I love baking ,but why is my cake always dry instead of moisture, like a marble cake
    or a lemon cake.
    Thank you for your reply

    1. Hi Christine, overly dry cakes are usually due to over baking (even just a minute or two extra can impact the final result!) or using too much flour. This post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes should be helpful for further troubleshooting. Hope this helps!

  5. Hi Sally,
    I love baking cakes. I have been doing it since my childhood. But recently when I bake cakes, in the center, though the toothpick comes out clean, after it cools completely the center portion becomes sticky. Please what to be done to get a perfect cake.

    1. Hi Dhanya, cakes will sometimes become sticky as they cool (especially on humid days) because of moisture evaporating from the cakes, but that doesn’t mean the cake isn’t cooked though. It’s perfectly normal!

  6. Hi Sally.
    I’ve recently gotten into baking cheesecakes with decent success. I’m wanting to try to bake a carrotcake cheesecake. I can’t find a recipe that doesn’t have a “cake” layer and a cheesecake layer. I may be the only person on earth who doesn’t care for that combo. Am I crazy to try to make a carrotcake cheesecake without the sponge?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Deb, We have never tried to make a carrot cake flavored cheesecake but this one looks good:
      Let us know what you try!

  7. I don’t have much baking experience, but I’ve had great success with the recipes on this site! Now I’m looking to make a lower sugar cake (not low sugar, but lower than typical). Are there any recipes in the archives that fit that description?

    1. Hi Anne! We’re not experts in lower sugar or sugar free baking. There are many great websites and blogs that do have naturally sweetened or lower sugar recipes, though – hope you can find one you love!

  8. Hi Sally! I love your blog and I love your recipes. I’ve baked a bunch of your cakes and cookies and always find your recipes to be reliable–not to mention delicious.

    A couple questions for you about lining cake pans. I notice that you recommend greasing the pans, using parchment rounds, and greasing the parchment. For years I’ve been using butter/flour, and also parchment on the bottoms, and I never have sticking problems… but nowadays I’m wondering if that’s overkill. Do you think there’s any difference if I just use parchment on the bottom, and skip the butter/flour? I can use the knife along the sides; in fact, maybe if there’s no butter on the sides, the cake will rise more?

    Also, have you ever tried a silicone cake mat? Silpat makes them now for 9″ and 8″ cake rounds. Just curious if it’s worth the investment.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Lorelei! I’m so glad to help. You’re right– when baking round cakes, these days I grease the pan– edges included, add a parchment round, and grease the round. I usually use nonstick spray, but sometimes brush with melted butter instead. You likely do NOT need to grease the parchment round, I just do it to be extra certain the cake releases from the pan. What you’re doing is completely fine and many bakers use that butter/flour method. (Sometimes I do that when making Bundt cakes.) However, it’s always a guarantee the cake will seamlessly release when using the parchment round in a greased pan. I’ve never used a silicone cake mat before. I use the mats on my baking sheets, though.

  9. I may be missing something. Tip #4 Cake Flour. The tip says the cake flour is not recommended for chocolate cakes bc of the cocoa powder but then you advised to use it for red velvet cake which is a cake made with cocoa powder. Please clarify. Thanks

    1. Hi Omega! The very small amount of cocoa powder (2 Tbs) in our red velvet cake recipe isn’t enough to change the texture of the cake. Hope this helps!

  10. Sally, do you know of a preferred substitute for gelatin? I am just beginning to explore cake possibilities for my 75th birthday; and, yes, I plan on making my own cake as I can’t find anything special in my area.

    I am spending a good deal of time exploring your wonderful, helpful website. Thank you, Louise

    1. Hi Louise, thank you so much for visiting my website! I hope you find some baking inspiration. About the gelatin– it really depends on what you are making. Pectin is a great gelling agent and cornstarch is great for thickening. I would do a quick internet search about gelatin to find the best replacements for the recipe you’re making.

  11. Sally, do you recommend rotating your cake pans? I noticed that several of your cake recipes require three 9 inch round pans, and for most ovens that would mean placing two pans together on one rack and one on the other rack. Would love some guidance. Thank you!

    1. Hi Katherine! Yes, we usually rotate cake pans once during baking. But careful not to open the oven more than needed!

  12. What type of salt do you use in your cake recipes? I’m sure you’ve mentioned this somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find the answer.

    1. Hi Cari! All our recipes use table salt unless otherwise noted.

  13. I am making 20 Italian Cream and Carrot Cakes for Mother’s Day in 6″ bundt pans. I would like to bake them on Wednesday and frost on Saturday. Would you recommend I freeze them or just leave in refrigerator before frosting?
    I LOVE your cookie and cake recipes!

    1. Hi Gerbie, If you cover the cakes tightly they should be fine in the refrigerator for a few days. Enjoy!

      1. What is the best level in the oven to bake cake? Lower rack, middle rack? Thank you.

      2. Hi Gail, unless otherwise stated in a recipe, the middle rack is best for cakes.

  14. Thank you for the helpful advice on your website but I wondered whether these cakes can be made gluten free as a lot of the guests at my daughters wedding will be coeliacs and I wanted to make sure that everyone could eat the cake. You help would be much appreciated. I am looking to make a 6”, 8” and 10” sized cake. Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Ann, we wish we could help, but we’re not trained in gluten free baking and haven’t tested many of our cakes as such. Some readers have success using 1:1 gluten-free flour blends like Bob’s Red Mill or Cup4Cup, but we’re personally unsure of the results. If you do decide to give any of them a try, we’d love to know how it goes! Here are our naturally gluten free recipes if you are interested.

  15. Hi Sally! I’ve literally fallen for your website.
    Please what’s your take on baking both ends (top and bottom).
    Sometimes when the cake is nearly totally baked but the top part is still kinda wet (not totally baked). Would you suggest the cake is turned so as to make the top well baked?

    1. Hi Vee! Cakes can bake unevenly when there’s too much batter in the cake pan – we usually recommend filling no more than 1/2-2/3 of the way full. You can also try moving your pans away from the heat source in your oven for more even baking. Hope these tips help for next time!

  16. Hi there!

    I hsvd an oven that only heats from the element at the bottom. Does this affect baking time or temperature?

    What baking temperature would you recommend for 6 x 3 inch pans and 8 x 3 inch pans?

    1. Hi Michelle! No, the location of the heating element does not change baking time or temperature. But if you find your cakes are browning too quickly you can move them to a higher position in the oven (away from the heating element). We usually bake our cakes at 350 degrees F.

  17. I’m baking for a crowd and need to quadruple a cupcake recipe. Is it better to just mix and bake one batch at a time or can you mix a double/triple/etc batch all at once by just increasing your ingredients by whatever amount you’re increasing a recipe? Specifically, I’m baking your mimosa cupcakes

    1. Hi Kristin, for best taste and texture, we recommend making separate batches. That ensures that the batter is not over or under mixed, which can lead to less than ideal results. Hope this helps!

  18. Dear Sally
    The coconut milk cake made me look like a bake rock star. Thank you.

  19. Hi! One of the tips said to let the desserts cool in the pan. However, when it comes down bundt cakes, if I don’t take it out of the pan right away it gets stuck, even after tons of pam. Is it just me? Or are my pans just really old? Thank you!

    1. Hi Caroline, the pans might be the culprit here. We do recommend letting Bundt cakes cool in their pans before inverting. Generously greasing the pan helps, too, but if you’re already doing that and they’re still sticking, it may be the pan itself. Hope this helps!

  20. Hi Sally! I made your chocolate zucchini cake and it came out fabulous! I’m looking for a white zucchini cake recipe now. I searched your site but couldn’t find one. I tried one from another site and didn’t particularly care for it. Can your chocolate zucchini cake recipe be adapted to white?
    Love all your tips! Thank you for such an amazing site!

    1. Hi Karen! We don’t currently have a white zucchini cake, and with cocoa powder being such a finicky ingredient, it would take some recipe testing to properly remove it and tweak the other ingredients in order to make a white cake. We do have this zucchini crumb cake that you might enjoy instead!

  21. Hello sally, how can i stop my cale from cracking, and what is the accurate quantities in order to make a soft sweet cake

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