Homemade birthday cakes are my favorite. Though they might not all be perfect or professional looking, birthday cakes baked by someone in your life for your day means so very much more than one that's simply been bought.
You may have heard the saying that baking is a science; while I'm not convinced it's as hard as all that, there are a few rules you should follow when baking a cake to ensure it comes out as best as it possibly can.
Tips to Make a Cake from Scratch
Use cake flour, not all-purpose flour. Cake flour is lighter and you'll be able to tell the difference in the cake's texture.
Make sure your baking soda or baking powder is fresh.
Grease your cake pans and then line the bottom with wax paper. Grease over the wax paper and then dust the bottom and sides of the pan with flour. This method will help your cake pop out of the pan with ease.
Place cake pans on the center rack, unless the instructions suggest otherwise, so the cake pans will have an even flow of hot air surrounding them during the baking process. Bonus points if you have a convection oven!
Semi-Homemade Shortcut Tips
Pick up the cake of your choice from the grocery store. The simpler, the better - this way you can customize and decorate.
While you're at the store, pick up decorating gels and icings to decorate the pre-baked cake.
If your cake is already completely made, accent with candy embellishments or fresh sliced fruit (like we do with cheesecakes - no one knows the difference!).
Homemade or Not, Measure Ingredients Properly
One of the easiest ways I've found to produce a cake that's the right texture, flavor, and density is by measuring my ingredients properly. I'm sure the same applies to any baking creation, but I notice the effects immediately with my cakes.
When to Use a Liquid Measuring Cup
Let's start with liquids since they're easiest. First, you should know a liquid measuring cup is typically identified most easily by its easy-to-pour spout. It should be obvious by its name that a liquid measuring cup is meant for liquids - milk, oil, water, etc.
Liquid measuring cups are meant to be filled right to the line you're aiming to reach. No need to worry about leveling or measuring! A pint is a pint no matter where you're baking!
When to Use a Dry Measuring Cup
Now, while liquids are easy, dry ingredients can be tricky. Without getting into the complicated science behind it, the difference with dry ingredients comes down to mass versus weight. Depending upon how YOU measure it, will effect the weight since you may or may not be compacting it too much.
For the most part, you want to try to measure your dry ingredients as precisely as possible as a slight variance in measurement could cause a cake to go horribly wrong.
I like to use a dry measuring cup (pictured above), scoop up my pre-sifted flour and level off with a straight edge. Though this can still cause a bit of variance each time I scoop, it's close enough that I don't worry about weighing each time I use dry ingredients.
My 1-cup scoop of flour equates to about 4.5 ounces and I generally like how this works in my recipes. The best advice - find out what works for you and use it as a rule of thumb when you bake!
Do you have a tried and true, must-follow rule when it comes to baking a cake?