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Baking a Cake for the First Time? Here's Some Tips!

Updated on August 22, 2014

Cake Baking is an Art....But it Must be Tasty too!

Before you get busy with the icing colors, decorations and toppers you need to decide just what's going to be underneath, the inside, the... guts of it. A great looking cake... looks great, but if it doesn't taste right, it'll be a let down. The only thing you can use a brightly colored yet yucky tasting cake is for photos and a food fight.

There are two categories of cakes: shortening type and sponge type; both may be prepared from home recipes or from packaged dry mixes. And it's better to bake a cake yourself than buy one. Because as they say, it's the thought that counts.

I went to a friends 18th birthday party and they had bought her a cake. We both happened to have a birthday on the same day, but I was a few years older than her and it wasn't that big of a deal for me, so I went to her party. After blowing out her candles they rolled out ANOTHER cake. One for me!

I'd find out later that while hers was a bought cake, her father baked mine himself. It was a very touching gesture. And I didn't mention that it was far more meaningful than if he *just* bought it for me, lest I hurt any ones feelings.

Image credit: "A Triumph by JohnRH4, on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Creaming Butter
Creaming Butter

Shortening Cakes

Shortening Cakes may be prepared by either the conventional or the one-bowl method. In the conventional method, shortening and sugar are creamed together until light and fluffy, and eggs are then added, beaten or unbeaten, according to the recipe. A flour, salt, and leavening mixture is then added alternately with the required liquid, and well blended.

The one-bowl method is the most popular technique, since all the ingredients called for are combined in one utensil for blending. Recipes for the one-bowl technique usually call for a soft shortening because it blends more easily. The mixing-time directions in the recipe should be followed carefully.

In shortening-cake mixes, the shortening, sugar, flour, salt, leavening, and flavoring are carefully premeasured in the packaged dry mix. Eggs and liquid are added and blended according to directions.

The texture of shortening cakes should have a fine to medium-fine grain with a light and velvety "feel," tender enough to break easily but not crumble. Moistness will vary with the kind of cake, but the cake should not be gummy.

Creaming Butter by pfctdayelise on Wikimedia under CC-BY-SA-2.5 license

Sponge Cakes

Mango Sponge
Mango Sponge

Image credit: Mango Sponge Cake by Alpha from Melbourne, Australia [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sponge Cakes, aka Foam Cakes depend on air beaten into the eggs. The eggs in turn are folded (overturned, not stirred) into the batter. Part of the sugar in the recipe is usually beaten into the egg foam to help stabilize it. Whipped egg whites serve as leavening for angel food cakes as well as for chiffon cakes. However, chiffon cakes differ from angel food in that they also contain egg yolks and liquid shortening. Whipped egg yolks form the leavening for sponge cakes.

Some sponge cake mixes require only a liquid additive and a short beating time. Others have a dry egg white mixture that is reconstituted and whipped before being added to the batter.

Angel food cakes have a crisp golden crust with deep cracks and a light delicate interior texture. Chiffon and sponge cakes have a soft tender top with shallow cracks and a light texture that has slightly more body than angel food.

1948 Kenwood Chef
1948 Kenwood Chef


Correct utensils and equipment are important for baking results. Standard household measuring cups and spoons are necessary for accurate measurements. Standard or portable electric mixers may be used, but portables must be used at a higher speed and for a longer beating time. If the ingredients are mixed by hand, 150 vigorous spoon strokes are equivalent to one minute beating with a standard-mixer at medium speed.

Bowls and beaters must be free from grease for foam-type cakes. Porous plastic bowls or scrapers should never be used because grease will cling to these and the egg white will not form a stable foam.

The size of the pan affects baking results. The most frequently used pans for shortening cakes are 8- or 9-inch x 1 1/2 -inch layer pans, 9- x 13- x 2-inch rectangular pans, 8- or 9-inch square pans or loaf pans. They should be of medium weight with a dulled outside bottom finish. Sponge cakes are usually baked in a round cake tin a few inches deep.

Image Credit: 1948 Kenwood Chef by geni via Wikimedia Commons CC by SA-3.0 license

The Best Cake Ingredients

Wacky Cake
Wacky Cake

Image Credit: Wacky Cake by Eli Duke [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

For best results in cake baking, use the ingredients called for in the recipe and measure accurately. When butter or margarine are stipulated, a whipped form of the product should not be substituted since the air incorporated will change the shortening power. Liquid shortening should not be substituted in a recipe calling for other shortenings.

The majority of home recipe cakes are made with all-purpose flour. Since this flour is pre-sifted, it may be used successfully without further sifting, by spooning into the measuring cup and leveling off with a spatula. However, results will be more accurate for very delicate cakes if flour is sifted before measuring. Most angel food and some sponge cake recipes require cake flour, since these cakes are more delicate. The best eggs to use are large ones, which measure five to the cup. Eggs should be at room temperature before whipping to obtain the greatest volume.

Baking Your Cake

Pans should be prepared as directed in the recipe. Some shortening cake recipes require the bottom and sides of pans to be greased and floured; others, that the bottom be lined with paper. Foam cake pans must not be greased.

The oven must be preheated to the temperature specified in the recipe. The oven rack should be in the center for shortening cakes, and pans arranged at least 1 inch apart and 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the oven walls to allow an even circulation of heat. Sponge cakes should be baked with the oven rack at the lowest position.

When baked, a shortening cake should spring back lightly if touched near its center and be drawn slightly away from the edge of the pan. A wooden pick or cake tester inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean. Foam cakes must be completely baked or they may fall from the pan during cooling. The top crust should be firm and a deep golden brown, and the cracks or crevices should be dry in appearance.

A shortening cake should first be cooled in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then, to remove the cake from the pan, the sides of the cake should be loosened with a knife and the bottom loosened by tapping the pan. The wire rack should then be placed on top of the pan, and the pan and cake inverted. If a shortening cake sticks to the pan, placing it over a surface unit at low heat to warm the bottom of the pan slightly will usually release the cake.

Sponge cakes should be inverted and permitted to cool in the pan for about 1 1/2 hours. Then the cake can be released.

Pepperfire Cupcakes
Pepperfire Cupcakes

Frosting Basics

Cake layers must be cooled before frosting. The bottom layer should be placed topside down on the plate and spread to the edge with frosting. Then the top layer can be placed bottom-side down on the under layer. The sides should be frosted before the top.

Just how fancy or elaborate (or elegant) you get is up to you!

Image credit: Pepperfire Cupcakes by Clever Cupcakes from Montreal, Canada [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons>/a>

What's the Most Delicious Cake You have Ever Eaten?

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    • Senora M profile image

      Senora M 

      8 years ago

      Very cool lens. I made my son's 1st birthday cake, but it was cupcakes, so maybe that doesn't count! :)

    • Janet2221 profile image


      8 years ago

      Great cake baking tips! Thanks for adding it to the Kid's Birthday Party club. Love the photos. :)


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