I wasn’t always a baker. There was a time when I didn’t bake anything because I was sure I would mess it up and fail. So each birthday cake I baked cracked, or they stuck to the pans, or fell apart. And I just got completely frustrated and decided I wasn’t meant to make birthday cakes and I just wasn’t a baker.
Then 2020 happened. And all that time at home meant a lot of time watching Nailed It! with my husband saying, “You could at least do that!” So we decided to make a six-layer rainbow cake together. And that challenge started a hobby that turned into a side-hustle for me as a cottage baker as Serendipity Bakes, LLC.
I thought I would share a few tips I’ve learned along the way that can help anyone bake a better birthday cake. I considered myself a helpless baker, and if I can learn, so can you!
Upgrade Your Cake Pans
If your cake pans all nest neatly together to save space inside the cabinet, they’re not good for making cakes. This is what I started with, and I wondered why the sides of my cake were always so hard to get smooth.
Upgrade to cake pans with straight sides. They will stack on top of each other and take up more cabinet space, but will give you a cake with straight sides and make it a lot easier to frost your cake. I’ve seen good quality pans at Home Goods on several occasions.
Follow Directions Exactly
I cannot stress this enough. If the recipe says “room temperature” for any ingredient – it really is that important! Using cold ingredients can set up your cake for failure. Give yourself time to let your ingredients come to room temperature.
Sometimes the directions tell you to mix the wet ingredients and then add in the dry ingredients in 3 additions. Don’t just dump everything in the bowl and hope for the best. Your cake may still bake, but it won’t have the same texture, and to get the best results you really should follow the directions. Yes, even if you don’t understand why it says to do it that way (advice that only applies to cake!)
And if a from-scratch birthday cake seems daunting, feel free to doctor up a box mix. There are many good tips online for making a box mix better, including this one, which I can attest to being easy and delicious.
Level Your Cakes
Once your cakes are cooled, cut those domed tops off of your cakes so that you’re left with a nice flat top. This will make sure your cake is level and also make it a lot easier to fill and frost your cake evenly.
I love those domed tops. They’re the baker’s bonus because you get a little cake snack while you’re putting the cake together.
Skip the Canned Frosting
Make your own frosting! I promise it is not that difficult and the difference in taste is mind-blowing. Once you make your own frosting, you will never want to go back to canned. Even if you use a box mix, making your own frosting is going to elevate that cake like nothing else. Here’s a recipe for classic American Buttercream that you can use.
Add a Crumb Coat
I had never even heard of a crumb coat before I started baking more seriously. All you need for a crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that you’ve scraped smooth and allowed to harden in the fridge. Then, you put on your final layer of frosting. No crumbs come through because they’re trapped in the crumb coat. It’s also easier to finish frosting and decorating a cake that has been crumb coated (or “dirty iced,” as the Cake Boss says!).
Following these tips will help your cakes turn out more level, be easier to decorate, and taste better! If making your own cakes still seems like a daunting task, or like something you just don’t have the time for, of course, Serendipity Bakes, LLC would love to take that task on for you! But until then, happy baking!