Baking a cake from scratch is easy once you know Grandma's secrets. By knowing how Grandma baked her cakes, you'll be able to follow the old fashioned cake recipes and consistently make homemade cakes you'll be proud to serve.
Below you'll find all the secrets, such as how to prepare for baking, how to properly grease the pan, how to bake a flat top cake, how to know when your cake is done, how to cool it the proper way before decorating, and lots more. Everything you'll need to get started.
Whatever old fashioned cake recipe you choose, realize that your first attempt is likely to be an experiment. Rejoice if it turns out perfectly, but don't be surprised if it doesn't.
As Chef Julia Child said, "No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing." Baking a cake from scratch was something that even the great Julia had to practice!
If you need the cake for a special occasion, and you haven't the time to experiment, always choose a cake recipe you're familiar with, one that you've used before. That way, you'll be certain of good results.
Before doing anything, carefully read your cake recipe and check to see that you have all the ingredients it calls for. There's nothing more frustrating when baking a cake from scratch than getting halfway through the mixing process and realizing you're missing something. Also, learn what ingredients you can substitute.
Be sure to measure out the ingredients and have them ready. That way, everything will go smoothly, and you'll be less prone to make an error. Also, there are times when you might need help with converting weights and measures.
You might find the help you need within the recipe itself, as a baking suggestion. And tips are sometimes given for best results when baking a cake from scratch.
And if you're ever stuck, click on the Red Button at the upper right of my pages for Recipe Help.
Set your oven to the temperature recommended in your recipe, allowing time for your oven to preheat. Help with oven temperatures is available should you ever need it.
Prepare your cake pan by greasing and flouring it, unless your recipe says otherwise. By doing this important step early, it helps to make sure you don't forget to do it later.
Use a pasty brush to coat your pan's interior with softened butter. You don't need to overdo it, but the whole pan should be coated.
If you don't have a brush handy, simply use a small piece of wax paper to scoop up a bit of butter and smear it over the surface of the pan.
Then take a small handful of flour and sprinkle it over your pan. Shake the pan and tap its sides, moving the pan around until the flour has lightly coated the butter layer.
Dump out any loose flour, and your pan is ready for the cake batter, with less chance of your cake sticking to the pan later.
Always set your timer to the minimum baking time called for in the recipe. When the time is up, test your cake to see whether it's done using one or all of the following methods:
Repeat testing is vital as you won't want to over bake your cake. How to test a cake for doneness is the question most often asked by beginners when baking a cake from scratch for the first time.
Now that you know the cake testing methods and take care to use them, your cakes should always turn out perfectly baked.
After removing your cake from the oven, set the pan on a wire cooling rack to ensure that the bottom of the pan has air flow to help it cool.
Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to separate the cake from the sides of the pan, and allow the cake to cool for at least 15 minutes.
Just be sure to hold the knife vertical to the sides of the pan to avoid cutting into the cake.
The cake will shrink slightly as it sits cooling, and the separation will allow it to shrink evenly, instead of being stuck to the sides of the pan.
Unless the recipe calls for the cake to be cooled in the pan, usually you should remove your cake from the pan after it has sat for about 15 minutes.
Don't attempt to remove a hot cake from its pan immediately upon taking it from the oven; it's too delicate at that stage, and it might crumble and break.
Your cake must be completely cooled before you start decorating it, or your icing will surely melt. Allow about 3 hours to cool a large cake thoroughly.
Smaller, thinner cakes will require less cooling time. Always plan ahead to allow adequate cooling time.
By allowing the cake time to cool on the wire rack, it allows air to reach the entire cake, reducing moisture, and allowing it to cool more quickly.
Once cooled enough, you can safely turn the cake over onto a plate to finish cooling before decorating.
To safely remove your cake from the pan, place a cooling rack on top of the cake, then turn over both rack and cake together, while gently tapping the pan's bottom with your fingers to release the cake.
You might need to run the knife around the edges of the pan again should it offer any resistance to being removed.
You'll find additional instructions below on how to remove cakes from various kinds of pans when baking a cake from scratch.
Placing a sheet of wax paper between the cake and the cooling rack will help to prevent possible ridges.
Grandma used to lay a clean tea towel across the rack. It still permitted some air flow, but it prevented the cake from having direct contact with the metal rack.
If the cake appears stuck to the rack, simply place your plate over the bottom of the cake, with the top side of the plate in contact with the cake bottom.
Then, placing one hand over the bottom of the plate and the other beneath the cooling rack, turn the cake over and let it rest for a minute. It should separate from the rack, but if it's sticking to the rack, very gently rock the rack to loosen it from the cake.
Mom's Recipe Scrapbooks (c. 1920s)
Be sure to remember the following cake removal tips, as you'll find them helpful once your cake is baked.
To cool layer cakes, sheet cakes, or loaf cakes, carefully turn them upside down so they rest on the edge of two pans. This setup allows air to circulate all around cake for cooling.
To remove square cake, oblong cake, or loaf cake from pan, loosen sides with spatula, or knife. Turn the pan upside down. Give edge of pan a sharp tap on the table and cake will release.
When your round Angel cake is thoroughly cool, loosen side with spatula or knife. Turn your pan upside down. Hit edge of pan sharply on table top to remove cake.
Cakes with flat tops are easier to ice and easier to stack should you wish to make a layer cake. Unfortunately, cakes sometimes rise in the center forming a little dome shape, and they sometimes crack wide open.
So, here's some of Grandma's practical tips to use when baking a cake from scratch and you want it perfect:
While it's always possible to take a long serrated knife, or a bread knife, and slice off the unwanted cake dome, there's an easier method that Grandma used which works much better.
She took an old terrycloth towel and cut it in strips as wide as the depth of her cake pans and long enough to wrap completely around them.
Just before placing her cake in the oven, she wet the terrycloth strip in cold water, ran her thumb and finger along its length to remove the excess water, wrapped the damp strip around the pan, and secured it with safety pins.
How does it work? The moisture remaining in the terrycloth strip helps the cake to bake more evenly, so it rises with a wonderfully flat top.
Remember: Do NOT wring the strips out, just remove the excess water, as the wetness also prevents the strip from burning. Clever, eh?
Nowadays, you can purchase ready-made strips for your cake pans to do the same thing, but it's cheaper to just make your own. Baking a cake from scratch shouldn't call for unnecessary expense.
As Grandma would say, "Why spend good money on something when you don't need to?"
Dishes & Beverages of the Old South (1913)
The very queen among cake makers sums up her successful baking secrets in a sentence: "The best of everything!"
Cake will never be better than the things whereof it is made, no matter how skilled the maker. But it can be, and too often is, dismally worse, thus involving a waste of heaven's good gifts of sugar, butter, eggs, flour, and flavors.
Having the best at hand, use it well. Isaac Walton's direction for the bait, "Use them as though you loved them," applies here as many elsewhere.
Here's some practical secrets to baking a cake from scratch:
As for the size of cake pan to use with a recipe, it's sometimes a guessing game even for experienced cooks.
What I sometimes do is to have a couple of medium-sized pans (or one medium-sized pan and one smaller pan) ready for the cake batter.
In the end, I might only require the use of one pan, or I might use both. You can usually decide what size of pan is needed by judging the quantity of batter.
Here's one of the handy little cake baking tips that Grandma sometimes used when baking a cake from scratch:
You can easily calculate the capacity of any cake pan by measuring the water it takes to fill it, then compare to a rough estimate of the cake recipe's ingredients measured in cups.
Remember, layer cake pans should be only half-filled with cake batter to ensure the cake rises evenly.
If you find yourself trying to fit a round cake into a square pan or baking a cake in layers, you will find the following baking pan conversions very helpful when baking a cake from scratch.
Equivalent to one 11x7-inch pan, one 9x5-inch loaf pan, two 8-inch pie plates, or about 1 to 1-1/2 dozen cupcakes.
Equivalent to two 9-inch round pans, three 8-inch round pans, one 10-inch Bundt pan, or about 2 to 3 dozen cupcakes.
One 8-inch square pan, one 9-inch square pan, one 10-inch pie plate, or about 1 to 1-1/2 dozen cupcakes.
Equivalent to two 8x4-inch loaf pans, two 8-inch round pans, one 9-inch tube pan, one 10-inch Bundt pan, one 10-inch springform pan, or about 1-1/2 to 2 dozen cupcakes.
Equivalent to one 10-inch round pan, one 10-inch springform pan, two 8-inch round pans, two 9-inch round pans, or about 1-1/2 to 2 dozen cupcakes.
Equivalent to three 9-inch round pans, two 10-inch pie plates, four 8-inch pie plates, two 9x5-inch loaf pans, two 8-inch square pans, or about 2 to 3 dozen cupcakes.
Equivalent to one 9x13-inch pan, two 9-inch round pans, one 9-inch tube pan, two 11x7-inch pans, one 10-inch springform pan, or about 1-1/2 to 2 dozen cupcakes.
Many old fashioned cake recipes did not specify exact temperatures for baking, but simply suggested the following oven temperatures:
You can also get accurate Oven Temperatures that will help you to get proper results when using the old fashioned cake recipes.
Old fashioned cake recipes are sometimes skimpy on baking instructions, as it was assumed that household cooks of that time knew how to bake.
So, experimenting with the recipes is sometimes necessary and always part of the fun. Reading the practical cake baking secrets on this page will ensure you get successful results when baking a cake from scratch.
I purposely include several recipes of the same kind on each page since usually one or two of the recipes will suggest a specific baking time, the type of cake pan to use, and so on. What one recipe suggests will often work with the other recipes too.
The good news is that old fashioned cake recipes are very forgiving which is why many simply say or imply, "bake until done." The secret to baking perfect cakes from scratch is to test OFTEN for doneness!
Always feel free to modify the cake recipes to your preferred taste or available ingredients; that's part of the fun when experimenting with old fashioned baking methods.
For instance, you'll notice that some old fashioned cake recipes might call for a "pinch of salt" or "salt to taste," but most do not.
Since the historical recipes are presented exactly as first published to preserve the historical taste of the finished dessert, I've not added or modified the called-for ingredients.
Why was salt not a common ingredient in old fashioned cake recipes?
It's thought by some food experts that our modern palate craves a saltier taste because of the highly processed foods we've become accustomed to, whereas a less salty taste was considered normal in great-grandma's day when everything was home baked — and, it can be said, healthier.