Decorating great looking cakes starts by first knowing the basics of cake baking. Properly prepared pans, cake batter, baking, and timing all factor in the quality of your baked cakes. Having well-baked and assembled cakes will make the decorating process easier and more enjoyable. While the overall appearance of the cake is important, it’s the taste that is key!
Step 2: Prepare cake batter according to recipe and fill greased pan 2/3 full. Try experimenting with different recipes or box mixes until you find one you enjoy using the most.
Step 3: Bake cake according to directions. Test the cake to be sure it is done by inserting a cake tester into the center of the cake. If the tester comes out clean, the cake is done. The cake should be just golden brown on top and the sides should begin to pull away from the pan. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.
Step 4: Remove the dome on the top of the cake with a large bread knife or cake slicer. Resting the knife on the pan edge will help to make a level cut.
Step 5: When the pan has cooled enough to touch, slide a knife between the edge of the cake and the pan. Put a cooling rack or cookie sheet over the top of the pan and holding the two together, flip over. If you use a cookie sheet, you will need to slide the cake onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.
Step 6: The cake needs to be removed from the pan at the right time, otherwise, the cake may break or crumble. When the pan has cooled, still warm to the touch but no longer hot, then the cake is ready to be removed from the pan. If the cake is too warm when it’s removed it may crack and if it is left in the pan too long, it can stick to the pan. Leave the cake in the pan for about 10 minutes after it is removed from the oven. Lift the pan away from the cake slowly and allow the cake to finish cooling.
*If the top of the cake is still domed, you can use a cake leveler to even the top after the cake has completely cooled. Having a level cake will help when you go to ice it. Cakes that are uneven on top may split or crack when turned over. Insulated cake strips may be used to help ensure even baking. The strips can be found in different sizes and are easy to use. Wet strips, remove excess water, then wrap around outside of the cake pan. Cake strips also help to cut back on the amount of cake that is wasted when it is trimmed and leveled.
Autumn Carpenter’s book The Complete Photo Guide to Cake Decorating is a great resource to have on hand when baking and decorating cakes. The book contains detailed instructions along with pictures on how to properly bake and cool a cake for decorating.