Cake Decorating Basics
This is the first part of a series of articles on the basics of cake decorating. Decorating a cake is a process and how you prepare to decorate will play an important role in the end results.
You must think of the cake as your canvas. It must be properly prepared before your first “brush stroke”. The first step in preparation is baking your cake.
Since this is Simple Cake Decorating, all my designs will be based on cake mixes from the box. However, I plan to have a Resource page that will provide links to websites and books with cake recipes for those of you that prefer to bake one from scratch.
Let’s get started!
- Preheat your oven and prepare your cake mix as instructed on the package.
- Prepare your pans. Traditionally, the recommended way to prepare your cake pans is to grease, flour and line your pans with parchment paper. I’m not going to go into the techniques involved in this because the easiest thing to do is to use a cooking spray with flour. I’ve had great results with Pam with Baking Flour. Make sure the sides, corners and any indentations are completely covered.
- Filling your cake pans. Cake mixes will have a guide for the amount of batter they’ll yield, but in general, one box will be enough for two 8 in. round layers, one 10 in. round layer or one 7x11x2 in. If you’re unsure how many cups of batter you’ll need, measure the pan with cups of water first. A box is about 4 to 6 cups. As a rule you shouldn’t fill your pans more than 2/3 full, if you do the pan may overflow and the cake will have a heavy texture.
After you pour the batter into your pans, smooth it with a rubber spatula to help it rise evenly. Place pans in the oven on the middle rack. There should be enough space between pans for air to circulate. If you notice during baking that one pan seems to be rising more quickly than the other, switch them. Use your oven light rather than opening the door to check on the cake.
- Testing for donenes. If you’ve baked the cake according to temperature and time specifications on the package then this step may be unnecessary. However, differences in ovens and environment effect baking times. To test the cake, simply place a toothpick in the center of it, when it comes out it should be almost clean, a few moist crumbs are ok. Also, a cake should spring back when lightly touched and should be pulling away from the sides of the pan.
- Cooling and unmolding your cake. After you remove your cake from the oven, let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes. Then carefully insert the tip of a knife into the space between the cake and side of the pan and glide it around to ensure the sides will release easily. Cut away the raised center of the cake, while it is still in the pan, to prevent cracking when the cake is unmolded. Place a cooling rack on top of the cake, turn both the rack and cake over quickly. Remove the cake pan slowly and carefully by pulling the pan directly up and away from the cake. Then place a second cooling rack on the bottom of the cake and invert it again by holding both racks and flipping them.
Once your cake has cooled completely you can either wrap it in plastic wrap with an outside layer of heavy duty aluminum foil and freeze it or begin decorating it. Cakes actually become easier to decorate and cut when they have been frozen beforehand. Keep this in mind when planning because a cake can be frozen up to three months before icing.
The next step in the process will be covered in Part 2: Leveling and Torting the Cake.