The Saga of Baking a Cake

Dixie with buckets

It is my opinion that the best way to ruin a good cake mix is to follow the package directions!  

Basic package instructions are as follows: Bake at 350º for 30 to 35 minutes, cool 15 minutes, turn out of pan, cool completely before frosting.  

Following above instructions, here’s the results:

There’s a large mound in the middle of the cake, usually cracked.  The edges are very low, and quite dry. 

After the 15 minute wait time, the cake is still quite hot, so it’s very fragile and breaks when tipped out onto it’s top. The more you try to save it, the worse it breaks.  If you leave it alone until it’s cool, it sticks to the surface of whatever you dumped it onto and breaks worse when you try to adjust it’s placement for icing and decorating.   

Did I remember to mention baking in the “real world” where you finally got it out of the oven at midnight after getting home from work, feeding the family, checking on homework, doing the dishes, etc.?

So, now to keep the cake from drying out you want to at least get a coat of icing on the cake before you go to bed.  You’re too tired to do anything else, (like move) while waiting for the cake to cool (which is akin to watching paint dry).  Since the cake is just barely cooled (‘cause you really want to go to bed), crumbs keep pulling up.  The more careful you are, the more you try to fix the problem, the worse it gets. 

By the time you get to sleep, there’s precious little time before you need to start the new day, all perky and happy (??) from working on your celebration dessert.  I believe most of the people in the world awake at 2:30 a.m. are cake decorators! 

Life is too short to live like that!  Here is the way I handle the situation.  It’s quick and simple.  Give it a try.  I think it will make cake decorating much more fun,  besides greatly improving the quality of your cakes without going to extreme measures with multiple additives, pan insulation strips and the like. You will now need NONE of that stuff! 

Ready?  Here goes….. 

Set the Oven to 300º

Yes, that’s correct, 300º! Your cake will come out so smooth and level, the edges will be every bit as tender, and tall, as the middle. Also, those little explosive holes in the cake will not be there anymore!

Purchase an Oven Thermometer

Thermometers are only a couple dollars, worth every bit and then some.  Ovens are rarely accurate.  In my “cake kitchen” I have 9 ovens, and not one of them is set at the same place on the dial to get to the same 300º temperature, nor have they been since the day I bought the ovens new!

If your oven is below 300º the cake will not cook properly.  It’s best to be a touch above 300º than below, if your oven is inaccurate.

Prepare the Pan

Grease and flour both the bottom and sides of the cake pan(s) using solid shortening. You won’t need to line with parchment, or any such thing.

To really make this job easy, make your own batch of one step, ready-to-use Pan Spread, as follows:


In mixer, blend together 1 cup solid shortening and 2 cups all purpose flour.
Slowly pour in 1 cup vegetable oil, mixing well until mixture is the consistency of White cake batter.
Apply to pans with a pastry brush. No additional flour dusting necessary.

Mixture will keep a long time stored on the shelf, or basically “forever” in the refrigerator.  You may have to stir once in a while as some of the oil will settle to the bottom after a time.  I just keep my pastry brush in a plastic zip lock bag on top of my tub of pan spread in the refrigerator, always at the ready.  If you have a lot of large cake pans to grease you may want to purchase a real good quality (so the bristles don’t come out) 3” or 4” paint brush to really speed the process along.

Prepare the Batter

My personal favorite cake mix is Duncan Hines. I just think they have the best flavor and texture as well. However, my instructions will work similarly for all brands.

White Cake

3 egg whites, (use “Grade A large” eggs = slight ½ cup)
1¼ cups water
⅓ cup flour
2 Tablespoons oil

It has recently been brought to my attention that there may be a change in the Duncan Hines white cake mix.  If the batter seems much too thick, so much so that you can’t spread the batter evenly across the bottom of the cake pan, try adding an extra Tablespoon of water.

Chocolate Cake (or other flavored cake)

3 whole eggs, (large eggs = ⅔ cup)
1¼ cups water
⅓ cup flour
2 Tablespoons oil

Baking Time

Cake will bake a bit longer than usual.  All large wedding cake layers, (2 inch deep pans) will bake for an hour.

9” x 13” pan (with one cake mix) bake 40 minutes*
8” layer cake (2 pans/ one cake mix) 35 minutes
9” layer cake (2 pans/ one cake mix) 30 minutes

*Please see information on pan size suggestions below.

The Oven

Don’t overload oven – leave space between pans; do not let pans touch oven walls.
Do not over bake!  Done is determined by:

TOUCH – a very slight imprint will remain when touched lightly
TOOTHPICK – comes out clean
SMELL – when the aroma suddenly fills the kitchen.  Pay attention there’s a point when it just bursts forth! 

Now comes the magic!

Allow cake to cool in pan. The cooler it is, the firmer it is – making handling easier.

(Cover with a thin towel and go to bed if you like!)

Got too cool, now it’s stuck in the pan?  

Turn the stove burner on medium, warm the entire bottom of pan, especially the edges, just enough to melt oil/flour coating; the bottom should feel warm, but it will not burn your fingers when touched.  (You don’t want to re-cook your cake, just loosen it.)  Cake will tip right out.  Since the cake is now cool and firm you can align it on the cake board anyway you like, without breaking it!  

Happy Cake Decorating. Amen and Alleluia!

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