Taste of HomeClassic Chocolate CakeCheck out this video for how to make Classic Chocolate Cake!
As Julia Child once said, “A party without a cake is just a meeting.” And how true! Learning how to bake a cake, even a simple one is your gateway to make any gathering—whether it’s a birthday, graduation party or just a weeknight dinner—into a celebration.
You can make these celebratory desserts at home easily. Just check out our essential techniques, homemade cake recipes and must-have gear to get started. Soon, all your gatherings will be celebrations.
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How to Bake a Cake from Scratch
While there are so many cake recipes out there, there’s nothing like mastering a classic chocolate cake. There are no fancy layers or fillings in this easy recipe, as it can be made right in your favorite 13×9 pan.
2/3 cup butter, softened
1-2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups whole milk
Confectioners’ sugar or favorite frosting to top
Step 1: Cream Ingredients
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Use a hand or stand mixer and beat for about five minutes. Then add in the eggs one at a time and beat well. Beating the eggs into the batter here adds air and lightness, so don’t be afraid to blend for a while—a minute after each addition is perfect.
Step 2: Mix Dry Ingredients and Add to Batter
In another bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
Then alternate adding these dry ingredients and the milk into the creamed mixture. Be mindful not to overbeat the batter here or you’ll have a tough, chewy cake. Beat until the last of the flour is just combined.
Step 3: Bake
Next, prepare your pan for baking. Grab your favorite 13×9″ pan and give it a coat of cooking spray. Even if the pan is nonstick, a quick spritz is a good insurance policy.
Then pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350ºF for 35 to 40 minutes—until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For best results, bake the cake on the center rack.
When baked through, remove the cake from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack. Do not ever frost a warm cake—the frosting will get soaked up into the cake like a sponge.
Step 4: Frost
When the cake is completely cool, top with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar or frost with your favorite icing. Canned frosting will do in a pinch, but we all know the homemade stuff is the best! Simple vanilla buttercream is a great finish, but who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter paired together?
Types of Cake
There are lots of variations on cake out there (sometimes you’ll hear cake referred to as sponge—these terms are used interchangeably). All are delicious and worth mastering for whatever meeting you want to turn into a party.
These are the cakes we know and love. A tall, layered cake is what makes birthday parties so special. Layer cakes are simply cakes that are staked high and sandwiched with frosting or other fillings. They can be frosted and decorated on the outside or even kept “naked” (little frosting revealing the layers inside). Layer cakes are the ultimate celebration cakes and can be made in any flavor combination.
Not every celebration calls for a fantastic layer cake. That’s where sheet cakes come in. Sheet cakes are baked in a sheet pan and topped with a single layer of frosting. They are equally delicious as their towering counterparts but take less time and are easier to decorate. Like layer cakes, sheet cakes come in all sizes and flavors.
Pound cakes get their name from the traditional weight of ingredients used to make them: equal parts butter, flour, sugar and eggs. Pound cakes tend to be dense and moist cakes. You’ll often see pound cakes baked up in loaf pans or decorative fluted tube pans. Since these cakes tend to be light on decoration, they make for great everyday bakes. Make one for dessert and have it the next day for breakfast.
Bundt cakes are named for the type of pan used to bake them. Bundt pans (or fluted cake pans) are decorative molds that typically have a hole in the center. Because of the decorative nature of these pans, heavier batters tend to work better. Pound cake batters and recipes developed specifically for these pans work best (our Test Kitchen recommend steering clear of baking boxed cake mixes in Bundt pans). If you’re new to Bundt cakes, check out our Test Kitchen’s top tips.
Perhaps the best part about baking Bundts (other than that they are absolutely delectable) is that they don’t require a lot of decoration. A simple glaze or a dusting of confectioners’ sugar is all you need.
Angel Food and Chiffon Cakes
If you’re searching for a light and airy cake, look for angel food cake and chiffon cake recipes. These cakes get their light texture and volume from whipped egg whites. These cakes are also baked in a tube pan, giving them a distinctive shape. Because these cakes are so delicate, they’re often served up simply with no frosting. Fresh fruit and homemade whipped cream heaped on the side is optional but highly encouraged.
Cake rolls are a great way to serve cake a little differently. Cake rolls are made up of a light sponge cake and rolled up with the filling of your choice—jelly, frosting, even ice cream. You can leave cake rolls plain, dust them with a bit of confectioners’ sugar or frost them—it’s all up to you. Mastering the swirl can seem tricky, but if you follow our guide for how to make a cake roll, you should have no troubles.
Coffee cakes are, simply, cakes intended to be eaten alongside coffee or tea. They’re commonly made in tube pans or fluted cake pans (though you’ll see them made in 13×9 pans and even round cake pans at times). These cakes are served unadorned—no frosting needed! Also, they tend to be a bit less sweet since they’re meant more as a snack or breakfast than a dessert.
Essential Cake Baking Tips
Whether you’re a master baker or just have a favorite boxed cake mix (hey, we do!), there are always some tips to brush up on before baking so you get the best possible results.
How to Grease a Cake Pan
Learning how to grease a cake pan is essential, particularly for layer cakes and Bundt cakes. Coating the pans with a bit of butter or shortening and then dusting with flour is key. This will allow your cakes to come out in one piece. If working with a flat-bottomed cake pan, you can add a layer of parchment paper on the bottom, too, for easy release.
How to Mix Cake Batter
Different cakes call for different methods. No matter the method, however, it’s crucial to mix the flour into the batter until just combined. If you keep mixing the batter for an extended period of time after adding flour, you’ll end up with a tough cake; that’s because the longer the flour is manipulated in the batter, the more gluten is developed causing a chewy cake. To keep cakes light and tender, mix only until combined.
How to Make Cake Moist
Cakes get moisture from all sorts of ingredients. Some cakes, like our Test Kitchen’s favorite vanilla cake, rely upon sour cream for moisture. Other recipes may call for buttermilk, yogurt or even applesauce. All these ingredients add moisture to your cake, so be sure not to scrimp on them. If a cake calls for a full cup of sour cream, be sure to add it.
Also, be sure not to overbake your cake! All the moisture-adding ingredients in the world won’t do you any good if you leave the cake in the oven for too long.
Where to Put Cake in the Oven
Just like when baking cookies, you should use the middle rack to bake your cakes. You don’t want the cake too close to the heating elements on the bottom or top of the oven. Using the middle rack ensures your cake will be cooked evenly.
How to Know When Cake Is Done
Knowing when your cake is done is a challenge—particularly with chocolate cakes. To determine if your cake is done, try a basic toothpick test. Just insert a toothpick into the center of your cake. If it comes out clean (or with just a few crumbs), the cake is done. If the toothpick is full of wet batter, it needs more time.
You can also test cakes by gently pressing on the top. If the cake springs back, it’s ready to come out of the oven. If that indent stays, keep it in a bit longer.
How to Cut a Cake
You made the perfect cake, now get the perfect slice. The secret to clean slices of cake is to dip the knife into hot water then wipe it dry. The hot blade will cut cleanly through all the layers to reveal a gorgeous slice. Be sure to wipe clean before slices.
How to Store Cake
After you’ve sliced into your cake, you might find yourself with some leftovers. Cakes are best eaten within a week and stored in a cake keeper or cake dome. If the frosting is heat-sensitive (think Swiss meringue buttercream, cream cheese or whipped cream), keep that cake in the fridge.
You can freeze cakes as well—frosted or unfrosted. Just be sure to wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or seal them well in an airtight bag or container.
Once you’ve baked up a delicious cake (and resisted slicing into it), it’s time to decorate. Decorating can be simple and fuss-free or a great way to get creative. It’s all up to you! Start by grabbing a few cake decorating essentials.
Many cake recipes come with a recommended frosting recipe attached. But if you want to be a bit creative, check out some of our favorite frosting recipes. Mixing and matching batters and icings is a great way to find a new combo to love. If you’re unsure where to start, a basic American buttercream is a good place to begin.
How to Frost a Layer Cake
Frosting a layer cake might seem like a fussy process, but it doesn’t need to be a struggle. All you need to get the job done is a cake plate or cake stand and an offset spatula. Level off your cakes and start stacking. Keep the plate clean by layering waxed paper around the edge. When you’re done, pull it away for a clean plate ready for serving.
Creative Cake Decorating
Cake decorating is a great way to be creative. It’s easy to go beyond basic swirls. Try finishing off your cake with a drip effect courtesy of ganache. Transform your cake into a creature (how cute is this unicorn?). Even just some cute edible decorations go a long way.
Cake Baking Supplies
To get started baking cake, you need a few kitchen staples: a mixer, cake pans and an offset spatula for frosting. Once you fall in love with baking and cake decorating, it’s easy to fill your cupboards with all sorts of fun cake baking gear, including these Test Kitchen favorite cake strips for level cakes.
Check out Taste of Home’s Test Kitchen-approved bakeware line to give your gear an upgrade.
General Cake FAQs
Even experienced cake bakers run into issues now and again. Here are solutions to the most common cake issues.
What Ingredients Make Cake Soft?
If you’re looking for an especially tender cake, try using cake flour. This flour is more finely milled than all-purpose flour and has less gluten which means it yields softer cakes. Get started with these cakes that call for cake flour.
No matter what flour you use, be sure not to overmix the batter. Overmixing will make for a tough, chewy cake.
How Do You Fix Dry Cake?
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your cake ends up dry. You might end up with a dry cake if you accidentally add too much flour or bake it too long. You can fix a dry cake by adding a simple syrup wash or milk soak the way Christina Tosi does. Consider transforming a dry cake into a trifle, too. Adding creams, fruits and more can add moisture and flavor to a dry cake.
How Can I Tell if My Cake Is Done—without a Toothpick?
The toothpick test is the easiest way to test a cake. If you can’t find a toothpick, get creative! Try a bamboo skewer or a sharp paring knife. If you don’t have anything to pierce your cake, try pressing the top of the cake. If it springs back, it’s ready to come out of the oven.
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