Baking Tips

How to Not Screw Up a Special-Occasion Cake

No one wants to make a mistake when the stakes are high.

Published Jan. 24, 2023.

So your friend asked you to make their birthday cake. The pressure is on. 

The hard part about baking a cake for a special occasion is that other people are going to see it and taste it, so you want it to be the best version it can be. There’s more pressure than baking for fun for your family, who might excuse a mistake or two.

The cake you’re baking should both taste and look great. (And be sure to use the triple nonstick method to keep it from sticking to the pan.) Here are four steps along the way where something can go wrong, and foolproof solutions we’ve learned from years of experience.

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Problem #1: Measuring Inaccurately

Baking a great cake takes precision, especially when it comes to measuring out ingredients. 

SOLUTION: Flour and sugar should be weighed using a kitchen scale, rather than measured in dry measuring cups. Use liquid measuring cups for measuring wet ingredients. (Yes, it really does matter which measuring cup you use!)

Problem #2: Not Knowing When the Cake Is Done

Pulling a cake before it’s done can mean an underbaked cake; pulling it too late will likely result in a dry cake. 

SOLUTION: Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake. Cakes made with butter are done when the toothpick comes out clean. Moister cakes are done when the toothpick is dry, but still has a few crumbs. 

We like toothpicks so much better than cake testers—cake crumbs catch easily on the toothpick’s rough, textured surfaces; they just can’t adhere to the smooth metal surfaces of the cake testers.

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Problem #3: Frosting a Warm Cake

Putting frosting on even a slightly warm cake will lead to a melted mess of buttercream

SOLUTION: Be patient and wait until the layers have fully cooled before decorating. This can take anywhere between two and three hours depending on the type of cake and the temperature of your kitchen.

Problem #4: Transportation Mishaps

You need to transport the cake to another location. After all the work you’ve put into this cake, the last thing you want is for it to tip over on the drive or knock into something during transportation.

SOLUTION: Use our winning cake carrier. It’s the safest way to move your gorgeous cake. Bonus: It also doubles as a cupcake carrier.

If you don’t have a cake carrier, you can thwart any potential messes with a beach towel—really! Line the trunk of your car with a large, damp beach towel before placing the cake (on a platter) in the trunk. The towel will prevent the cake from slipping. 

Alternatively, you also can line the bottom of a cake carrier or other container with a small piece of nonskid shelf liner (or a cutting board stabilizer) to keep the contents from sliding into the walls of the carrier while in transit.

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