A step-by-step guide to baking a cake
Baking is one of those things that seems pretty daunting at first. But in my experience, baking is totally doable. Why bake? Well, the primary reason is to eat! There’s nothing more satisfying that sampling your creations. Also, home-baked goods are an excellent way to impress family, friends, and everyone else in your life. I decided to bake a snickerdoodle cake, because who doesn’t like snickerdoodles? I made a few mistakes along the way, but the end result was absolutely delicious and very fun to make.
The recipe I used came from one of my favourite recipe blogs, Life Love and Sugar. I didn’t include the details of the recipe here because I didn’t want to take credit for it, but I did document my process and provide a few tips. You can find the recipe at this link: https://www.lifeloveandsugar.com/snickerdoodle-layer-cake/
Before you start baking, make sure to leave out some butter so that it can warm up to room temperature. However, if you forget this step (like I always do), it’s just as easy to pop a few sticks of butter into the microwave and heat them until softened. Another important pre-step is to line and grease your cake tins. I like to trace the outline of my tins on parchment paper, then cut the paper to size. I then used cooking oil along the sides of the tins. As a general rule of thumb, it’s better to err on the side of too much when greasing cake tins. Nothing is worse than when your cakes get stuck to the pan.
Now, let’s get started! The first step was to combine the dry ingredients. Simple enough, so long as you don’t mix up any measurements. My cat, Henry, also helped.
Next, I added the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract to a bowl and mixed them for about 3 and a half minutes. They ended up white, fluffy, and weirdly shiny. In this recipe, it’s important to mix the ingredients for the recommended length of time (3 to 4 minutes). Don’t ask me why.
Next, I added the eggs, one at a time. (Protip: If you’re messy like me, it’s always a good idea to measure ingredients or crack eggs over a separate dish to prevent spillage)
After adding the milk and flour, I had something resembling cake batter. Success!
I poured the batter into my two greased and parchment papered pans. I usually like to add the batter using a measuring cup, so that I can be sure the cakes are equal. Then, I gave my tins a few taps to get rid of any trapped air bubbles and spread out the batter evenly. Protip: I like to wipe excess batter off of the edges of the tins with a paper towel before baking, as this prevents the batter from burning and getting the pan all crusty.
I baked my cakes for 32 minutes, checking them halfway through. However, tragedy struck. I tried to tip my cakes out of the pans after 5 minutes of cooling as per the recipe, but this was too soon. One of my cakes broke! Luckily it will still taste good. I would recommend waiting quite a bit longer than I did so that the cakes can cool and set before attempting to take them out of the pans.
Cakes cooled and put away, I began work on the snickerdoodle crumble. I first blended some snickerdoodle cookies in a food processor, then added the crumbs to my other dry ingredients and mixed.
Then, I added my melted butter and mixed. I lined a small pan with parchment paper, and spread my crumble out across it. I then popped it in the oven.
The crumble took about 10 minutes to bake, slightly longer than the time range recommended by the recipe.
Crumble successfully accomplished, I started in on the snickerdoodle filling. First, I creamed my butter.
After creaming my butter, I added my dry ingredients and mixed. I waited until all of the other ingredients were combined to add the cookie crumbles, since I didn’t want them to get even more broken up. (I used a food processor to get the cookie crumbles, like before)
With the snickerdoodle filling taken care of, I started in on the buttercream frosting. After my butter and margarine where creamed together, I started adding my powdered sugar.
I added the powdered sugar in 8 1-cup increments in an effort to prevent powdered sugar from flying everywhere. I still made a huge mess however. Then, I added the rest of the ingredients. This might seem like way too much frosting, but in the end it was just the right amount for my cake.
With all my components prepared, the only step left was the most intimidating one: cake assembly. These cakes were relatively easy to level off, because they are dense and don’t rise much. Even so, it’s still important to level your cakes if you plan on stacking them. Originally, the recipe called for the cakes to be cut in half horizontally too (called torting), but because one of my cakes had broken, I did not.
It’s best to use a large, serrated knife (like a bread knife) to level cakes. I like to move in smaller sections, going in towards the center from the sides. Don’t be afraid to slice off a solid amount of cake in order to flatten things out- you’ll be grateful you did later when stacking.
Then, I transferred my first layer of cake to a turntable. I frosted a wall around the edges of the cake to provide the cake with support and to keep the snickerdoodle filling inside. Protip: If you don’t have frosting bags, cutting a hole in the corner of a plastic Ziploc bag works just as well.
Then, I placed my second cake on top. It’s best to place the top cake upside down, so that the crumbs from leveling don’t come off in the frosting later on.
Frosting a cake isn’t really as hard as it looks in my opinion. Generally, I start from the top and move down the sides using a large spatula. I always glob on lots of frosting, and take the excess off as I go. If you want your frosting really smooth, you can use the back of a heated spoon along the edges. The way I see it, however, a less than perfect frosting job builds character.
Cake sufficiently frosted, I added my snickerdoodle crumble along the bottom and over the top of the cake. Then, I cut three snickerdoodles in half for a garnish.
Of course, the best part of baking is eating! I shared a little bit of frosting with my cat, Hazel, too.
For more tips and techniques from a professional baker, check out Claire Saffitz’s series of instructional Youtube videos, which are on the Bon Appetit channel.