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Birthday Cake Basics

Created January 10, 2017
With Betty’s easy-to-follow directions, you’ll be sweetly surprised at how simple it is to make a moist, delicious and show-stopping birthday cake.

Picking Cake Pans

  • Use the pan size called for in the recipe. If the size is not printed on the bottom of the pan, measure the length and width from inside edge to inside edge. Too small of a pan may allow batter to overflow. Too large of a pan may result in a flat cake.
  • For tender, light cakes, use shiny pans, which reflect heat. Dark pans or pans with nonstick coating absorb heat faster than shiny pans and can cause cakes to brown too quickly.


  • Fill cake pans half full with batter. This is important for a novelty or shaped pan (such as a heart or star shape), which can be an odd size. 

Butter Cakes 

Sometimes called shortening cakes, these are made with butter, shortening or margarine, flour, eggs, liquid and baking powder or baking soda.
  • Avoid over-mixing batter, which can cause tunnels or a sunken center in the cake.
  • Bake cakes on center oven rack.
  • Arrange round cake pans in oven so there is at least 1 inch of space between them.
  • If baking three layers but not all three fit in the oven at once, refrigerate one pan of batter until the others are baked and then bake the remaining layer separately.
  • Grease pans with solid shortening, not butter or margarine. Use cooking spray if the recipe calls for it. 

Foam Cakes

Foam cakes, such as angel food, sponge and chiffon, depend on beaten egg whites for their light and airy texture. Angel food cakes contain no added leavening, no fat and no egg yolks. They have a high proportion of beaten egg whites to flour. Sponge cakes use both egg whites and egg yolks and sometimes a little leavening but do not contain added fat. Chiffon cakes are a cross between foam and butter cakes because they are made with some leavening, vegetable oil or shortening and egg yolks, as well as beaten egg whites
  • Use a clean, dry bowl and beaters to beat egg whites so they will whip properly. Even a speck of fat from egg yolk can keep them from whipping up.
  • Do not grease and flower pans unless directed in the recipe. During baking, batter needs to cling to and climb up the sides of the pan.
  • For any tube pan cake, move oven rack to lowest position in oven so cake will bake completely without browning too much.

Testing for Doneness

Insert wooden cake tester or toothpick into the center of your cake. When you remove the cake tester, it should be clean, occasionally with some dry crumbs on it. If there is wet batter that comes off on the toothpick, the cake is not done.



Easy Cake Removal

To easily remove cake layers from pans, cool in pans on wire cooking racks for 10 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the side of each pan to loosen the cake. Place a cooking rack on top of each cake layer in the pan; turn upside down as a unit and remove pan. Then, place a rack, top side down, on bottom of cake layer; turn over both racks so the layer is right side up. Let layers cool completely on racks.


Storing Cakes

  • Cool cakes completely before wrapping and storing.
  • Refrigerate any cake that contains dairy products in the filling or frosting.
  • Store layer or tube cakes under a cake cover or improvise with an inverted mixing bowl.
  • Serve cakes with fluffy frosting as soon as possible because cake will tend to absorb the frosting. Store under a cake cover but slip a knife under the edge so it is not airtight.
  • Freeze frosted or unfrosted cakes unwrapped on a plate. When frozen, wrap in plastic wrap or foil and freeze up to 6 months.
  • Cakes with cream or fruit filling or whipped cream frosting do not freeze well.
  • Thaw unfrosted cakes wrapped at room temperature. Unwrap frosted cakes before thawing.