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How to Bake the Perfect Birthday Cake

By Kayla Knudson
Created January 10, 2017
There’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than with a homemade birthday cake! Get Betty’s tips and tricks for baking success every time.

Getting Started

  • First things first: be sure your oven is heated to the correct temperature. If the oven is too cold, the cake won’t rise. If it’s too hot, the cake may overbake. Preheat your oven 10-15 minutes before you use it so it can heat to the correct baking temperature.
  • With cakes, accuracy is key. Measure ingredients precisely and add them in the order listed in the recipe. If ingredients are over or under-measured, or the order of ingredients and beating times are not followed, the cake may not rise or bake properly. 

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.

Mixing the Batter

  • Portable or standard electric mixers both work well for beating cake batter. Standard mixers are the more powerful of the two, so when using one, reduce the speed to low during the first step of beating to prevent splattering. You can also mix cake batter by hand. Stir the ingredients to moisten and blend, then beat 150 strokes for every minute of beating time.
  • Use butter for best results. If you choose to substitute margarine, use those with at least 65% fat. Do not use reduced-fat butter or whipped products. 

Cooling Tips

Once your cake is baked, follow instructions for cooling and pan removal. If no instruction is provided, a standard rule of thumb is to cool your cake in its pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. If a cake is left in its pan too long and sticks, you can try reheating it in the oven for 1 minute.

Cake Decorating Bags

There are several kinds of cake decorating bags available. Some are reusable and plastic coated; others are disposable and made of parchment paper. The plastic-coated bags can be used with or without a coupler. The coupler allows you to change decorating tips while still using the same bag of frosting or icing. A coupler is not used for large cake decorating tips.

  • Arrange all the tools you plan to use on a turntable or lazy Susan. That way everything you need is within reach.
  • Lightly outline the areas on the cake to be decorated with a toothpick, or write a message with the toothpick to make sure the spacing is adequate for the size of the cake. These toothpick tracings also provide a guide for piping the cake frosting.
  • If your first try doesn’t work, smooth the frosting with a knife and try again.

Frosting a Layer Cake


  • Brush any loose crumbs from cooled cake layer. Place 4 strips of waxed paper around edge of plate. Place layer, rounded side down, on plate.


  • Spread 1/3 to 1/2 cup frosting over top of first layer to within about 1/4 inch of edge.


  • Place second cake layer, rounded side up, on frosted first layer. Coat side of cake with a very thin layer of frosting to seal in crumbs.


  • Frost side of cake in swirls, making a rim about 1/4 inch high above top of cake. Spread remaining frosting on top, just to the built-up rim. Carefully remove waxed-paper strips.


Simple Ways to Decorate a Cake

Turn a plain frosted cake into a masterpiece with one of these easy toppers. Remember to add these easy extras just before serving to keep them from getting soft.

  • Fresh fruit such as berries or slices of kiwifruit to add a pop of color.
  • Candies such as fruit slices, gummy candies and marzipan.
  • Frosted animal crackers, pirouette cookies or mini sandwich cookies add interest without much work.
  • Sprinkles or decors, available in a wide variety at your supermarket specialty food store or cake-decorating supply stores.
  • Edible flowers, candied violets or rose petals grown without pesticides so they can be eaten.
  • Nuts such as pecans, cashews, or walnut halves.
  • Shredded, toasted, or flaked coconut.