1001 Tips for Making Your Own Wedding or Celebration Cake
Part 3 - The Oven, Pans, & Pan Prep
This is Part 3 of my attempt at providing 1001 Tips for Making Your Own Wedding or Celebration Cake.
Part 1 dealt with The Design & Planning Stage,
Part 2 dealt with the ingredients going to the cake,
and this part deals with kind of boring topics of Ovens, Pans, and Pan Prep
Big Tip #1 - Test the calibration of your oven
So you turn on your oven, set the temperature, and figure you are golden... But not so fast. How do you know the temperature of your oven is really what it says it is? Mine is waaayyyy off. If I set the temperature to 350 degrees, the actual temperature only reaches 325. If I want 350 I need to set the temperature at 370.
To test your oven’s temperature buy a portable oven thermometer and place it on the rack. Does the portable thermometer register the same temp as the oven’s readout? Test the temperature in different sections of the oven to see if you have any hot spots. Also test the areas around the bottom, center and top rack to see if there is a difference.
More Oven Tips
- Preheat the Oven. Yes I know you’ve heard it before, but preheat the oven. Once the buzzer goes off indicating that the requested temperature has been reached, allow the oven to sit for 10-15 minutes before placing your cakes in the oven. My oven heats super fast, but not all sections are heated equally. I need to allow time for the heat to soak into four corners of the oven.
- Convection ovens are supposed to speed cooking and get rid of hotspots, but using the convection setting on home ovens can be problematic when baking. Why? Well the constantly blowing fan will actually blow the tops off your cupcakes and cause them to bake up asymmetrical. To a lesser degree the fan will also disfigure your cakes. It is not a very attractive look.
- Opening the door will also make a convection oven cool down faster than a conventional oven - remember, the fan is pushing hot air out every time you open the door.
- But even on a conventional oven don’t open the door too often. Opening the door allows moisture to escape (and moisture keeps the tops from browning too much), and opening the door also introduces a blast of cold air that can cause the cake to collapse.
- Professionals say to never open the oven door during the first 20 minutes of a cake baking.
- Only open the oven door near the end of bake cycle. At this point the structure builders inside the cake have had a chance to strengthen and set.
- Aluminum pans are the most common type of pan because of their low cost and it ability to conduct heat well.
- But because they are a good conductor of heat aluminum pans tend to burn cakes.
- To reduce the risk of burning, use a heavy-gauge pan.
- Double walled pans are the best because they have an insulating zone of air between the two walls of aluminum. This insulation keeps the sides and bottom of the cake from browning too much.
- Light colored pans absorb less heat than a dark pan, so light colored pans won't brown the cake as much.
- If you want to encourage an un-domed cake, use light colored pans. Dark pans will absorb more heat which will cause the sides and bottom of the cake to bake faster than the center, this in turn will cause the cake to dome in the center.
- Silicone is a poor conductor of heat and for this reason cakes will bake slower and brown more evenly in silicone pans. But because the silicone is flexible, the heavy batter inside can force the pan to warp and the cake to turn out misshapen. Silicone is also difficult to move from counter to oven when filled with batter.
Preparing your pan for baking is an important step that should not be taken lightly.
- If the recipe tells you to grease the pan, then spray the pan with something like Wilton's Bake Easy which is a aerosol spray of oil and flour. Don’t use the old fashion method of solid shortening/butter and flour as this can create a tough skin on the sides and bottom of your cakes.
- Always, ALWAYS line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper
- Cut the parchment from rolls to fit your pan or buy pre-cut rounds and squares.
- Never bake a flat bottomed cake without placing parchment on the bottom of the pan.
- The parchment keeps the base of the cake from sticking to the pan, and it also reduces browning of the bottom.
- I like to spray the bottom of the pan with Bake Easy first, and then place the parchment. The spray makes the parchment stick and keeps it from sliding around. Once the parchment is in place, I spray more Bake Easy on top of the parchment and half-way up the side of the pan.
- Should the sides of the pan be sprayed? This is a touchy issue. Some people say to always spray the sides of the pan and other people say to never spray the sides of the pan. I guess the answer is both depending on the type of cake, and the look you are after.
- For angel food and chiffon (cakes with beaten egg whites) the sides of the pan should not be greased. For these delicate cakes you want the batter to cling to the sides of pan; the cake will actually "climb" the wall of the pan as it bakes. Having a dry, non-slippery surface to climb will help the cake rise to its full potential.
- If you don't grease the sides then you need to detach or release the cake from the side of the pan after baking. Run a thin offset spatula between the cake and the side of the pan to separate the clinging cake from the pan.
- For other, non-chiffon type cakes, grease the sides of the pan. Greasing will allow the cake to shrink slightly and pull away from the pan as the cake finishes baking.
- But note that if the sides of the pan are greased, the cake will bake with sides that are tapered inward. If you want the sides of the cake to be relatively straight (without a slight tilt inward), then don't grease the sides of the pan.
- Use flower nails as heating cores on larger cakes.
- On cakes larger than 10” use 3-4 flowers nail as heating cores.
- A heating core helps the center of the cake cook at the same rate as the outer edge.
- The core will prevent the situation of under baked center and over baked edges. The metal nail heats up and introduces direct heat to the center of the cake.
- The flat base of the nail goes under the parchment paper, and the “nail part” pokes up through the parchment paper.
- Putting the base of the nail under the parchment paper keeps it from getting embedded in the cake.
- Make sure to spray the exposed nail section with Bake Easy to keep it from sticking to the cake.
- If using flower nails, you will also need cooling racks with an open wire mesh to help de-pan the cakes. And make sure your cooling rack is large enough to handle that 10" or 12" or 14" cake!!! Trust me -- trying to hold to regular size racks together while de-panning a cake with flower nails sticking out of it DOES NOT WORK. Had a messy learning experience there.
- Always, always use Bake Even Strips. These gems will keep your cake top flat and prevent the sides from burning.
- These strips are special heat-resistant cloth that you soaked in water and then wrapped around the outside of the pan.
- The strips stop the cakes from forming a dome as it bakes. Domes on cakes are BAD, and should be avoided at all cost. See Stacking section for reasons why.
- The science behind the Baking Strips - Baking Strips are used to reduce cake doming. Cake domes form when the edges of the cake bake faster than the center. When the aluminum pan heats up, the heat is transferred to the batter sitting next to the pan which in turn causes that thin section of the cake closest to the pan to bake and set rapidly. Contact with the hot metal causes the edges of the cake to harden long before the leavening gasses trapped inside the cake have a chance to do their magic and start lifting the cake. Once the gases start expanding, all of the energy and “lifting” power is transferred to the center of the cake because the edges are already set and inflexible. This produces the dome seen on many cakes.
- The beauty of the Bake Even Strips is this the water saturated cloth keeps the edges of the metal pan cool, and stops the edge of the cake from baking prematurely.
- When the entire cake bakes at the same rate, the top will be perfectly flat and the side of the cake won’t have crispy brown edges.
- So never, ever bake a cake without Baking Strips, unless a domed cake is what you are after.
- You can even get extra-long strips for the larger pans for 12, 14 and 16" pans.
- If you want a DIY version I have been told you can cut up strips of kitchen towels, soak them in water, and then pin them to the pan. I’ve never tried it, but people swear that it works.
- In conclusion, don't ever, ever bake a cake without these strips – they really work.
So this is the end of the "prep" section. Are you still awake?? Continue on to the next post to get tips on mixing the batter.