Baking is definitely a refinable skill but anyone can bake a good cake with a few key pointers! The one variable when you replicate a recipe and bake it in your own home, apart from your skill to stir and fold your mixture, is your oven. Some have Agas, some have fan assisted ovens, some have gas ovens, some electric ovens and some have rather temperamental dodgy ovens! The only advice I can give here is to learn from your oven. Fan ovens will usually cook faster than a normal one and Agas are a separate ball game. There are several handy tips I can give you to ensure that your cakes turn out perfect ... it is as much about the oven time as it is about the mixing time!
1. PRE-HEAT ... if you do not allow your oven to warm up to the correct temperature, you will not get the right cook on your cake. Turn your oven on when you get your ingredients out to start your cake.
2. DON'T GET TEMPTED TO OPEN THE OVEN DOOR!!!!! This is a fatal error that will ruin any perfect recipe or folding techniques that have gone into the cake. The cake will sink due to the drop in temperature that you create when nervously peaking in on your creations!
Safe peaking times
- If you are baking a cake in two layers, do not open the oven door until 15 minutes have passed into your cooking time
- If you are baking a cake in one layer, do not open the oven door until 20 minutes have passed into your cooking time
- If you are baking cupcakes or fairy cakes leave at least 8 minutes before you check on them
3. PLACEMENT IS KEY... you want to place one of your shelves just below the middle of your oven. You want your cake to sit roughly in the middle of the oven. If you place it too close to the top it will cause your cake to catch slightly and colour the top of your cake, quicker than the middle is cooking. The result will be a well cooked cake with a burnt top or if you get nervous, an under baked cake.
If your cake does catch and when you test it with a skewer, the middle isn't baked but the surface is browning...make it a tin foil hat! Only once the safe peaking time has passed, tear a piece of tin foil off just larger than the tin and crimp the edges to stop the tin foil flying off in the oven. Carefully place it on the tin and give your cake the extra time it needs.
Another consequence is that your cake will peak into a point rather than a nice smooth dome if you place it higher in the oven.