How do they do that? This is a question I used to ask myself all of the time when looking at fancy cakes in bakery windows or on TV. My confusion was compounded when I went to restaurants and wrapped my mouth around light and fluffy bites that still managed to be moist, firm, and packed with flavor. It seemed to me that professional cake makers had the ability to defy the laws of physics. After decades of study, however, I have found that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make perfect, professional looking cakes. All it takes are these 5 tricks.
1. You can get a professional looking cake from a box mix.
It surprised me to find out that quite a few professional cake makers use pre-made cake mixes, like the kind we find in boxes at the store. There is no shame in using a boxed mix if you haven’t gone to culinary school. In fact, quite a few professionals who have still rely on these easy short cuts. The difference is in how they put the mixes together and what they might add to the batter in addition to the ingredients called for in the directions.
2. Employ power tools to build a professional looking cake.
When it comes to making a professional looking cake my stand mixer is one of my best friends. If you’ve ever tried to frost a cake with pre-made frosting straight from the can you know that it comes out heavy and hard to work with. One of the first tricks I learned was to whip the frosting with my stand mixer or hand held mixer to make it more pliant and light before applying it to my cake. A good stand mixer also comes in handy when building the right cake batter, even if it’s from a box.
3. Modify the recipe or mix to make a professional looking cake.
Mixes and recipes often come out fluffy, but fall apart easily. This can make them hard to frost and cut cleanly. A baker I knew in San Francisco told me to reduce the number of eggs I used and increase the flour to make a denser mix. Then use the whip attachment in my stand mixer to whip air into it to make it fluffy again. An example is a cake I just made. I used a box mix that called for 3 eggs. I used only 2 and added 1/4 cup of cake flour to the dry mix before adding my wet ingredients. My 3-layer Chocolate Covered Strawberries Cake stood up really well, even as it was being cut.
4. Keep your layer cake from sliding by using frosting rings.
My first attempts are layer cakes ended with the top layers sliding around over the bottom layers, making them look sloppy and messy. Then, one day, I encountered a baker who explained that he pipes a ring of chilled frosting on the outer edge of bottom layers, creating a damn to hold in filling and keep the upper layer from sliding. I have since found that adding a small pile of chilled frosting to the center adds even more stability to my layer cakes.
5. Refrigerators are a professional cake maker’s best friend.
Cooling a cake at every step of the building process lets you stay in control of how professional your cake looks. For this reason I give myself an average of 2 days to make a cake. As soon as it’s cooled to room temperature on the counter I pop the unfrosted layers in the refrigerator to cool them down even more. I return the cake to the coldest shelf after every single step for a minimum of 10 minutes before starting the next. This keeps frosting and fillings from sliding and slumping. I include everything I’m planning to apply to my cake as well, unless it’s something that needs to be warm when worked with, such as gnash or a chocolate shell.