Let's celebrate cake, the treat that often brings us together, with these recipes, decorating tips and more

Chocolate Tahini Cake. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
Chocolate Tahini Cake. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
Published March 27 2017
Updated March 27 2017

I don't need to tell you how to make a cake using a box of Duncan Hines mix. If what you're going for is ease and speed, have at it. This week is dedicated to the idea of crafting cakes from scratch — how other bakers, from novices to blogger to pros, do it, and how you can, too.

Cakes can take many forms: layer, sheet, cup. But they all start with the same sort of batter, a comforting mixture of flour and oil and eggs that can be endlessly dressed up. This is where the fun of making that batter yourself comes in: Creativity abounds.

It's the same story with frosting. The store-bought stuff is sufficient, even a late-night guilty pleasure straight from the container, but it's not until you make your own frosting that you realize the fullest, most rich version can only be achieved by freshly whipping butter and sugar. It's actually way easier than the cake itself — and a cinch if you have some sort of electric beaters that can do most of the work for you.

From there, it's off into the wild world of cake decorating, which you may not be able to master after a few tries but will probably be a lot of fun anyway.

Eve Edelheit | Times

Chocolate tahini cake with chocolate buttercream frosting

Here are some tips:

• For layer cakes, the single most important thing you can do is make sure your layers are even before stacking and frosting them. Be aware of this early on; try to measure out the amount of batter you're pouring into each pan, so the cakes are relatively close in size. Wiggle the pan around on the counter before popping it in the oven to make sure the batter is even. After it bakes, carefully pop it out onto a flat surface and assess the top of the cake. If it's too domed or uneven, use a very sharp knife to slice off the very top, so it's flat. Then proceed with stacking and frosting.

• A crucial part of cake decorating: Make sure the cake is room temperature or cooler before you begin to frost it. Warm cake will melt the frosting, resulting in a soupy mess. Bake your cakes hours (or a day) before you're going to frost them. Allow them to cool in their pans for at least 20 minutes after baking, then carefully pop them out onto another surface and let them cool completely. Another trick: Put your cake into the fridge or freezer before you frost it.

• Use a spatula or other flat kitchen tool to spread frosting onto your cakes and get a smooth design.

• Another tip? Get some tips. To achieve the piping, lettering and flowering you see on a lot of commercially decorated cakes, you'll need plastic or metal decorating tips, which are secured onto pastry bags and turn frosting into different shapes. These are available in many stores, from craft stores like Michaels to Walmart and Target. A pastry bag is also worth the investment. Sure, you can use a large zip-top bag with the corner cut off, but pastry bags are lined to allow frosting to flow easily, and you can rewash them for multiple uses.

• Always make sure your frosting is at room temperature before you work with it.

• If you're considering frequent cake decorating, invest in a rotating turntable, which makes frosting a cake quickly and smoothly much easier. (Without one, a large, flat surface that allows you to reach every corner of the cake is best.) A cake carrier is one of those things that is not essential but makes the process of transportation so much easier.

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