It is often said that we eat with our eyes first. Of course, a cake should taste great. However, cakes are often eaten for special occasions and they should always look the part. That is why we have complied a list of nine tools you need to make great looking cakes, like our Vanilla Coconut Cream Cake, with little hassle.
The first thing we must do is give our cake a shape. That is where cake pans come in. We recommend having several on hand. To make a tiered cake of equal sized layers, you should start with two or three 9-inch round pans. If you want to make the tiers different sizes, go with a 9-inch, 6-inch, and 3-inch set of round pans to create a dramatic effect. Finally, always use a light-colored metal pan. Glass does not conduct heat evenly nor particularly well and darker-colored metal will heat up too quickly.
There is nothing worse than trying to remove your cake from the pan only to find that it has stuck to the bottom. That’s where parchment paper comes in. Butter the bottom of the pan, then cut the parchment to fit in the bottom and stick it to the butter. Butter the top of the parchment and the sides of the pan for easy cake removal.
If you are serious about cake making, you are going to need a stand mixer. Sure, handheld beaters can work, but as layered cakes get bigger, so does the batch size. Plus, a stand mixer will ensure that all ingredients get incorporated evenly and will cream your butter better and for longer (without your hand cramping up). Stand mixers are also the key to a smooth buttercream as they can continue to run while you slowly add powdered sugar.
Scale and/or Scoop
When making a layered cake, it is important that each layer is of equal size. One way to do this is by weighing the amount of batter and then evenly distributing the batter into each pan by weight using a kitchen scale. You can also use a scoop to get the batter easily and evenly into the pan. A kitchen scale is also a wonderful tool to have on hand for any recipe. For example, you can use the scale to weigh your ingredients, a more accurate method than measuring in cups.
Cake Stand and Cake Board
Now that the cake is out of the oven, it is time to start decorating. A rotating cake stand is the only tool for the job. The stand allows you to rotate your cake without touching it and will help you evenly distribute frosting. Setting your cake on a cake board, a piece of cardboard equal in size to your base layer, will make for easy removal from the cake stand and transport to its final destination. You can purchase premade, decorative ones or make your own with scarp cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil.
Most cakes will come out of the oven with a domed top that you will need to trim off for level stacking. There is no better tool than a serrated knife. Gently guide the serrated knife through the cake using long strokes, starting from the base and working to the tip. Do not continue sawing in the other direction but instead, gently reinsert the knife and start a new stroke. You can also use your rotating cake stand to help.
If there is one tool you cannot live without it is the offset spatula. Whether smoothing out cake batter or spreading frosting, an offset spatula with help with even coverage and maneuvering around cakepan corners or cake layer edges.
A small plastic bowl scraper will not only get all the batter out of the bowl but is the key to a smooth layer of buttercream on the side of your cake. Look for one that is stiff but not overly so. Once you apply buttercream to the side of the cake, place the flat edge of your bowl scrapper at about a 45-degree angle to the side of the cake. Slowly rotate the cake stand for a smooth finish.
Piping Bags and Tips
There is nothing more difficult than spreading out a mound of buttercream. Instead, use a piping bag to place several globs on each layer then smooth it out with your offset spatula. After your cake is covered, experiment with ornate piping tips to create beautiful borders and decorative designs.