Keys to Cake Baking Success

A reliable, tested recipe

When investing time and money into baking you should always use a recipe that is tested and reliable. Never change the original directions and use only the ingredients listed on the recipe. Often the failure of a baked item is due to improper substitutions or altered directions.

All Swans Down Cake Flour recipes are tested, and we guarantee they will be to your satisfaction.

Accurate measuring

Measure each ingredient exactly. Use standard measuring cups and spoons and level measurements of ingredients for all recipes. Even very small inaccuracies can change the balance or proportion.

For accurate measuring of liquids, be sure that the measuring cup is set on a level surface . Under measuring of liquid makes a too stiff batter and results in humped cakes that are dry and “bready”. Too much liquid may cause heavy streaks in the bottom of the cake, or sogginess.

To measure dry ingredients, fill a standard measuring cup or spoon (do not pack down flour when placing in measuring container), and then level off with a spatula or the straight edge of a knife.

Careful preparation

Always preheat oven before you start and make sure the oven has fully reached the desired temperature before starting to bake.

Assemble all ingredients and tools in the kitchen and make your plan before jumping in.

Prepare pans before mixing the cake. Grease, or don’t grease, as the recipe tells you. Butter is generally preferred because it gives a good flavor. Also available are non-stick cooking sprays, with and without butter, that often contain flour to help prevent sticking.

5 Basic Cake Mixing Steps:
Cream butter or shortening
Add sugar and mix until smooth

Add eggs and beat mixture thoroughly
Add flour and liquid into batter in alternating steps, starting with flour. Beat mixture until smooth after each addition.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. If the corners of the pan are not filled, the cake may burn at these edges and become uneven in shape.

Beating vs. Folding

Beating: Briskly lifts the batter over and over with a spoon or electric mixer, thus continually bringing up the batter to the surface. This is the best way to incorporate air into the mixture.

Folding: Gently cut up and down through the mixture, curving up and over. This encloses the air and prevents the escape of the air already beaten into the mixture.

Over-mixing vs. Under-mixing:

Over-mixing may cause loss of air or leavening gas and make cake more compact and heavy, with tunnels.

Under-mixing results in incomplete blending of the ingredients and causes cakes to have an uneven texture, and sometimes a streak at the bottom of the cake.

Essential ingredients

To make the finest cakes and baked goods, choose the freshest, highest-quality ingredients you’re able to get.

Substitutions: Avoid them! Try to use exactly the ingredients listed in the recipe. Changing the ingredients can change the character of the baked goods and even result in baking failure.

About Flour: Always use the exact amount of flour called for in a recipe. Flour tends to pack while standing, so always sift the flour once before measuring. Then lift the sifted flour lightly with spoon into a standard measuring cup (or to a scale) and level off with the straight edge of a knife.

Why choose Swans Down® Cake Flour? Because it makes lighter, fluffier cakes! All flours contain gluten, but Swans Down Cake Flour is made from a special kind of gluten found in soft winter wheat. Unlike hard wheat, soft winter wheat contains only a small amount of very tender, pliable gluten. This gluten is so delicate that it responds perfectly to the quick leavening required for cakes. It is this fine gluten which permits cakes to rise perfectly and results in extra lightness and delicate texture in baked goods. After the choicest part of the wheat kernels have been selected for Swans Down, they are ground and reground, sifted and re-sifted again and again, through fine silken sieves, until it is 27 times finer than ordinary flour. In fact, it takes 100 pounds of soft winter wheat to make 26 pounds of Swans Down! This unbeatable fineness combined with the tender gluten of the winter wheat flour is what gives Swans Down cakes that fine, even, grain.

About Baking Powder: The usual proportion found in recipes is 1 teaspoon baking powder to one cup of sifted flour, but always use the exact amount of baking powder called for in your recipe. The amount specified gives the best results in texture, grain and lightness. Note that as soon as you add liquid to the baking powder, the leavening action begins. Some of the gases are released in the mixing bowl, and the second leavening action starts when the batter reaches the hot oven. Then it continues the leavening steadily through the baking process, gently lifting the cake and holding it high and light. To get the most out of each stage of leavening, do not let batter sit too long; mix it and get it into the oven.

About Butter (or Shortening): For the finest cake flavor, use butter. Pay attention to salt content; if a recipes calls for unsalted butter, do not use salted butter, or if there’s no alternative, account for the extra salt by reducing the amount added elsewhere in the recipe.

When creaming butter, it should be room temperature and soft, but never melted, as this makes coarse-grained cakes. For best results in creaming butter, let it remain at room temperature for several hours before using.

To measure butter, press it firmly into a standard measuring spoon or cup and pack tightly. Level off the top with a knife. With stick butter, 1 pound (4 sticks) equals 2 cups and ¼ pound (1 stick) equals ½ cup.

Not enough butter makes tough, course-grained cakes, while too much makes cake greasy and crumbly, and could cause a cake to fall.

About Sugar: Sugar helps to make cake light and tender. When properly creamed with butter, it results in a fine textured cake. Too much sugar makes coarse, crumbly cakes, with a crust that is cracked, and gummy. It could also cause cake to fall. A cake without enough sugar is undersized, dry, tough and heavy, with a smooth, hard crust that does not brown easily.

Granulated Sugar: Use fine granulated sugar for cakes, in the exact amount called for in the recipe. If sugar is lumpy, sift it before measuring.

Brown Sugar: Brown sugar is likely to make a cake with a heavier crust and slightly coarser texture – which is great for some cakes, depending on the recipe. To measure brown sugar, pack it firmly into the measuring cup – so firmly that it holds it shape when turned out.

Confectioners’ (Powdered) Sugar: Confectioners’ sugar is finely ground, powdered sugar.  It contains less moisture than granulated sugar and makes cakes and cookies with a tender, ultra-fine, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Because it dissolves so easily and smoothly, it’s primarily used to make frostings, icing and candies. Always sift confectioners’ sugar before using, to remove clumps.

About Eggs: When using eggs, for any type of cooking, it is always wise to crack the egg into a separate bowl first, to check it for freshness (and for pieces of shell).

For baking, eggs must be room temperature – never cold. For best results, remove eggs from the refrigerator several hours before baking.

Egg whites, when beaten, will help to make a cake light and feathery, because a lot of air can be enclosed in them when beating.

Egg yolks contain a large amount of fat, which helps make a finely textured, rich cake. Too many egg yolks, or unbeaten egg yolks, can make a cake heavy and soggy, or cause a compact streak to form at the bottom.

Liquids: Various liquids may be used satisfactorily in cake making. Sweet or sour milk and cream, buttermilk, nut milks, water, fruit juice, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and milk powders are all used – but fresh, whole milk remains the standard liquid for delicate cakes.

Get to know your oven

It pays to follow the baking directions given in a recipe carefully. Adjust oven temperature as specified, taking care to preheat the oven way ahead of time to ensure correct temperature is reached before baking, and bake for the exact length of time called for.

Most cakes should be baked as close to the center of the oven as possible, leaving room for air circulation between pans.

The oven should be heated early enough to give you a steady heat – at the right temperature.

Use a portable oven thermometer often to double-check your oven for accuracy. It will tell you the exact temperature of the center of the oven.

How to know when a cake is done:
It should have delicate brown crust

It should have risen to its full height
It should have shrunk slightly away from the sides of the pan
Its surface, when pressed lightly, should spring back and leave no imprint
A cake tester inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean and dry

Frosting your cake

Frosting is the crowning glory of a cake, and it’s also a great opportunity to cover up any minor defects that occurred during baking.

Allow a cake to cool for 10-15 minutes in its pan, then invert it onto a wire rack until completely cool and ideally chilled in the refrigerator (remember to keep it airtight in the fridge to avoid absorbing odors). Never try to frost a warm cake!

Once the cake is cooled, brush away any loose crumbs. If there are separate layers, decide where to place the bottom layer of the cake (on a plate, or a cardboard round). Situate the bottom layer of cake on the chosen surface and assemble the layers with the desired filling in between.

Two helpful tools are an offset spatula for applying and scraping frosting and a cake turntable for turning cakes while frosting them.

Once assembled with filling, a cake is ready for its “crumb coat” – a light layer of frosting that is smoothed on to seal the surface of the cake. Once the crumb coat is applied, chill the cake (covered and airtight in the refrigerator) before applying decorative frosting.

Most frostings are made by creaming butter, sifted confectioners’ sugar and some liquid such as milk, cream or fruit juice to make a soft, creamy consistency that will spread easily.


Don't forget to have fun!

Baking cakes is both a science and an art – with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure – and we’re sure that cakes come out better when there’s lots of love and laughter in the kitchen. We don’t always get it right on the first try, but if we’re having fun, that’s what matters! And with each cake we bake, whether we are following the recipe steps used by our parents and grandparents or trying exciting new recipes, we are part of the great tradition of cake baking.