The Fridge Is Your Friend
You’re going to use it before you frost your cake and after you’re finished. So at least one day before you bake, clear out enough room to fit the cake. Make sure there are no strong odors like onions or herbs.
Warm Things Up
Before you start, make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. This is very important with eggs, butter, and milk. The exception is whipping cream: Chilled cream gives you maximum volume.
Take Your Temperature
Use an oven thermometer and test your oven first: Set it to a temperature and see if it matches your thermometer. Note the difference and compensate. Additionally, check the oven temperature during the baking process. If you can, check from the outside; opening the door often can let out a lot of heat.
Whether you use a convection or conventional oven, get into the habit of rotating pans halfway during the baking process to make for even baking. Do this quickly to prevent heat from escaping the oven.
When It’s Done
Cakes should be baked until firm in the center when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a crumb or two on it. If the toothpick comes out perfectly clean, the cake is probably overcooked.
Use a cardboard round, also known as a cake board, as a base. You can buy cardboard rounds made especially for cakes, but you can make your own by tracing around your cake pan on a piece of clean cardboard and then cutting along the line. Before stacking cakes on it, use a bit of frosting to anchor them and prevent them from sliding off.
Frosty for Frosting
Frosting the cake is easier if it’s cold. After the cake is baked and cooled to room temperature, place it in the refrigerator or freezer until chilled. Take it out to frost.
Use a Crumb Layer
If you’ve got the time, you can foil those rogue crumbs that mess up the frosting with what the pros call a crumb layer. Place a small amount of frosting on the top of the cake and spread it out. It’s OK if it’s uneven, ugly, and specked with crumbs. Place the cake in the refrigerator or freezer again to harden the frosting, and then start over and build the real layer of frosting. (If this is too much work for you, simply use a brush to clean crumbs from your unfrosted cake and freeze before you frost.)