Slightly warm the baking sheet or tin. Always line the base of the tin, even if it is non-stick. When greasing, brush butter on evenly. The cake will still stick if it is greased unevenly. If a recipe states that the cake tin should also be sprinkled with flour to help prevent sticking, always dust with the flour before the fat has had a chance to set.
Have everything weighed or measured before beginning to mix.
No self raising flour? Add 2 level teaspoons baking powder to every 225g/8 oz plain flour/cake and pastry flour. Sift the flour twice to incorporate as much air as possible and mix the two ingredients together thoroughly.
Butter should be at room temperature for baking. If you’ve forgotten to take it out of the fridge, it can be microwaved on defrost for 20–30 seconds, until the butter is soft but still holds its shape.
When beating the butter and sugar, beat the mixture really well until it is pale and fluffy as it helps draw in plenty of air. This will make the cake light and airy.
Leave at least 1 inch space all round baking sheets and tins so that the heat can circulate freely.
When baking large cakes, it is best not to open the oven door for at least half an hour after putting the cakes in.
Give a cake the baking time suggested in the recipe but use this as a guide. Ovens vary – some are hotter and cakes will take less time to cook and vice versa. It is better to start checking a few minutes before the allotted time and if the cake is cooked in less time, take it out of the oven. Conversely, if it is not ready at the allotted time allow a couple more minutes and check again. Also, when a cake is ready you can smell it. So your sight and smell are good allies.
If a cake is over browning but it’s not baked through, place a sheet of baking parchment or foil over the top.
To tell if a sandwich cake or sponge layered cake is cooked, gently touch in the centre with the fingertips and, if the mixture feels springy and no imprints remain, the cake is baked. The cake should also shrink away from around the sides of the tin.
Individual small cakes (for example, cupcakes) should be evenly browned, well-risen and feel firm to the touch when gently pressed with the fingertips.
Before testing deeper fruit cakes, warm a skewer by pushing it between the lining paper and the cake tin. Then push the warmed skewer into the cake centre and it should come out clean with no uncooked cake mixture sticking to it. If rich fruit cakes are not baked fully through to the centre, they won’t keep when stored.
Be careful when baking gingerbread. The high proportion of sugar in the mixture delays the setting of the starch so gingerbread takes longer to set. It is better not to open the oven door until the baking time is almost complete or the cake can collapse in the middle.
A newly baked cake is fragile. Give sponge layers 2 minutes in the tin before turning out. Larger cakes should rest for at least 10 minutes. If you let a rich fruit cake cool in the tin, it helps keep the crust soft.