Cake Baking and Decorating Basics Series – Right Equipments

Although I have been baking or watching my mother bake ever since I can remember , it was only during the last couple of years that I started taking it passionately and began to understand it’s nuances. During this period I devoured every cookbook/website/blog that I could find on this subject and started experimenting. I’m lucky enough to have a huge public library right across the street where I can find some great books on this subject, apart from my own collection.
These days my oven is playing tricks with me and needs to be fixed/replaced. I have been itching to try out loads of baking recipes and share them on my blog but alas, it seems that I shall have to wait. In the meantime, I thought of doing a series on baking basics to share whatever I have learnt from different sources and from my own experience. Since, it’s quite a vast subject, so for the time being I thought of sticking to my favourite baked good  – cakes.
 “However inspired, no written definition of the word “cake” could approximate the glories of sweetened dough, baked, filled,f rosted and made ravishing with edible decorations. Such creations can bring happiness to both our childhood and mature years,for few, if any, people are immune to their charm, and memories of them will lighten the dark corners of life.” – Joseph Amendola and Donald E. Lundberg , Understanding Baking, p.98
As the first part of this series I’m starting with the equipment for baking cakes.
I have heard about my grandmother making her legendary yellow cake in a clay tandoor , at a time when electric/gas ovens were virtually non existent in Indian kitchens. I myself have baked a  tiny chocolate cake in a small pressure cooker during my student days in New Delhi. I have seen people creaming large amounts of sugar and butter with a wooden spoon and arms of steel. So, it might be safe to say that you don’t need fancy equipments to turn out a perfectly delicious cake but it definitely helps to have the right kind of equipments. It takes out much of the guess work from baking and helps to ensure consistent results.The right tools/equipments also make the experience far more enjoyable. 
As with all purchases, if you are planning to invest your hard earned money for buying baking stuff, you might as well buy the right kind of stuff by knowing exactly what you are looking for. Here are the basic equipments that every serious baker should have in their kitchen:
1) Oven: Accurate oven temperature is very critical for successful cakes. Whether you are using a gas/electric/convection oven make sure it’s calibrated properly i.e it’s actual temperature is the same as that shown on the dial. New ovens are calibrated in the factory but with time they lose their calibration. If you find that your cakes are taking longer/lesser time than the range specified in the recipe or are having problems with the texture, you can buy an oven thermometer to check the temperature of your oven and then calibrate it yourself by referring to the manual or calling a service professional.
Cakes generally bake most evenly as close to the center of the oven as possible. This is usually accomplished by placing the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. For proper air circulation, the sides of the cake pans should be at least an inch away from the sides of the oven and from each other. The oven should be preheated for at least 20 minutes before baking.
2) Weighing Scale:If I could afford to buy every baker a scale, I would. I can’t emphasise the importance of weighing enough” – Dodge , Abigail. The Weekend Baker , p.32
Weighing instead of measuring ingredients (especially flour) helps to ensure perfect results. Since people use different methods such as dip and sweep or scoop and spoon for measuring dry ingredients , the weights can differ greatly and affect the cake.
3) Measuring spoons and cups for dry ingredients and liquids: For liquids, a measuring cup with a spout should be used. I prefer glass measuring cups (such as the Pyrex ones) rather than plastic because they can be used to heat the liquid also in the microwave. Also, the markings on glass cups remain longer than plastic ones. Liquids should be measured at eye level.

If you choose to measure dry ingredients rather than weigh them use measuring cups meant for them specifically that is with unbroken rims , not the liquid measuring cups.If your recipe calls for 1 cup sifted flour, then you sift it before measuring.The most accurate way to do this is to set up the measuring cup in a bigger vessel and to sift the flour into the the cup, allowing it to mound above the rim. Then take a knife or spatula and sweep it across the rim, removing the excess flour. Do not tap or shake the cup as that packs more flour into it and the cake will be dry and heavy. However, if your recipe calls for 1 cup flour, sifted then you sift it after measuring. Spoon your floor into a measuring cup and level it with a knife. Sugar is usually measured by the dip and sweep method. This means that you dip the cup into the sugar container and without shaking or tapping it, sweep off the excess on top.

It’s also necessary to have measuring spoons for measuring small quantities of ingredients like baking powder, extracts etc.
Liquid Measuring Cup
Dry Ingredients Measuring Cups
Measuring Spoons

4) Electric mixers: I have never been as excited about a piece of kitchen equipment as I was about my KitchenAid stand mixer. While most cake recipes can be successfully accomplished with a handheld mixer (some even by hand), creaming the butter and sugar or whipping up eggs are a breeze with stand mixers. Certain meringue based buttercream recipes are virtually impossible to accomplish with a hand mixer unless you have arms of steel. While the mixer is doing the job for you you can go about accomplishing other chores around the kitchen. Stand mixers are also great for kneading yeast based dough for breads or even roti/paratha dough. No doubt they are much more expensive than hand mixers but I have heard that with proper care they can last for a lifetime.

Most stand mixers come with three attachments – the paddle attachment (for creaming butter & sugar, stirring dry ingredients etc.), wire whisk (for whipping eggs,cream) and dough hook (for kneading dough). You can buy additional attachments such as those for grinding meat, making juices, pasta etc.

Hand Mixer
Stand Mixer
5) Cake Pans: Most professional bakers recommend using heavy gauge dull aluminium pans rather than dark pans which tend to result in a dark or burnt crust. Glass pans and shiny pans are also not advisable. However, if you already own dark pans and do not want to invest in new ones, lower the temperature by 25 degrees.
For layer cakes, pans with straight edges rather than flared ones are preferable because they are easier to frost.I find that most supermarkets sell dark pans with flared sides. I have managed to find dull aluminium pans with straight sides only at speciality cake decorating stores like Michael’s or Bulk Barn or online. They are also much more expensive than the ones sold in supermarkets but if you handwash them gently they last for a lifetime. Most cake recipes call for 9*2 inch round cake pans. So it’s a good idea to have 2 pans of this size for making small party cakes. cakes. You can also keep 2 6*2 inch pans for making half the recipe for a 9 inch 2 layer cake. Here’s a chart by Wilton which shows how many cups of batter are required for different sized layer cakes. Many bakers such as Rose Levy Berenbaum say that butter cakes do not bake well in pans higher than 2 inches .


Other commonly needed pans are a 9 inch springform pan (for cheesecakes and certain sponge cakes), 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 (4 cup) loaf pan, 10 by 4 inch tube pan (for angel food cake or chiffon cake), 10 cup fluted tube pan (for bundt cakes).  Apart from these basic pans there are a number of shaped pans for different occasions, especially for kids’ parties. My neighborhood Bulk Barn rents out these shaped pans for a very nominal rate and  a deposit. I prefer this to buying these pans since this way I can try a different shape for every party. You might want to check out my Doll Cake , Castle Cake and Crown Cakefor examples of these type of cakes.

It’s extremely important to use the kind of pan specified in the recipe. For instance if you use a layer cake pan for a recipe that calls for a tube pan, in most cases it’s not going to work because the hollow tube in the centre of the tube pan increases the heat reaching  the batter . Some advanced methods might include using a flower nail to bake a cake in a layer pan instead of a tube pan but for beginners it’s best to stick to the type of pan specified. Remember, baking is more of a science than an art.

6) Parchment Paper – This seemingly unimportant product might save you from a cake disaster. Imagine having spent hours in baking a cake only to get it stick to the pan. Parchment paper for lining your cake pan can save you from this.


7)Cooling RackDuring my initial baking days I never used to pay attention to the last part of the recipe which specified cooling the cake on a wire rack (for most butter cakes). I thought that it was simply to save my counter/table from the hot pan and I could do with trivets. I later found out that cooling racks allow air to circulate under the cakes ,thus preventing them getting overbaked  from the residual heat of the pan. They also prevent the cake from getting soggy from condensation of the steam released .

8) Cake Domes – Cake domes are necessary to prevent cakes from drying out or absorbing odours in the fridge. Frosted cakes, especially those frosted with whipped whipped cream catch odours very easily. While glass domes make for very elegant presentation, a cheap plastic one or even a disposable one can serve the purpose of storage.


Cake decorating requires another set of equipments and Insha’Allah (if God wills) I shall deal with them in another post. I hope you find the above information helpful. The above list is by no means exhaustive. I have tried to list the bare essentials for baking simple cakes at home. If you feel that I have left out anything critical from the above list, please let me know.


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7 comments on “Cake Baking and Decorating Basics Series – Right Equipments

  1. Hi Sadaf,
    This a good compilation & tips for baking.
    I don’t have bundt pan, tube pan, etc, only a round & a square pan and 2 baking sheets. I think a square pan or brownie pan is a good idea to add to one’s collection too, (the latter especially if making a lot of brownies..)…
    and I wish I could get used to the aluminum ones (I only have the nonstick dark grey), but the thought of pain in cleaning them makes me want to stick to nonstick. I’m just a lazy girl 😛

    And hey, thanks for your comment on the food photography post. It’s good coming across your blog, first time here & enjoying reading your posts 🙂

  2. One of the best, easy, and useful right equipments in Cake Baking and Decorating is the kitchen stand mixer. A kitchen mixer is better than the portable hand-held mixers because you can perform tasks, such as mixing cookie dough or pudding mixtures, faster than you were able to previously. They are also more powerful than hand mixers and can even knead bread.

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