Nick Malgieri, the award-winning author of How to Bake, offers these tips.
Problem: The cake falls or comes out uneven.
Solution: Overbaking may be the culprit. Follow baking temperature and time instructions (set a timer instead of watching the clock). If that doesn't help, check your oven's temperature gauge by placing an oven thermometer on the rack during preheating; if it's off, have the oven recalibrated. (The manufacturer should be able to recommend a service provider.)
Problem: A lumpy cake.
Solution: This is usually the result of undermixed batter. If you're mixing by hand, "use a round-bottom bowl with a sloping side," says Malgieri. This will make it easier to scrape the bowl so you end up with creamy, lump-free batter.
Problem: The cake gets stuck in the pan.
Solution: A well-greased (and floured, if directed) pan should release easily, but if you want insurance, line the pan bottom with wax paper, cut to fit. "Smooth out the paper so it has no bubbles," Malgieri says. The paper will make removal a breeze.
Problem: Your frosting looks unprofessional.
Solution: Apply a thin layer of icing ("like when you butter toast," says Malgieri) to "seal in" the crumbs, then chill the cake for half an hour. This primer coat makes adding a second layer of frosting painless, for you and your cake.
Want to make a cake that looks as good as it tastes? It’s easy with Real Simple’s cake decorating techniques.