And without a massive crumby mess.

By Betty Gold
April 22, 2020
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The phrase “moment of truth” is best suited to acts of extreme bravery, risk, and valor. Perfect example: trying to extract a fresh-baked cake from its pan. It’s stuck, it’s scorching, and you were supposed to be feeding it to people several minutes ago. Before you panic and end up crumbling your mom’s birthday present into pieces, deep breath. We’ve got this. (And if you do accidentally break the cake, here are a few delicious ways to cover your slip-up.)

The trick is easy. Start by making sure your cake is fully baked, as an underdone dessert is far more likely to stick to the pan. “The edges of a fully baked cake will start to come away from the sides of the pan,” explains Chef Angela Garbacz, baking expert and author of Perfectly Golden: Adaptable Recipes for Sweet and Simple Treats. “Also, when you gently poke the center of the cake, the cake should not have any give and will bounce back immediately. You can also insert a paring knife or toothpick into the center of the cake to check for doneness. If it comes out clean, the cake is baked,” she adds.

Next, give your cake sufficient time to cool—ideally to room temperature for about an hour. According to Garbacz, allowing layer cakes cool in their pans lets the outside of the cake steam a bit, which helps keep the edges super soft. “But for cakes such as banana bread or pound cake, I like to unmold them from their pans after about 10 minutes. These cakes do well cooling outside their pans so they form a bit more of a crust.” You can take them out of their pans and let them cool directly on the plate you’ll use for serving, on a piece of parchment paper, or on a cooling rack.

Finally: the moment of truth. “Start by running a butter knife around the edge of the pan, between the cake and the pan,” says Garbacz. “Make sure the knife stays in contact with the side of the pan the entire time—this ensures you will have a nice edge on the cake and you aren’t cutting into the cake itself.” If you sufficiently greased your pan prior to baking, this should do the trick.

However, if your cake is really stuck and you can see that the butter knife method won’t work, wrap the cake and pan in plastic wrap and freeze for at least six hours or up to a day. A cold cake is less likely to fall apart when you start to pry it out of the pan. Once chilled, slide the butter knife around the rim of the pan once more. Then flip the pan over and tap an edge on a board while holding the pan at a 45-degree angle to pop the entire cake out.

Still no luck? Try this hack: take your small butter knife or offset spatula and run it around the cake rim to loosen it from the sides of the pan. Working your way around the whole cake, insert two forks on the opposite ends of the pan and use the forks as levers, squeezing and nudging the cake to loosen it. Flip the pan over the board and the cake should come out.

If none of these methods work, just frost the cake and serve it directly from the pan like a sheet cake. Life is short! Then opt to never deal with a baked-in cake again: watch this video to learn how to prepare cake pans properly.