Last Updated on June 2, 2021. This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure Policy for more details.
Let’s talk about cake. When you think of a delicious made-from-scratch cake, it should be dense and yet soft, with a moist, tender crumb. A cake baked from scratch usually has a much different texture than a grocery store cake or a cake mix cake (which is more light and airy and typically not as moist.) I’m not pooh-poohing on grocery store or cake mix cakes. Any cake is better than no cake, right? But our goal here today is to make the most delicious, moistest cake that stays moist for days and has your guests raving at every bite. This is what we were known for at Amycakes Bakery. You can create moist, bakery-quality cakes like this at home using these 7 simple steps:
1. Use Buttermilk Instead of Milk
Whenever I look at a cake recipe, I know that it will be moister if it contains buttermilk as an ingredient. In fact, I’m a little skeptical of cake recipes that contain milk instead, and will often substitute buttermilk in these cases. (Be forewarned, simply substituting may not always give you perfect results as other ingredients like baking soda could be affected and change the rise of your cake when switching to buttermilk. I go into tweaking recipes a bit more on #4). Buttermilk is an acidic ingredient, which helps break down the gluten in your baking and creates a more tender cake. As a flavor bonus, the slight tang of buttermilk compliments the overall sweetness in your cake batter, making a more balanced cake.
2. Add Vegetable Oil
While butter will give you the best flavor, vegetable oil will make your cakes moister. I use a combination of salted butter and vegetable oil in all my cake recipes to get the most flavorful and moistest results. Vegetable oil stays a liquid at room temperature, while butter solidifies. That’s why you’ll notice that cakes made with vegetable oil will have a softer texture at all temperatures, even straight from the fridge.
3. Use Instant Clearjel or Instant Pudding Mix
Instant Clearjel, which is “modified cornstarch,” is a starch that allows your cakes to retain more moisture. Instant Pudding mix is a great substitute as it contains Instant Clearjel as the second ingredient. I recommend checking out this entertaining video by Adam Ragusea where he discusses the science of pudding mix and Instant Clearjel in cakes. I love this ingredient so much that I wrote a whole article on it: Instant Clearjel: A Magical Little-Known Bakery Ingredient.
4. Use the Right Recipe
I know, I know, it’s hard to predict what’s a good recipe before testing it out. I suggest scanning cake recipes and choosing one that already contains buttermilk and/ or vegetable oil. But because baking is a science, you may not be able to simply substitute in the above suggestions and be guaranteed a great recipe. (Although if you don’t mind a bit of trial and error, it’s a great place to start). When I tweak recipes, I like to downsize the recipe first to make the tiniest batch possible to test out the quality (I’ll usually do a 1/4 or 1/8 of a recipe). If I’m happy with the result, I’ll remake it on a larger scale. Or, just check back in with me for the recipes that I’ve perfecting over the past 11.5 years–I’ll be sharing them later this summer of 2021. ☺️
5. Don’t Overbake
While this one may seem obvious, it actually requires a few steps to ensure you are never overbaking a cake:
- Bake at a lower temperature, and make sure that the temperature is accurate. In my home oven, I bake my cakes at either 300 degrees or 325 degrees, depending on the cake. For cupcakes, I’ll start baking at 350 degrees but turn the temperature down after they rise. If you’ve ever felt like your oven takes a lot longer or much less time than what is recommended on a recipe, test it with an oven thermometer. These handy tools are pretty cheap and will let you know if you need to adjust the dials on your oven to get the correct baking temperature. When I was in the process of moving, I thought my new home oven was baking everything SO FAST! I used my oven thermometer to compare both my previous and new residential oven, and my old oven was the one baking 25 degrees under! Now I use the thermometer every time I bake to make sure I’m providing accurate recipes when sharing them with my readers.
- Always place your cake pan(s) on the middle or top rack. Once the oven is preheated, most residential ovens will heat only from the bottom of the oven. However, the top heat elements will still remain hot. If your cakes are too close to the bottom heating elements, they will bake faster and have a darker bottom and crispier edge. If you do bake on the top rack, just make sure you have plenty of room for the cake to rise and that it’s not too close to the top heating elements. I’ve found I have the best results when baking on the top rack that is around 6-7 inches below the top of the oven.
- Check your cake often to see if it is done. Cake recipes will usually have a range of time listed for baking, but even with an oven thermometer all ovens bake differently. When using a new recipe, I start checking the cake at least 5 minutes BEFORE the first part of that listed range. Then depending on how the cake feels, I’ll continue to check and see if the cake is done in 5,4,3,2, or even 1-minute increments until I get the perfect bake. This ensures I never overbake the cake. Once you’ve tried a recipe a few times, make a note on your recipe of the baking time so you don’t have to check it as often next time. However, even on tried-and-true recipes, I recommend checking on the cake before the time you’ve noted, as different factors (like how many pans you have in the oven) could affect your cooking time. You’ll know the cake is finished if a toothpick or thin paring knife comes out clean when quickly stuck in the cake (if you go too slow when sticking the cake, your toothpick or paring knife is more likely to collect crumbs and you might think it’s not done yet when it actually is). You can also very lightly press on the top of the cake with your finger and it should bounce back instead of sink with your touch.
6. Bake in Sheet Pans Instead of individual Cake Pans
Most of my cake recipes are baked in a half sheet pan and then cut out using cake rings with what I call the Cut & Stack Method. This sped up our baking and frosting process at Amycakes Bakery and provided us with moist cakes every time. I first saw a similar method in the pastry chef Christina Tosi’s book Momofuku Milk Bar. Here’s a video of Christina Tosi’s cake stacking process, although we used larger pans and cut and stacked our cakes a bit differently at my bakery without the need for acetate sheets–I’ll be sharing a video of this method soon! I love this method because of its versatility (you can bake the cake in the same cake pan each time, and then decide if you want to make an 8” cake, two 6” cakes, several tiny cakes, or an extra tall 6″ cake, etc.). The other reason I do this is to eliminate browned, darker or crispy edges. You may have noticed this on cakes baked in smaller individual pans: As you get to the edge of the cake that has the delicious frosting, the cake starts to get a little darker, drier, and simply not as delicious. The Cut and Stack method means your finished cake will have NO dark edges! Just moist and soft cake in every bite.
Do you only have individual pans or are baking a naked cake? No problem–you can get similar soft edges by baking more layers with less batter in each pan. For instance, 4 round cake pans with one inch of cake batter in each pan will bake faster and more evenly than 2 round cake pans with 2 inches of batter in each pan.
7. Use a Simple Syrup or Glaze
Simple syrup is not going to make a dry cake moist (it may just make it soggy). But if your cake is already moist from using the steps above, simple syrup is the last step to seal in all your hard work and ensure it stays moist even longer. Simple syrup is in fact, incredibly simple. Just mix equal parts water and sugar, and microwave until the sugar is fully dissolved, stirring frequently in between heats. I use a silicone pastry brush (no risk of lost pastry brush hairs with silicone brushes) to lightly brush a thin layer of simple syrup on the top of all my cakes. For some cake flavors, you may prefer a flavored glaze instead of a simple syrup. For instance, my Lemon Cream cake has a lemon glaze made with lemon juice and powdered sugar, and my Coconut Cream cake has Cream of Coconut drizzled on top. Flavored glazes give you the option to add moisture and a flavor boost at the same time!
Now you’re ready to get to baking an incredibly moist cake–let me know how it turns out! Check back soon if you’d like to try my extra moist cake recipes–Please Request a Recipe if you haven’t yet, or sign up for my Newsletter to be notified when they are ready.
Thanks for Reading. ❤️