Any time I bake a cake, I turn the oven on to get it up to the correct temperature and then I sit down and wait for the oven to beep to announce that it’s hot enough. Only then will I start making the cake batter. Since ovens cycle up and down to maintain their temperature, I like to give it the extra time to get there.
I mix the batter, put it in the pans, put the pans in the oven, and sit back to wait. Once the cake is baked, I let it cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out on cooling racks. I put a layer of parchment on the racks for a smooth surface for the cakes. I tip the layers out of the pans and onto the racks so the bottom is now the top. You’ll want that flat top for decorating. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly flat and even, you can trim it later.
The cakes need to cool completely. I usually bake the layers the day before I need them so they’ll have all the time in the world to cool. Once the layers are cool and you need some icing. I like to use the buttercream icing recipe from the Wilton classes. (You can find it on their website here: Wilton icing) Forget the milk, stick with water. And you’ll need to add extra water to get a medium consistency. It’s trial and error as to what works for you so add about a teaspoon or so at a time until you get something that spreads evenly but holds its shape.
I like that recipe because it develops a crust. Stop, stop, stop! I know the idea of crusty icing sounds gross but it’s not a thick crust and it will completely soften under the fondant. You want that crust so you can smooth out the icing on the cake. And you want smooth icing because the smoother the icing – the smoother the fondant. Basically, you ice the cake then let it sit for a few minutes. Use a plain paper towel or piece of parchment to lightly rub the icing and smooth out any lumps, bumps, or other bits. Repeat until everything is smooth then let it sit while you prepare the fondant. I like to use parchment because it gets shiny when the icing starts to soften and you’ll know when it’s time to take a break.
I put all my cakes on cardboard cake boards. I use two at a time, taped together, but one is rotated so the corrugations are running at an 90 degree angle for extra strength. I also cover the boards with foil wrap because that doesn’t show grease spots from the icing like cardboard does.
Take lots of pictures of your finished cakes. Lots and lots! You never know when you’ll start a cake blog and then have to kick yourself for not having photos of your fabulous work. Take way too many pictures!
My biggest tip is to just have fun. Nobody but you knows what you intended your cake to look like so nobody but you will know if it worked out exactly as you planned or not. And no one will ever see the tiny flaws that you see in your work. You wanted a perfect cake – they just want cake!