3 Tips to Make Magical Cakes

Our guest today is Caroline Wright, author of Cake Magic!: Mix & Match Your Way to 100 Amazing Combinations. She's here to help troubleshoot common cake baking hurdles, talk about the secrets of flavoring syrups, and give tips for baking success.

Kara Rota
3-minute read
Episode #115

The Crumb-Free Cake

Crumbs are the enemy of a neatly frosted cake and can frustrate new bakers. There are two methods to combat stray crumbs. One is to spread a very thin—almost transparent—layer of frosting over the side and top of the cake. This base layer, once it has a chance to set, acts as a coating that seals in any wayward crumbs. It is known as a “crumb coat.”

Crumb coats are useful for professional-style cakes, and can be pretty on their own (like in the Orange Mocha Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting), but my preferred method is a bit less fussy—it’s more of a motion than a method. With a large glob—about 1⁄2 cup—of frosting on an offset spatula, spread the frosting in a fluid, wavy motion while moving the spatula forward. You can start on either the side or top of the cake, it’s up to you. The important thing is to keep your spatula heaped with frosting as you frost new territory; you’ll want to refill your spatula regularly and proceed along the side of the cake or from the outer edge of the cake toward the center. The hefty swipe of frosting keeps the spatula from coming into direct contact with the cake, which means it doesn’t scrape up any crumbs, and the wavy motion coaxes the frosting onto the cake without pulling the frosting from the surface (and, with it, crumbs).

If you should happen to pull up some crumbs along the way, don’t panic: There’s an easy fix. First, clean your spatula. Then, use fresh frosting to pass over the area from another angle (being careful not to disturb the trouble spot). Lift away any rogue crumbs in the frosting with a clean spoon.

Now that you too hate crumbs, welcome to the club! Your cakes will be prettier than ever.

How to Coat the Side of a Cake

Freshly frosted cakes can be coated and/or topped with all sorts of ingredients—chocolate chips, shredded coconut, crushed pretzels, chopped toasted nuts, or rainbow sprinkles, to name but a few—for irresistible texture, flavor, and color.

After assembling and frosting the cake, place about three cups of your desired coating in a bowl. With the freshly frosted cake still on its paper lining (to catch any fallen bits), grab a handful of the coating and, with your hand slightly flattened, gently press the coating onto the side of the cake. Work your way around the cake, pressing from the base of the cake toward the top, until the side of the cake is coated completely. If you want to coat the top as well, scatter a generous layer of the coating over the top of the cake (you can reuse what’s fallen off the side, if need be), gently brushing off any excess. (Note: If using the toppings on a non-layer cake or cupcakes, you may have some left over. No matter—the toppings keep well and are delicious on ice cream!)

Storing Frosted Cake

Once frosted, the cake has a barrier that protects the layers from going stale, so it can be stored in a cake box, usually at room temperature, for a day without worry. (Cake boxes can be found at craft and bakery supply stores.) Once cut, however, the cake is best stored in an airtight container. The cut edges—the ones exposed to air—will dry out the cake, which is a shameful end to a beautiful homemade dessert. You can use a plastic container made for this purpose, or even just a cake box wrapped in plastic wrap.

Every baker I meet seems to have a strong opinion on whether to store frosted and assembled cakes in the refrigerator or at room temperature. I tend to agree either way—that is, how a cake should be stored is a question of environment. A baker knows the temperature of his or her house and I don’t.

As a general rule, cakes are best stored at room temperature—that is, if the room is somewhere in the low 70s or below. The environment inside a refrigerator is very dry and can make a cake stale or crusty. 

Listen to the full interview with Caroline Wright in the top right hand player, or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify (simply search the mobile app!).  Don't forget to sign up for the forthcoming Clever Cookstr newsletter, full of tips and tricks from the kitchens of the world's best chefs.

Excerpted from Cake Magic Copyright © 2016 by Caroline Wright. Reprinted with permission of Workman Publishing.

School Lunch Cake image courtesy of Waterbury Publications.

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.