To learn how to make a cake, you’ll need a few basic supplies, ingredients, and a recipe to follow. The most basic cake recipe is for a shortening type cake.
Layer cakes and pound cakes are from this cake category.
The minimum supplies you’ll need are a mixing bowl, measuring cup, a pan and an oven.
You can learn more about cake baking supplies here.
If you don't already have a recipe in mind, we have lots of recipes to choose from, just look around the site, or use the Butter Cake recipe below.
A shortening type cake requires some type of fat, like butter, oil, or Crisco. You can usually substitute one for the other, but the flavor may not be exactly the same.
Of course the next main ingredient is flour, which you can buy with or without raising ingredients, as either plain or self-rising. Self-rising flour already contains baking powder and salt, so pay attention to what your recipe calls for.
If it calls for plain flour and you have self-rising, just eliminate the baking powder and salt and you’ll be fine.
The opposite also applies, so if the recipe calls for self-rising and you have plain, just include the baking powder and salt that are missing from your plain flour. One teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to each cup of plain (all-purpose) flour is usually about right.
If the recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have cake flour, just use what you have or, if you have corn starch on hand, make your own. See our cake baker cheat sheet for details.
Cake flour’s purpose is to make a finer textured cake, so if you just use regular flour, it may be a little bit coarser than the ideal, but still can be very good.
A good cake recipe tells you what the ingredients are, how they should be combined, what size of pan to use, and how long it should bake.
Here’s a basic recipe for a layer cake, perfect for beginner cake bakers.
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp flavoring (usually vanilla, almond, or lemon)
2 cups sifted cake flour (or plain flour plus 2 tbsp cornstarch)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk, water, or coconut milk
Grease 2 layer pans, either 8 or 9 inch size.
Cream the butter while gradually adding the sugar until light and fluffy.
(This means stir vigorously or blend to loosen up the butter and make it creamier.)
Add flavorings, then eggs, beating well after each.
Sift together the dry ingredients, then add a little flour mixture alternately with a little milk to the creamed butter until all the ingredients are blended together.
Evenly divide the batter into the 2 pans and level the batter by spreading it with a spoon or spatula. (Most cake bakers just use their best judgement and don't bother with measuring the batter.)
Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until done (see Testing section below.)
Cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack, then use a spatula or knife to loosen the sides and turn the layers out to finish cooling, ideally on a cake rack.
When room temperature is reached, the cake is ready for frosting.
If you want a perfectly flat cake, you can slice off the crown, or rounded top to make the layers stack better.
The pan size matters when you’re making a cake. The volume of the pan is directly related to how long the cake needs to bake. So if you don’t have the size of pan called for in the recipe, you’ll need to adjust the recipe to make up for it.
If the batter will be deeper in the pan than it would have been in the one specified, increase the baking time. If it is less deep, check for done earlier than the recipe calls for.
You can substitute a square pan for a round one of the same width without an adjustment, but you can’t use a loaf pan in place of a layer pan unless you increase the baking time to make up for the deeper batter.
Usually if you follow a cake recipe perfectly, and your oven temperature is accurate, your cake will be done in the time stated. But in case something isn’t perfect, or you made a change to the recipe, you need to know how to test the cake for being fully baked.
The so-called toothpick test is one way, and simply involves inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done. If it comes out with batter attached, then it needs to bake a little longer. Start with 5 minutes more and continue checking until done. You can also use the tip of a knife if you don’t have a toothpick on hand.
Now that you know how to make a cake, let’s bake it!
If you like the way it turns out, be sure to add it to your recipe box or cake baker's journal, maybe along with notes on what you did for future reference.