It is easy to bake a flat cake every time! Following this simple guide to bake delicious, tender cakes that rise perfectly without ever creating a dome that has to be cut off. Get ready to make the most amazing cakes of your life without any special equipment!
In my early 20s I took up baking wedding cakes. I enjoyed the creative part but found that baking somebody’s wedding cake was insanely stressful! Now I bake cakes for my family or for special gifts and I’m perfectly happy doing it! In the course of learning to bake cakes I studied under a woman who had been baking and decorating cakes for much longer than I have been alive. She was amazing and I learned many things from her that I still use in my homemade cakes today. Probably the most important thing she taught me was how to bake perfect, flat cake without any fuss at all!
Look at this photo above. You can clearly see that the cake on the left is more fluffy, and thicker! It also has a more tender, moist edge. The cake on the right is shorter, harder, and has a slight dome to it. Clearly the cake on the left is the more beautiful and will be more tasty. It was the cake baked with cake strips!!! The cake on the right is the exact same batter, pan and oven – just baked without cake strips. The difference is night and day!
It is EASY to Bake a Flat Cake
I signed up to learn to decorate wedding cakes but the first thing I learned was the correct way to BAKE a cake! When you are selling cake for $4 a slice and up the cake needs to be beautiful inside and out, never mind taste amazing.
The method is in fact simple!
- Use a good cake batter
- Use a decent cake pan – not thin and flimsy.
- Line the pan with parchment paper on the bottom.
- Grease and flour the sides.
- Use a cake wrap method to insulate the sides of the pan so the cake will rise evenly! Oh the genius…
Why Do Cakes Dome and Crack?
Most people who have baked a cake have experienced the giant hill. You bake up a beautiful, light fluffy batter only to take out cake pans that have grown into mountains – not good!
Cakes bake from the outside edge inwards. So the outside of the cake will cook and THEN the inside. This is a problem. The outside finishes cooking before the middle and then while the middle rises the outside starts to dry out and burn.
Solving the problem of a cake dome isn’t just about baking a flat cake that you don’t have to level. It is also about baking a moist, tender, pillow fluffy cake that tastes amazing and looks beautiful from the inside to the outside.
How Cake Strips Solve The Problem
To prevent the cake from cooking from the outside in I use cake strips to insulate the outside of the cake which slows the cooking. Using cake strips lets the entire cake bake at the same speed so that it rises fluffy, flat and never crusty and hard at the edges.
Other methods of getting cakes to rise flat have been used over the years by bakers. I’ve seen everything from heating cores in the center of the batter, to frosting nails in batter, to fiddling with oven temperature. At the end of the day you don’t want to have to put any sort of heat conductor in the middle of the cake! I don’t disagree that adjusting your oven temperature can help but it certainly isn’t a perfect, fail safe solution to all cake dome woes.
Look at the photo above. These layers of cake are upside down. The cake on the left is baked more evenly because it was baked with cake strips. Even the bottom of the cake is less dark! The cake on the right is darker and has more of a “crust” which is unpleasant to eat. Cake strips make a big difference in every aspect of baking!
Homemade Cake Strips
I made all my own cake strips for years. (Now I have a pair of the Regency strips and love them.) It is an easy DIY and chances are you have the supplies on hand to make it.
Take any old cotton dish towel or bath towel and cut a strip it to the height of your cake pan. My cake pan is two inches tall so I cut a strip two inches tall. The strip should be long enough to wrap once around the pan with a few inches of overlap.
The cake strips get soaked in water squeezed out a bit before use. (Printable tutorial at the end of this article for you.)
When I wrap my strips around the cake pan I take a safety pin and stick it through the overlap to secure the wrap snugly in place.
Making your own cake strips / cake wrap allows you to perfectly fit any size pan you have. I rinse my strips off after use, let them dry and then keep them in my drawer for the next baking project.
You can also sew a beautiful wrap for your cake pans that won’t have any fraying edges like a cut towel. Hook and eye closures can be added or the wrap can be sewn into a circle so it slides on and off the pan in one continuous piece. A friend of mine does a great tutorial on making your own cake strips here!
These cake strips make wonderful gifts. My brother is a dedicated cheesecake baker and he loves the wrap I made for his spring form pan – it makes amazing cheesecakes.
Additional Cake Strip Options
For those that don’t want to DIY it there are several cake strip options on the market. Wilton makes a “Bake-Even” cake strip that is popular with home cooks. They are held together by a loop of fabric similar to a belt loop. Regency also makes a type of cake wrap that has Velcro which means no pinning.
Additional options include other brands of cotton cake strips and even silicone rings that fit around your cake pan. I haven’t tried them but they look hard to remove during the last few minutes of baking which is an option you should have.
How to Use Cloth Cake Strips
- Once you have some cake strips submerge them in a glass of water or hold them under running water for a few seconds until they have absorbed all the water they can hold and there are no dry spots.
- Gently squeeze water out of the strips until they are no longer actively dripping.
- Wrap the strips tightly around the cake pan and secure with a safety pin.
- Fill your greased and parchment paper lined pan with batter.
- Bake according to recipe directions but usually this method slows down cooking enough that you will need to add a few minutes at the end of the baking time.
- Usually I remove the cake strips for the last 3-4 minutes of baking time to make sure the outside edge gets cooked enough. If the edge is too damp it is hard to frost the cake without the tender edge crumbling. To remove the safety pins I simply hold a wet cotton rag over the pin for a few moments. The cold water cools the pin enough that I can then open it with my hands and remove it. Alternately, I slide the entire pinned wrap down off the bottom of the cake pan and then put the pan back in the oven for several more minutes.
If you do have to level a cake…
If you ever find yourself needing to deal with a cake hill it absolutely can be solved. You have several options.
- The Bread Knife: Most people have a bread knife on hand. This isn’t my favorite solution but if you have a steady hand and it is the tool you have give it a try. This method will get a lot of crumbs all over.
- Place one hand on top of the cake to hold it steady and use the other hand to hold the knife. Make sure to keep the knife parallel to the counter as you cut. Watch the tip of the knife in particular as this is most likely to dip up or down instead of cutting level across.
- The Cake Saw or Wire Cutter: Bakers who frequently torte cakes (slice layers) or level tiers for wedding cakes often use a cake saw like this one or a wire cutter. I have both but they mostly remain unused now that I bake for the joy of it. The cake saw tends to make a crumby mess but the wire cutter isn’t as bad about crumbs. However, a dense cake can be difficult with the wire cutter and I’ve had it cut unevenly because it just isn’t that strong.
- Dental Floss & Hemming Gauge or Ruler: My favorite technique calls for unflavored dental floss. I keep a package in the kitchen just for cakes and cinnamon rolls! The method is simple, doesn’t require special equipment, and gets consistent results with very little mess / wasted crumbs.
- Use a ruler or hemming gauge to measure the cake. Find the half way point and use a paring knife to cut into the cake 1/4″ all the way around at the half way point.
- Cut a piece of dental floss long enough to go all the way around the cake plus an additional 10″-12″.
- Tuck the dental floss into the grove cut with the paring knife all the way around.
- Cross the ends of the floss and pull gently.
- The floss will cut as it pulls making one perfectly even cut all the way across.
Important Cake Baking Tips
Baking a cake doesn’t need to be intimidating! Get a good recipe, follow some simple tips, wrap the pan in cake strips and success will be yours!
- Make sure to beat the batter as directed! Cake batter needs to be beaten long enough to have the right amount of air incorporated into the batter. Also the egg protein literally changes physical shape on the molecular level when eggs are beaten. Getting a good cake that rises well depends on having his molecular change in egg protein.
- Get a decent quality cake pan. You don’t have to get anything crazy. A solid Calphalon cake pan will do the job. Just don’t buy anything flimsy that warps in the oven while you are baking.
- Divide the batter equally! Most recipes have enough batter for two 9″ or 10″ round pans. Bakeries will do this with a digital kitchen scale. Each cake pan goes on the scale and your pour in what appears to be the right amount of batter. Then check the two pans against each other and adjust the weight until the batter is even. This takes about one minute and is easy to do for even tiers!
- Check your oven temperature! All too often home cooks struggle to get good results when baking because their oven is the wrong temperature. Buy an oven thermometer and check the temperature of your oven. If it is too hot or cold you can adjust accordingly. Once you know that you have the right temperature you can consider baking the cake at 325 F instead of the ever popular 350F. Remember to add more time for this.
Do You NEED a Stand Mixer to Bake a Cake?
Good news – you don’t need to buy a stand mixer to bake a cake! A stand mixer is a very handy tool if you bake frequently but for bakers that bake very occasionally I suggest you invest in a simple hand mixer with a good solid motor. This is a $45-$50 investment and should last you years. I’m using this 7-speed hand mixer by Cuisinart.
A good hand mixer can help you beat up a lovely cake batter and make a single batch of frosting. If you want to get into larger batches of buttercream you will need to consider a stand mixer.
For those who want to buy a stand mixer do NOT buy a KitchenAid. You can read about my extensive testing of stand mixers here to see how KitchenAid performs in different types of baking.
A Note on High Altitude Baking
I now live at about 3,000 feet above sea level. Sometimes I have to fight the altitude when I’m baking. The wet towel wrap can be helpful if you are having problems with your cakes falling. It is not always a perfect solution but I find it significantly reduces falling caused by altitude issues.
My Best Layer Cake Recipes
- Best Chocolate Cake With Vanilla Buttercream
- Easy Berry Chantilly Cake
- Chocolate Cake with Ganache and Vanilla Mousse Filling
- Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Better Than Homemade Chocolate Cake Mix
- Black Magic Cake
- Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bundt Cake
How to Bake a Flat Cake Every Time
- 2 pieces parchment paper
- 1 cotton towel
- 2 safety pins or paper clips
- Make a Parchment Paper Liner: Place empty, dry cake pans on parchment paper. Use a pen to draw a circle around each pan and then cut around the circle. (Lining the pan allows the cake to release easily and prevents most broken cakes.)
- Butter the sides of the pan and dust with flour. (You can dust with baking cocoa if you are making a chocolate cake.
- Line each cake pan with a circle of parchment paper. If the liner is trying to curl up, use a smear of butter to tack it down so that it will stay flat.
- Submerge cake strips in a glass of water or hold them under running water for a few seconds until they have absorbed all the water they can hold and there are no dry spots.
- Gently squeeze water out of the strips until they are no longer actively dripping.
- Wrap the strips tightly around the cake pan and secure with a safety pin.
- Fill the cake pans with batter according to the recipe. A digital kitchen scale can be used to make sure the batter is evenly divided between the pans.
- Bake the cake as directed in the recipe. When the cake is 3 minutes from being done, remove the towel strips and put the cake back in the oven. This allows the edge of the cake to finish baking. If you do not do this, the edge will remain so moist that the frosting can fall off.
- To remove the safety pins I simply hold a wet cotton rag over the pin for a few moments. The cold water cools the pin enough that I can then open it with my hands and remove it. Alternately, I slide the entire pinned wrap down off the bottom of the cake pan and then put the pan back in the oven for several more minutes.
- Let your cakes rest according to the directions in the recipe. When it is time to remove the cake to the rack, loosen the sides with a silicone spatula. Use a plate or flat platter to flip the cake over unto its top. Thump the bottom of the pan once or twice and the cake should fall out of the pan.
- You can hand wash your towel strips and use them over and over again for many years.
I read each and every comment and I try to respond to questions asap, so ask away! If you’ve made a recipe, I would love to hear about it! Please come back and share your experience and give the recipe a 5-star rating so other people will know how much you loved it!
This tutorial was originally published in October, 2014. It has been updated with new photos and content in 2020.
thank you so much i now know what i was doing wrong… you are so nice to share your story 🙂 thanks 🙂
I’m so glad this is helpful! When I learned this method it was eye opening! I love the science of cooking and how logical it is. I’m so excited for you to try this!
I want you to know that I have been singing your praises since last Thursday! I tried this trick out on 2 layers that I baked in springform pans and they were the most beautifully flat layers that I have ever baked! I only used 1 layer of towels so the edges weren’t as pretty as yours, but they were still moist. I don’t know how in the world you came up with this, but it is genius! I would love to share this on my blog with links back to you and of course, all of the GENIUS credit – if that’s ok with you? Just can’t thank you enough. I will never back another layer cake without doing this!
Thank you, Janette! I’m so glad it was useful to you. I picked it up in a class for cake decorators I took forever and a day ago and have been baking towels ever since! My policy for sharing is that you are welcome to grab the photos and include a link back to this blog. The photos can’t have my watermark cropped out of them and the link needs to be clearly placed so people can find the original information. Your blog looks lovely and I can see you have a lot of fun with your daughter! If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an e-mail: mirlandraskitchen (at) gmail.com
Just a thought I have while reading this. I wonder if those cloth headbands would work for easy on and off . they are terrycloth maybe 1 or 2 together for the thickness. Just a thought.Thank You so much for this tip .
Any cotton terrycloth should work great. I love the idea. Just make sure there is no elastic in it. Elastic is usually some sort of plastic and would melt in the oven. That would not be fun 🙁 I just baked carrot cake with this method last night and it rose so beautiful and flat! I’m taking photos this morning to share with you all soon! I love a good cake 🙂
Just a quick question, can you reuse the strips over and over? I have serious cake issues so I’m hoping this help! Thank you.
Yep! I just hang mine to dry and tuck into my baking drawer. I’ve been using the same ones for years. They are getting more ratty so I was just thinking it might be time to make some more. The only issue I have had over the years is that as they get more ratty I have to keep an eye on strings not getting into my cake batter. If you are worried about that you could always hem the edges.
Just want to clarify. Do you use one strip per pan or strips? If you use strips how many or how thick per pan?
Hi Kari! Great question. If the towel is VERY old and worn I use two strips of towel around the cake. If it is still more or less thick / normal than I just use one. I hope that helps! Good luck with your cake!