My 10 Favorite Baking Essentials for Making Impressive Birthday Cakes

I have always LOVED to bake!  When I was young, I would make homemade wheat bread from scratch while my mom looked on.  I also tried to teach myself how to decorate cakes, but considering that was years before YouTube and video tutorials, I just kind of muttled along!

When I moved back home after college, I took a Wilton cake decorating class.  It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot in that class. But one thing that I realized after starting to make cakes for friends and family, is that, I don’t really LOVE cake decorating I really LOVE making a cake that tastes great! After that is accomplished, I do really want to be able to finish it up simply, but nothing overly complicated.  I want the cake to look beautiful, but my main concern is the taste!

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yummy chocolate layer cake

But because I have become the designated cake maker among my friends and family, I have had to learn how to make good tasting cakes AND I have had to learn some simple decorating also!  And when my friends start to ask questions about how to pipe icing on the top of cupcakes or what type of frosting tip to use, I have a list of baking essentials that will make their life (and yours) so much easier!  So if you are ready bake and decorate your own cakes, read thru this cake baking essentials list, I think you will find some items that will be helpful!

But before we start, let me say, you don’t have to be an aspiring baker to make a delicious & beautiful cake!  I think there is something so special about a simple layered cake for a birthday celebration, especially when it is made with love by someone special.  So, don’t be intimidated, you can do this!  And with time, you will gain more and more confidence in your ability to make a beautiful cake!

layered birthday cake

Cake Baking Essential #1: A Mixer

The first item that you need is a good mixer (I have this one).  I made frosting for years (and sometimes I still do) with a hand mixer. So, you do not have to have a stand mixer to make icing, but it does make life a little easier if you do.

If you are using a hand mixer, be sure your butter (and cream cheese-if using) are room temperature.  If your ingredients are hard, you might burn out the motor on your hand mixer. It also might be a little difficult to make very stiff frosting (that is best for piping) with a hand mixer, but you can always experiment!

Also, a stand mixer is not without it’s flaws.  If you have a mixer with a regular wire whisk attachment, you might not reach all of the ingredients at the bottom.  I have become so used to having control of where my hand mixer goes, that I will often stop my stand mixer and find a big clump of powdered sugar in the bottom.  Just be aware and stop your mixer and scrape down the sides several times to make sure that all of your ingredients are incorporated.

baking essential ingredients

Cake Baking Essential #2: Parchment Paper

I guess this is not a true baking essential, but it is great to have when baking. I line the bottom of my cake pans with parchment after lightly spraying my pans.  The parchment ensures that the cake completely release on the bottom.  Not absolutely necessary, but when I’m working on a big cake, I do not want to risk a layer falling apart because it wouldn’t release from the pan!

Cake Baking Essential #3: Oven Thermometer

I didn’t own an oven thermometer until several years ago when I made a wedding cake for a friend.  I had read somewhere to check your oven’s temperature, and  I wanted to make sure that my oven wouldn’t burn the edges of the large layers and leave the middle under-baked!  This is especially a concern when you are baking larger layers, like 12 or 14 inch layers.

I found out that my oven bakes about 25° hot which can make for a dried out, burnt cake.  So now, I  adjust my temp by 25° (and sometimes a little more if I’m baking an extra large layer.  An oven thermometer simply hooks to the back of your oven rack. You can purchase an oven thermometer for less than $10 here.

Cake Baking Essential #4: Cake Pans

I grew up using Wilton cake pans, and they were great.  But when I started making larger cakes, I wanted to experiment with other cake pans.  Maybe something in me wanted something different, not so accessible.  Something to show that I was a real baker!?!

But guess what, after buying other brands of pans, I’m still a Wilton fan! (and NO this post is not paid for by Wilton! lol!).  Wilton pans just seem to bake more evenly, they are light weight, so they don’t hold in heat and over-bake, and the bottoms of the cake doesn’t get too dark like they do in other pans.

My favorite sizes of Wilton pans are the 8 inch and the 10 inch (this one is similar to mine).  An 8 inch round pan (either 2 or 3 layers) will make a perfect cake for a family birthday dinner with some to spare.  A 10 inch triple layer will serve about 25.  Remember these cakes, especially the ones with 3 layers, are BIG! (And especially if you are like me and fill your pans on the full side =).  Be aware when cutting the pieces to cut them a little smaller.

Click the image below to print this free helpful “Cake Baking Chart” Printable!

free printable: cake baking chart

The Wilton cupcake pan is also my favorite cupcake pan ever because it releases your cakes/muffins without any problem and it’s not a big pain in the rear to wash…. Oh how I DREAD washing cupcake pans!!!

Cake Baking Essential #5: Cake Leveler

One of my pet peeves when making cakes is to find that my cake isn’t level!!!  All that work and it SLANTS!?!!!!  If you are a little bit of a perfectionist (like me), you may want to invest a simple cake leveler.  A cake leveler is an easy way to make sure that your cakes are the same height all around!  And it’s fairly easy to use, just make sure each side is set on the same notch and drag evenly across your cake.  I use this one, and it will work on cakes up to 10 inches in diameter.  You can also use it to split a layer in half and make a 2 layer cake into a 4 layer cake (Ooo, fancy!)!

My oldest son’s first birthday cake…. can you tell that it is leaning a little?  That’s why I bought a cake leveler! =)

Cake Baking Essential #6: Offset Cake Spatula

Even if you have no intention of ever piping frosting onto a cake or cupcakes, a large offset spatula will be a help when smoothing frosting onto your cake.  I use this one.  It is large enough to be able to cover the entire side even when I am icing a 3 layer cake (which is my favorite!).  Just holding it will make you feel like a baker extraordinaire! =)

offset spatula

Cake Baking Essential #7: Piping Tips

I have a whole drawer full of icing tips, but without a doubt, I use these three tips more than all of the others combined!  These are larger than most of the Wilton tips and are great for decorating cupcakes and even piping rosettes on a cake.  Piping tips are inexpensive, so they are a low commitment way to play around with simple cake decorating!  If you just want to practice, pipe stars, rosettes, or whatever onto a plate or even parchment paper and you can just scrape it off and reuse it!

piping tips

Cake Baking Essential #8: Piping Bags

For years I have used these Wilton featherweight bags to pipe my frosting.  They are very sturdy and will last a long time.  However, recently I have started using these disposable bags, and I’m in love!  Washing piping bags is a pain and I guess I have just gotten lazy!  You won’t go wrong with either of these bags!

Just make sure that you buy a 12 inch or larger bag, or you will have be refilling your bag all the time.  Also, don’t cut the whole in the end of your bag too large, because their will be a lot of pressure at the tip and the bag can burst (especially the disposable ones).

Cake Baking Essential #9: Turntable

Now I know what you are thinking, a turntable?  What?  All I want to do is make a birthday cake!!!  And that is fine, go in peace, make your birthday cake! (And I really do mean that, I’m not being sarcastic… not everyone will need a turntable!).

But if you should one day find yourself wondering, “why can’t I get my frosting all smooth on the sides like the ones I see in the pictures?”  You can come back to this blog post and find this link, and order your turntable!

A turntable is great for smoothing out the icing with the (aforementioned) offset spatula. =)  When you turn it and hold the spatula still, it should smooth your frosting all the way around.  I have an older version of this one, but I love that they have now built in a nonslip base.  I usually put a piece of nonslip cabinet liner on the top of my turntable to keep my cake from sliding off.

Cake Baking Essential #10: Cupcake Carrier

This one is kind of like the turntable, not everyone will need it, but I LOVE IT!  I transport cupcakes quite often, and after going to all of that work, I don’t want anything to happen to them!  This is my all time favorite cupcake holder! (SAD STORY- as I was getting this holder out to snap a picture of it, I let it fall off of my washer and cracked the upper right corner (you can probably see it)!!! It’s a sad day! =( Hoping my Hubby can work some magic on it somehow!?!).

cupcake carrier

It holds 36 cupcakes (I actually could use 2…..maybe I’ll get a second now that this one is cracked?) and it locks securely.  A friend of mine even put a beautiful vinyl decal on it with my initial.  I always get lots of compliments on it.

And for the Bonus…Sprinkles!

And last, but DEFINITELY not least……Sprinkles!!!  I love sprinkles!  They can add so much to your simple decorations and I always say “sprinkles cover up a multitude of imperfections!”  So, when you get your cake or cupcakes all finished, just remember to JUST ADD SPRINKLES!

photo of sprinkles

I hope that this list of baking essentials has helped (and not overwhelmed) you as you embark on your own baking adventures! And remember to take what is applicable to you right now, and if it is overwhelming, just leave it (just pin this post in case you need it later! =)! You can do it!

After all, it’s not about baking a perfect cake or throwing the perfect party.  It’s about showing the people in our lives that we love them and that they are special to us!

What are your baking tips and trick?  Do you have other questions about baking or products that you would like answered?  Please leave your comment below!

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PIN for baking essentials


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