Perhaps I'm biased, but perfect cake is one of life's joys. Airy or dense, sweet or dark, crumbly or smooth - there are so many delicious possibilities. Unfortunately, things don't always go to plan. I've been the sad victim of many a caketastrophe (anyone up for cardboard-esque brioche?), and never understood why my cake hasn't risen, or why it's hollow, or why it's all rubbery and weird.

So, to help you in your baking endeavours (and mine too), I've experimented with a simple vanilla sponge mixture to find out just why all these strange things happen, and how to fix them. Here we have it: Perfect Cake Baking 101.

Review the Recipe

cookie, sweet, candy, cake, chocolate, pastry, bread, muffin, biscuits
Kierri Price

Baking is kind of like chemistry, except more fun. And (generally) more edible. But it's important to measure things, check oven temperatures, and not leave anything to chance if you want to get a perfect bake.

Luckily for all of us, basic sponge cake is pretty simple. The same amount of butter, sugar, flour, and egg will make a perfect cake, and from there, you can add all sorts of exciting ingredients and flavours to take it to a whole new level.

Master the Method

tea, coffee
Kierri Price

Start by creaming the butter and sugar. This can be done by stirring madly with a wooden spoon, or chilling out and letting an electric whisk take care of it. It will change from a deeper yellow to a pale, creamy texture. This helps incorporate the sugar evenly into the mixture, and adds air to make the cakes fluffy and beautifully risen later.

#SpoonTip: If your cakes always end up very close-textured or with a hollow in the middle, try creaming the butter and sugar a bit more.

The next step is to add beaten egg (and some vanilla extract if you fancy it). Sounds straightforward enough, right? If you get a bit overexcited and put it all in at once, the mix can curdle. This is when the mixture goes from looking all smooth and fabulous, to lumpy and strange. The best thing to do is to add the eggs reaaaaaally slooooooowly, so the batter doesn't get overwhelmed. If (like me) you forget to do this, add some flour to help it shift back to smoothness. Curdling will affect the overall rise and volume you get from your cakes, but isn't the end of the world.

Adding flour is the last stage. Sieving the flour is generally advisable, as it means you don't get annoying pockets of flour hidden in the middle of your cake. It also helps aerate the batter and make the final cake light and delicate. I tend to use self-raising flour in sponge cakes, but you can add things like baking powder and bicarbonate of soda to help with the rise. If you add too much, though, it becomes bitter and soapy—definitely one to be avoided if you want a perfect cake.

Conquer Cooking

pastry, sweet, flour, cake, bread, dough
Kierri Price

The only thing left to do is bake! Gently spoon the mixture into cupcake cases (about half to three-quarters full, so it doesn't overflow) or a tin. Try not to drop spoonfuls from a height, otherwise all the lovely aeration you've worked to get will disappear, and your cakes may end up flat and heavy.

Place the cakes in a preheated oven (I set it to 180ºC), and bake until light golden (about 12 minutes), but remember that the cakes will continue cooking for a bit even after they emerge from the oven, so don't be tempted to overbake them. Resist the temptation to take a peek, as opening the oven door too early lowers the temperature and risks total cake collapse.

Once they're cooked, leave them to cool for 10-15 minutes in the tin, then remove to a wire rack to cool down completely. Once they're fully cooled, you have the option to decorate them with icing or ganache. That is, if they haven't all been eaten already...

Release Your Inner Chef

sweet, pastry, cake, muffin, candy
Kierri Price

#SpoonTip: Check out the photo above to see what happens if you play around with ingredients. Some things tasted good, and others really didn't.

Using white caster sugar is standard for a sponge cake, but feel free to experiment with different sugars if you want a darker or more caramel-like cake. Egg whites made a much lighter sponge, and egg yolk turned it rather yellow, but both tasted pretty reasonable.

And please use bicarbonate of soda and baking powder sparingly. These cakes were definitively not tasty...

That's it, good luck! A simple sponge cake is a great start (using equal amounts of every ingredient makes it easy to remember), and once you're comfortable with that, there are so many cakes to explore.