Cake Decorating Blog

How to Bake a Flat Cake: 5 Methods Put to the Test!

Baking A Cake Flat | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

All images via Erin Bakes.

It’s one of the holy grails of baking — a cake flat and level straight from the oven. Bakers have quite a few tricks up their sleeves to achieve this feat. I put a few to the test and the results were surprising! 

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Methods For Baking A Cake Flat | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Ground Rules

Box mix

About 90 percent of the time I bake my cakes from scratch but, for this experiment, I didn’t want the recipe to be a factor. The mix companies have their stuff down cold, so one box is pretty much guaranteed to act like the next. I made three boxes of mix all in the same bowl at the same time.

No fiddling with the temperature

Here’s where I know I’m going to catch the most heat. Many, many bakers swear by baking lower and slower to achieve a flat baked cake. My experiment is specifically addressing the gadgets and gizmos people use to get their cakes to bake flat. Temperatures vary from oven to oven and from recipe to recipe. In my experience, a lower temperature combined with one of the following methods is typically the most successful way to go. Finding your temperature “sweet spot” is something you”ll have to work on with your own oven and recipe. (Usually somewhere between 300-325 degrees F.)

Greased and floured pan | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

All pans are created equal

Each cake was baked in the same kind of pan, sprayed with pan spray, then dusted with flour. This is what I’ve found to be the most effective way to pre-treat pans. It’s also what’s recommended on the box.

External methods

These methods work on the theory that cakes dome due to the outer edges of the cake cooking quicker than the center of the cake. The strips keep the edges cooler longer, preventing the sides from baking lower than the center. 

Wilton Bake-Even Strips

Wilton Bake-Even Strips | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

I purchased a small, 2-pack of strips at my local craft store for $9.99. The directions were clear and I found the strips fairly easy to use. I ran into a tiny issue when it came time to soak the strip — it floats! I remedied this by placing a plate on top of it to keep it submerged in cold water. It helps to fit the strip to the pan before you fill it with batter. Otherwise, you might spill some while fiddling with the loops to tighten the strip. I felt like there could have been a smoother method for keeping the strip on the pan. Maybe magnets? Clips?

Foil and paper towels

Foil and paper towel method | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Soak paper towels in cold water and wring them out just a little. Lay the paper towels on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold the foil up and over the wet towels into a long strip. Wrap the pan with the strip and pinch the edges of the foil together to secure. 

Foil and paper towel method | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Dish towels

Dish Towel Method | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

Cut an old towel into strips, soak for 5 minutes in cold water, then pin the strip in place around the sides of the pan. Pinning the towels wasn’t the easiest thing to do. If you plan on using the towels frequently, it might benefit you to break out the sewing machine. 

Internal methods

These work on the theory that placing something metal into the center of the pan while the cake is baking will hep distribute the heat more evenly and prevent doming. 

Heating core

Using a heating core | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

I purchased one heating core at my local craft store for $9.99. This method would get pricey if you need to bake lots of cakes at once. I also realized after purchasing it that it is best used when baking larger cakes, but decided to give it a whirl anyway. The core needs to be sprayed and floured, just like the pan. Place it in the center of the pan and fill it with batter level to the batter in the pan. 

Heating core method | Erin Gardner | Craftsy 

Floral Nail

Floral Nail Method | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

I had one of these already on hand. They typically run $1-2 at the craft store. Spray and flour the nail just like the pan. Place the flat side down in the center of the pan and fill with batter. 

Floral Nail Method | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

The results! 

Compared to an untreated control cake. 

Flat Baked Cake Results | Erin Gardner | Craftsy

The good

Wilton Bake-Strips and plain old dish towels were the clear winners! Both had flat, level tops. An unexpected bonus – the cakes baked with the same color all the way through without any dark edges. 

The bad

Foil and paper towels were outperformed by the other strip methods. Wilton Strips and towels were both easier to use and reusable. 

The floral nail was my biggest surprise! I know many bakers swear by this method, but it did nothing for me. I was SO surprised that I baked a second cake to see if there was any difference. None. If a flat cake is what you’re after, the external methods all seemed to be a better bet. 

The ugly

Heating core. Hmph. I know, I know, it’s meant for larger cakes. Even when used exactly as intended, I still find fault with this method. I split most of my cakes and don’t want to have to deal with little bits of cake floating around. I also don’t like how the holes left behind by the core create instability where dowels would likely go in a tiered cake. For my $9.99, I’d rather pick up a pack of strips and call it a day.

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75 Comments

Pat

Great to see which works best. I have the strips and am going to try lowering the oven temp to see if that helps. What do you suggest for those special pans that come in shapes like pumpkins, hearts, Christmas trees, flowers? The centers are either under-baked or create high dome. Baking strips don’t fit well or stay put on them.

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Elizabeth S

The floral nail method actually works best for cooking the center of large or oddly shaped pans. I use it when I’m making half sheet cakes, and it eliminates the problem of the uncooked middle when the sides are clearly done. I use bake even strips for round pans up to 10″.

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Beverly Brown

I do not like using the piping nails-give the Ateco Heating core nails a try-they lie perfectly flat on the bottom, so not leave an indentation, and are much better quality. I combine with the Wilton strips and never have to do any trimming.

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Erin Gardner

That is a great question! I will have to do a little research and possibly do a follow-up post. I’ll be sure to post here when that happens. Thanks! 🙂

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Kim

I’ve used the wilting strips and it made the outer part of my cakes feel wet for some reason but they were flat on top

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Joya

True, i experienced that with some recepies only…(maybe the weather has to do as well…??!!) as soon as u can open your oven on the cake…remove the strip and keep the cake 5 to 10 extra minutes..if its already cooked just cover it with foil so it doesnt dry!

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Angela

I have to agree with the Wilson bake strips. They are very effective in creating an even cake. I absolutely hate the heating core. I have used it on larger (16″) cakes and I agree with the instability of it. It’s useless. I do use the flower nails in conjunction with the strips for cakes larger than 8″. The combination seems to help cook more evenly with larger cakes. Good article! Thanks for the experiment! And as a teacher, I thank you for keeping true to the” only change one factor” rule.

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Erin Gardner

The nails didn’t work on their own for me, but I could see how they might help in conjunction with the strips with larger cakes. Glad you liked the post! 🙂

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Sharon Cali

I saw recently someone suggested putting a plate over just out of the oven cakes. Says it flattens them as they cool.

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Carole M Pluckrose

My Grandma said this was around when she was a girl, in the early 1900’s when I asked about it in the 1970’s. Occasionally worked, but she didn’t recommend it.
I was taught to bake by both Grandma and my Mum. I use this method on sponges and fruit cakes:

Grease and flour tin(s). When ready to put batter and tin into the oven, take a METAL spoon and dampen it, particularly the back, and make a gentle depression in the centre of the batter. Carefully wrap the tin in a doubled wrapping of brown paper and tie with string, making sure the paper is 2 or 3 inches above the height of the tin. It’s OK to wrap the tin before making the depression, this way around works best for me. If making the depression first, double check it’s still OK and redo if needed. Put tin into the oven and bake. Should the top begin to look a little too brown, cover tin with greased proof paper, not a good idea for a fan oven though! When I had a fan oven I bent the brown paper over the tin, the weight of the cake tin anchored the brown paper keeping it securely over the tin. I have NEVER had to flatten a cake, whether it is sponge or fruit, and it costs me nothing because there is no need to buy any extra equipment. I offer this for you to try with my best wishes🌹

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Cyndi

Same here. Nail with strips on 10″ and up, no core.

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Brittney

For the wilton bake even strips you should fit the strips to the pan before getting them wet. I then run water over the strips to get them wet followed by squeezing out the excess. Then the strips are already set to the correct size and just slip back onto the pan. I have ever soaked my strips and always achieved the flat cake.
This is a great comparison! Thanks for sharing it with us.

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Erin Gardner

Yes! I have to agree with fitting the strip before wetting. I soaked because it was what the package suggested, but it’s good to know that just running water over them works as well. Thanks!

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Sara

I have been using the bake even strips for years, and before that dish towels. I do have to say, it helps to replace the bake even strips after a year or so. They don’t seem to do their job forever. 🙂 Happy Baking!

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Erin Gardner

That’s good to know! Having to replace yearly is definitely something to keep in mind when deciding which to use. Thanks for the info!

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Carol Jacobs

Glad to see that suggestion posted. I’ve been using my set for about three years now (the original style with pins to close) and I’ve noticed that recently that they didn’t seem to be helping keep the cakes flat. Thought it might be that I was getting ‘lazy’ using them since I’ve done them so long. I got a new set on sale a few months back, so think it might be time to retire the others. Thanks for the info.

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Julie Wood

About how many cakes a year do you use the strips for? I have always (26 years) used the wet towel strips & turning the temp down method. I was recently thinking of purchasing the bake even strips. If you recommend replacing after a year I will continue using the towel method.

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Sandy

Just to add a bit to your comments. I specifically ordered heating cores that look like rose nails but they are heavier. I use several, starting in the middle of a round cake and use a couple rounds of them. I also use the Wilton or other brand wraps that you wrap the outside if the pan with. I also use this method on sheet cakes. Yes, it is time consuming but what is worse a little time or having a cake not bake higher enough or even enough to use and having to bake a 2nd cake. In my sheet cakes, I will make 3-4 alternating rows depending on how big the cake is. I will never change what I am doing as I have great success with it. My cakes always bake to the top of the pan. All I have to do is level by cutting across the top of the pan it if I have put in too much batter. Blessings, Sandy

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Erin Gardner

Hi Sandy! What brand are the other heat cores? For this experiment I just went with things I could easily purchase at a local store, but I’d love to know what you use. I can see how the plugs of cake might not be as much of a hassle when making sheet cakes.

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Wanda Higgins

The heating cores are most likely Ateeco brand. I use them on cakes bigger than 8 ” AND I use baking strips at the same time. This works very well for me.

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Donna

having baked many many cakes over the years both at home and in my profession the best way to get a flat even top to a cake is to create a well in the centre with a spatula just before you put it into the oven, this takes practise to find how deep it should be as it depends on how thick the batter is, but it costs nothing and only takes a few seconds of time. and who can complain about having extra cake 🙂

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Erin Gardner

Hi Donna! I’m an OG baker as well 😉 and have never tried that. None of my scratch cake recipes would be thick enough to have this be effective. Do you refrigerate the batter first? Thanks for letting us know your method!

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Louisa

Hi Donna, That is exactly how I get my cakes flat also. Create a well in the center … it’s science. If I’m baking a fruit cake, do the same only I splash water on top to create a steam and stops the cake from ‘smiling’ as my Mum says…. or cracking. Happy Baking 🙂

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Pastrybaglady

To create perfectly a perfectly symmetrical well in the center use physics – spin the pan and the centrifugal force will send the batter evenly up the sides.

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Marion Ellis

I have used the strips, both Wilton’s and towel, but also found that just baking the cake without these, then when pan comes out take a clean dish towel, lay over the cake, and press down gently from center to outside several times.. This flattens cake as well as takes care of any air holes that might be in the cake.

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Erin Gardner

Yes! I thought about adding this method to the mix, but decided to stick to testing techniques that involved tools. I’ve also seen where people immediately flip the cake over and let the weight of the cake flatten the top. Thanks for chiming in with this method! 🙂

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Meredith

I would be afraid that flipping my cakes over would result in cracked cakes!!!!

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Meredith

I’ve just learned about placing clean dish towels over the cakes as soon as they come out of the oven pressing from down gently from the center to the outside. I also find that setting the oven temperature at 325 will helps also.

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Marilyn French

i also use the wet towel method, but I have glued the towels to my pans with silicone. It is heat proof up to 400 degrees. I wrap the towels, cut to the depth of the pan, around the pan three times glueing in between each layer. When I am ready to use the pans, I just soak in cold water while I am preparing the cake. This saves me so much time. I can’t take credit for this method though. A great cake friend of mine uses the same method and shared with me.

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Erin Gardner

Wow! That’s the first I’ve heard of that. Can you remove the towels at all or will you have to get new pans if the towels wear out?

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Sarah Z

I’ve been using the strips religiously since I tried them. My cakes always come out even colored and flat most of the time. I live in an apartment and my oven is crappy – I have to place cakes in the exact middle, otherwise the rack dips and the oven temp is all over the place. But the Wilton strips have definitely helped me manage all that.

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Silvia

excellent research! I use a combination of lower heat, strips and the nails. Before the nails, i tried the core. Hate the core. I also havemthe older wilton strips with the pins…i wish they were a lot longer as i often have to put a couple together to go around the pans and i have stuck myself numerous times. I will need to look into the new strips that appear to not use pins.

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Diana

Hi Sylvia!
I use the clips from men’s pkgd dress shirts…they work great!! 🙂

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Erin Gardner

Thanks so much! The new strips have loops on them. They work well, but I wish they had a more secure fastener.

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Diana

Strips used to come with metal pins – ez to secure the strips. Don’t remove them with your fingers straight out of the oven though. After baking, I slide strip off. I also use the metal “clips” that are used in men’s packaged dress shirts (they look like industrial strength hair pins). Those are way better as I have a tendency to prick my fingers with the pins (and if that happens…ugh! that’s a serious delay in process). I also use the floral nails with the baking strips…definitely going to try lowering oven temp also 🙂 Thx for all the tips here!!

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Carron Jensen

I just use extra large paper clips – awesome and fast – no sticking your fingers. Mine are old style Wilton strips – had them about 10 years – I’m still getting good results.

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Reese

The flower nail & heating core is more so that the vake cooks from insdie out as well as outside in…even heat distribution, not to necessarily make a flat-topped cake. Flower nails really shouldn’t be used… There are Ateco cores that look like the nails, but sit flush, unlike the Wilton nail with a curved edge, & they rwon’t rust like the nails eventually will.

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Reese

The large round cores are meant for larger cakes… 12″ and larger.
I never use it… The Ateco cores work perfectly.

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Shirley

sprinkle granulated sugar on the top of the batter before you put it in the oven. Flat every time.

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Erin Gardner

Interesting! Does the sugar caramelize or do you get a little crust?

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Abby

It takes a very light, even sprinkling, of sugar. It doesn’t seem to affect the texture of the cake top.

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deanna

Thx shirley. Gonna try tomorow!

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Abby

I sprinkle the top of my batter with granulated sugar also. Cakes always come out with flat tops.

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Lyn Francisco

This is such a great experiment! Finally we can all see which one does the trick. I’ve been using the towel then moved on to strips for a while now and was just curious about the flower nail and core. But I didn’t want to do the core for the same reasons you cited in your article. Thank you so much for doing this. 🙂

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Janet Rinehart

If I am baking cakes for a tiered cake, I place parchment over them as soon as they come out of the oven and cover with an empty cake pan of the size. I place a can of vegetables inside for a weight. This helps create a flat top and a nice dense texture so my cakes are as stable as possible.
When baking for my family, I just cut off any rise in the cake and throw then in a freezer bag. When my granddaughter comes to visit, we use the scraps to make cake pops.

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Omotayo

Interestingly, I don’t do any of these. Just bang the pan with batter on a flat surface thrice to release the bubbles and it comes out flat everytime.

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Roseannau

Thank you for all this information. Would you please explain how to make a well in the middle of the batter. I have never heard of this before. Thanks

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BLWILLEY

Hi guys, I am a retired ‘newbie’ cake baker. I found youtube, & cakes, one day while surfing the net, and thought to myself, ‘Why, I can do that!’, and I have been doing it ever since. lol
I love what you guys are saying here, the method(s) I use are a combination of ALL of your ideas. Except the sugar one, which is a new one, but I will be using it with my very next cake! lol
I usually get nice high cake layers with flat tops by using a combo of all 4 things.
1. I use bakers grease, equal amounts of flour, oil, & shortening. Works perfectly every time, & cakes release very well.
2. Then I line the bottom, AND sides, of the pan with parchment paper, make it about 2-3 inches taller than your pan. The cake will rise out of the pans, straight up, and you will get a flat top every time.
3. Then use nails, similar to flower nails, treated with bakers grease, in the center of the pan. I always use at least 3, spaced out around the center, even in a 6″ pan, and more as needed with the larger pans, also depending on the shape of the pan. I have 15 nails, and looking to get more soon, need a total of 27.
4. Then I put on the cold wet wraps. I prefer the silver one, the purple Wilton cloth ones get cooked, dried out, brittle, and fall apart easily, while the metalic looking silver ones just hang in there.

So with the combo of all four, I get a nice high, moist, and FLAT topped, cake. And I get the added advantage of being able to lift the cakes out of the pans using the paper, then easily peeling it off once on the plate. This works well , not all, but MOST of the time. I do this as soon as they come out of the oven, remove the paper from the sides & bottom, then the nails, brush on the ‘syrup’ of choice, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge, to get a nice moist cake.

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Lisa

So you can use a flower nail and bake even strips at the same time to bake uour cakes, do you lower the temp or do you keep it at 350

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Suehey

My mom used for the heating core method a metalic can, like beans or nibblets.

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Janet

I made my own strips with some ironing board fabric scraps. It’s basically the same material as the Wilton brand. I backed the strips with muslin. Nothing fancy, raw edges exposed. I was able to make strips to fit my 3″ tall pans from 6-14″ in diameter. I held them on with safety pins.

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Lisa

So can you use a flower nail and bake even trips at the same time to bake your cakes, do you lower the temp or do you keep it at 350

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Joanna

Hi, is there any follow up to the granulated sugar method? I have to bake a 9″ cake tomorrow and was leaning toward the wet towel method, but sprinkling the sugar seems much simpler! Thanks!

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Deb

Wow, great information here. Thank you.

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Tonia Smith

Am making a three tier wedding cake next year so level cakes are a must. Usually use the dip method but doesn’t always work so will definitely be buying a strip.

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Jax de Broise

I’m amazed by all these efforts. I just place a wide pan of boiling water in the bottom of my oven and bake sponges on centre tray at gas mark 3 (160C)

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Andrew

Wow, being a young, budding cake maker/decorator (17) for friends birthdays and events, I have struggled to find methods for getting flatter cakes apart from the strips (which I haven’t actually used yet but am keen to try them). I am also struggling to find a good cake recipe which produces a nice tall cake with a good, rich flavour. can anyone show me a good (proven) recipe for a wedding cake or birthday cake?

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Mary Licardi

I swear by Yolanda’s Ultimate Yellow Cake on her cake decorating site, howtocakeit.com

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Pumpkin Chocolate Cake - Savoring Spoon — Savoring Spoon

[…] and wrapping them around each baking pan for more even heat distribution. For an excellent article experimenting with different methods of achieving flat topped cake, see the linked Craftsy article. The winners were wilton bake strips & the old wet towel […]

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Jennifer

I used the wilton baking strips until I found silicone strips that fit the pan perfectly with no need for soaking or pinning. They are made my Ron Ben-Israel and I found a pair at Marshalls for $4.00. They work great!

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Pam

Believe it or not I don’t use any of these methods. I learned a long time ago from a pro baker who said that the cake needs to climb the sides of the pan in order to get it max hight and texture. She cuts a peace of parchment the size of the pan bottom. Places the batter on top and when the cake is baked and cooled it pops right out. No greasing, spraying or flouring. Works every time.

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Angie

I have baked a good bit of cakes in my time and I use the Wilton cloth strips on my pans. I love them!! I also sprinkle a little sugar on top of the cakes and majority of the time they come out perfectly flat, which dissatisfies my son, he always loved eating the dome I cut off the cake. 🙂

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bluedamask

re: DIY magnet idea, the oven will demagnetize the magnet. Otherwise, great info! Thanks.

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Dianna

I’m not a “baker”, but I’m trying. When lowering the temp, how much does that affect the baking time?

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Erin Gardner

Hi! It’s tough to provide a specific answer, because every recipe is different. I would definitely plan on extra baking time if you’re lowering the temp. If it’s close, give it 5 more minutes, then check again. Hope this helps!

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Beth Varady

I’m still young and inexperienced, but I prefer not to grease and flour the pans. In the past I’ve used too much of both and the cakes came out with saturated flour baked on the sides. I like to put coffee filters in the bottom of round 8″ cake pans, and use a knife to separate the sides, if needed. The paper just peels off the bottom of the cake and leaves a nice smooth surface.
My college baking teacher told us not to grease the sides of the pan, so the cake can “climb” the walls and not create such a dome.

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Ginger

I’ve used the baking strips for years and have had good results…but mine are old school and are held together with T-pins! This actually works well as you fit the strip to the pan before soaking/filling, then it’s set for the next time…slides on and off with little aggravation. And yes, they float…a plate, bowl or glass will keep them submerged sufficiently. I also don’t grease the sides of the pan…gives the sides something to cling to and climb up. Run a knife around the sides and voila! I went to a Vo-Tech school for grades 10-12, Food Preparation and Service…one of the instructors did the wet towel thing…don’t remember how that worked though (35+ years ago!). She also greased (as in melted shortening) and bread crumbed pie plates prior to making meat pies…my grandmother was horrified! LOL!

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Margaret foster

After really struggling with the safety pins to hold the towels round the tins i sewed velcro to the ends and now get a really tight fit in seconds

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Alfaraj

thank you so much for posting this.

I’ll try lowering the temperature + using dish towel + pre-treating the pan

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Sherri

I just sprinkle sugar on top of the batter before I put it in the oven. I have yet to get a domed cake since I started this.

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Jules emm

Jules
Have used the baking strips , but I find the edges of a he cake do not cook enough and crumble. Any advice ?

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Erin Gardner

Hi! The edges definitely don’t crust as much with the strips, which can be seen as a good thing, but it does make the cake a little more difficult to handle. Try letting it cool in the pan a little longer before turning it out. I also find that greasing and flouring the pan works well in combination with the strips.

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