Organization and commonsense are the keys to creating really beautiful cakes. Make sure you've read through the whole recipe before you start, checking you have the right equipment and enough time (often during decorating you will have to leave things to dry or set, sometimes overnight).
Line all your tins before you start and preheat the oven. Always have the shelves in the correct positions to take the tins before you turn on the oven—and make sure they will fit in the oven, or you may have to cook in batches.
When making sponges, ensure the eggs and sugar are beaten until the mixture is very thick and will support a figure of eight drawn across the surface. When you are beating sugar and butter together the recipe will state 'until light and creamy'—take the time to do this as it will help your cake to rise.
Making two or more cakes
For many of the cakes from this site you will need to bake two or more basic cakes before you start. Often you will be using two, or even three, quantities of basic mixture. If making three quantities of mixture or more it is best to make a double quantity and a single quantity and gently fold them together before dividing into the tins. The result is much more accurate than simply trebling all the quantities. We have tried to be as precise as possible with our quantities, but when making two or more quantities of a mixture you may find you have a little left over when you transfer it to the tin. If you don't want to waste this, cook it in a small cake tin or even in muffin tins.
In the oven
Once you have transferred the mixture to the tin, smooth the surface and make sure the mixture has filled the tin completely into the corners. Bake cakes with the top of the cake in the centre of the oven for even cooking and browning. If the top of the cake seems to be overbrowning, cover it loosely with baking paper or brown paper. Don't be tempted to seal the edges or the cake will steam and become soggy.
After the recommended cooking time, the cake should have shrunk slightly away from the side of the tin and be firm to touch, without a wobbly centre. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean—if not, return the cake to the oven until it is cooked through. Fruit cakes can be a little more difficult: do not confuse sticky fruit with uncooked cake. Also, be careful that you don't test the cake through a crack, as this will give a false 'cooked' result.
In our cooking times we have allowed an extra 5-10 minutes for each cake as ovens vary slightly. So cakes can be tested 5 minutes before the full cooking time and may be ready. Some ovens brown unevenly, so it may be necessary to rotate the cake towards the end of the cooking time.
If you are making two or more cakes in different sized tins, don't forget to adjust the cooking times according to the table following the basic recipe.
Sometimes you will be baking two cakes at the same time. If possible bake them on the same shelf, without the tins touching. If your oven isn't large enough, cook them on separate shelves, rotating them towards the end of the cooking time, taking note of individual cooking times (the smaller will take less time to cook). Don't open the oven before the shorter cooking time has expired.