A Pastry Chef's Best Tips for Making a Perfect Sheet Cake

A sheet cake is an absolute party staple, but one that can be a breeze to make. Here are 6 tips from a professional pastry chef on how to bake the perfect sheet cake with ease.

We all know sheet cakes are the move for birthdays and all manner of other celebrations, but they are also just as ideal for casually snacking on at home. The design is simple — usually one layer of fluffy cake topped with sweet buttercream frosting, and any garnishes or embellishments the baker desires. With endless flavor possibilities such as vanilla, chocolate, lemon, red velvet and many more, these cakes are fun to make, decorate, and (obviously) eat. Throughout culinary school and my time working pastry in restaurant kitchens, I've found sheet cakes to be one of the most versatile and essential archetypes in the world of cake. And with these tips in mind, you can approach baking your next sheet cake with the confidence of a pro.

Plan ahead.

The most important baking rule is, always read the recipe completely through before you do anything else. Most any pastry professional creates a schedule before starting a baking project, and this is an easy step you can also take when baking at home. It's helpful to plan how much time each component will take, including time for baking and chilling. Giving yourself enough time to make the dessert means it will be ready to serve at it's best when you actually want to enjoy it. This also helps to keep the baking process feeling enjoyable rather than stressful.

Let your cold ingredients come to room temperature.

Most sheet cake recipes will call for refrigerated products like eggs, butter, milk, or yogurt. Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, it's a good idea to take these ingredients out of the fridge first thing. At room temperature, they'll mix and incorporate into the batter much better. The end result yields a cake that is lighter and more tender, which is what you're looking for in an ideal sheet cake.

Don't start the batter right away.

It is tempting to measure and prep as you go, but as the two tips above indicate — with baking, setting yourself up for success oftentimes means literally setting everything up in advance. Start by preheating the oven, then measure out each of your ingredients, and line or butter your baking pans. When your oven is hot enough and the ingredients and pans are ready, the mixing process will go more quickly and efficiently.

1357687 nascar GG's chocolate sheet cake photo by KGora
Photo by KGora.

Be mindful of under-baking or over-baking the cake.

Use your recipe instructions as a suggestion for how much time the cake will bake, but keep in mind that every oven is a little bit different. Check the doneness of your cake by lightly touching the top to see if it springs back, that's a good indication the cake is done. To be sure, poke the cake with a cake tester or toothpick. No crumbs or batter on the cake tester will help confirm it is fully baked. Because exact baking time can vary oven by oven, I'd suggest checking the cake a few minutes sooner than the recipe suggests. By the same token, don't be afraid to leave it in the oven a bit longer than the recipe specifies if your cake needs more time.

Let the cake cool before frosting.

When you make a sheet cake, you will want to let the cake cool completely before topping it off with frosting. It's best to plan a minimum of at least 30 minutes for cooling time once the cake is out of the oven. This avoids troublesome and melting buttercream.

Have fun with the design.

So much preparation and thought is spent on making the cake, let the decoration be the fun part! Consider swirling the frosting with a small offset spatula or small knife with a flat blade for an organic look. Use piping tips or cut the corner off of a plastic bag filled with frosting to play with different styles of piping designs. Topping the cake with sprinkles, fruit, nuts, or candy is another tasty way of adding an assortment of colors, textures, and personality to your cake.

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