Let them eat cake!

Want to dish up centerpiece cakes this holiday season? These 10 tips for great Christmas cakes will help make yours a crowd-pleasing success.

1. Use an oven thermometer. It's the only way to know if your oven is truly at the temperature you need to bake a cake properly. An oven that's too hot can cause a cake to rise too much in the center, and an oven that runs cooler can result in a cake with an unbaked middle.

2. Line your pans. Even if you oil and flour your cake pans, you can ensure a no-stick surface by cutting parchment paper to fit the bottom of your pan. Simply set the pan bottom side down onto a sheet of parchment paper and trace the outline on the paper with a pencil. Cut out the outline and place it in your prepared pan. You can oil and flour the parchment paper if you wish before pouring in the batter. After baking, let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a cooling rack. Gently peel away the parchment paper and let the cake continue cooling before frosting.

3. A little off the top. If your layers are higher in the center than you would like, slice off the top with a serrated knife to make a flat top.

4. Upside down trick. For a cake that is perfectly flat on top, invert one layer onto another one so the tops meet in the middle. You might have to first slice off a mounded top to flatten it out, as in tip #2.

5. Amp up the flavor and moistness. Simple syrup can be brushed onto baked layers for added moistness. You can flavor it with liquors, espresso, or extracts.

6. Frost and freeze. If your layers are crumbly, put a thin layer of frosting on the cake and freeze it until set. That gives you a smooth and even surface for the final layer of frosting.

7. Fruit at the finish. Wait until just before serving to add fresh fruit to top a frosted cake, otherwise the fruit juices can run all over the frosting.

8. Dress it up. Make your holiday cakes extra festive with a sprinkle of chopped nuts, crushed candies, or shaved chocolate over the top.

9. Winter berries. For a quick seasonal touch, dip cranberries in water or egg white then roll in granulated sugar. Allow them to dry for a few hours at room temperature, then arrange on top of the cake. Try this recipe for frosted cranberries.

10. Let it snow. Dust your finished cakes with confectioners' sugar just before serving for a luxurious winter look.

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