baking & blog faqs

I'm so happy you follow my blog posts and want to try my recipes, and I want you to be successful in your baking!  As I develop my recipes, I test most of them dozens of times over the years, and I stand behind them.  I've put together a few FAQs that I hope will help answer your questions:

  1. Where do you live?  I live in Denver, CO, and as such, I bake everything at high altitude (5,000 feet above sea level).  Cookie baking, bread making and especially cake baking, can be affected by altitude, and if you live at a lower altitude or at sea level, you may need to make some minor adjustments to the flour, sugar, liquid and leavening agents.  Here is an excellent article with charts on how to convert a recipe from low altitude to high altitude, which you can simply reverse for converting from high altitude to low altitude.
  2. Why didn't my cake turn out?  There could be many, many reasons.  Please read this blog post where I've addressed many of these types of questions.
  3. Can I substitute skim milk, buttermilk or non-dairy milk for whole milk, yogurt instead of sour cream, egg substitute for eggs, margarine or oil for butter, etc?  Once you start making substitutions and deviating from the recipe I've tested, I can't tell you how it's going to turn out.  Sometimes a substitution will work well, and other times, not so much.  If you use a liquid fat (oil) instead of a solid fat (butter), the result will be different.  If you use an acidic dairy product (buttermilk) instead of a non-acidic dairy product (whole milk), it will react differently with the leavening and the result will be different.  My advice would be to always try a recipe as it's written and tested, and then gradually experiment with substitutions to see how it turns out.  I also have no experience with non-dairy, vegan or gluten-free baking, and can't offer advice for substitutions.
  4. Are cake flour, all-purpose flour, self-rising flour and gluten-free flours interchangeable?  Absolutely not!  I use all-purpose flour for most of my cakes, but if a cake recipe calls for cake flour, it will yield a lighter, fluffier crumb than all-purpose flour (a quality that is especially desirable in a white cake); but that said, using all-purpose flour will still be fine, it might just be slightly more dense.  In a pinch, you can create your own cake flour by removing 2 tablespoons of flour from each cup of all-purpose flour and whisking in 2 tablespoons of corn starch.  Self-rising flour is popular in the South and contains leavening; it is never a suitable substitute for cake flour or all-purpose flour as the added leavening would require the entire recipe to be re-written.  I have no use for self-rising flour, and don't even keep it on hand, although I have occasionally used it in crumb toppings, and it's just fine in those.  It's most commonly used in recipes for biscuits and pancakes, but again, I have no use for it, and when I've experimented with it in biscuits, found that it made a far inferior biscuit.  Gluten-free flours are also not great substitutes in cake recipes, and in my experience, tend to make baked goods a little more dry, coarse and crumbly.  I've used gluten-free flour in my fudge brownies recipe with decent results, but have not tried it in any of my cake recipes.  There are some "measure-for-measure" gluten free flours on the market that get good reviews, though, it that's something you want to try.
  5. What type of cocoa powder do you use?  First, did you know that cocoa powder is acidic, and affects the way your cakes rise (in addition to the use of other acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, coffee, brown sugar, pumpkin, fruit purees, vinegar)?  To simplify things, there are two basic types of unsweetened cocoa powder: natural and Dutch-process.  Natural contains acid and will react with the baking soda in your recipe.  In Dutch process cocoa, an alkalizing agent has been added to the cocoa nibs, and as a result, it will not react with baking soda (meaning your cake will need baking powder for leavening as well, and/or other acidic ingredients that can react with the baking soda to give it rise).  This difference is important when baking cakes, but will have no impact on a recipe that doesn't contain any leavening, such as ice cream, hot chocolate, chocolate sauce, fudge brownies, buttercream, pudding, etc.  My personal preference for years has been Hershey's Special Dark (which is actually a blend of natural and Dutch process) for cakes and brownies, because I like the dark chocolate flavor and rich, dark color it lends to baked goods.  Sadly, they've recently changed their formula, and it's no longer the dark cocoa powder I've used and loved, so I'm on the search for a new cocoa powder.  I tend to use natural unsweetened cocoa powder for buttercream, or a combination of natural and dark/dutch. For a more comprehensive look at cocoa powder and the chemistry behind the different types, please read this article.
  6. Do my dairy products need to be at room temperature or can I use them cold from the fridge?  When baking cakes, it's a good idea to let your dairy (milk, eggs, sour cream, etc.) warm up a bit, as they just mix up better into the batter than using cold ingredients.
  7. What size eggs do you use?  Large eggs.  They average about 1/4 cup each (2 ounces), so if a recipe calls for 4 eggs, it should evenly fill a liquid measuring cup.  If your eggs are on the small side, use more to get the correct volume.  Generally, an egg yolk makes up 1/3 of the volume and the egg white makes up 2/3 of the volume.  If you are using egg yolks for making ice cream, lemon curd, or custard, save those whites; you can freeze the whites, thaw them out and use them in my White Velvet Cake.
  8. Can I microwave my butter to soften it for buttercream?  Please don't.  It will soften unevenly with melted spots and will not whip up into a good buttercream.  Plan ahead and set out your butter with sufficient time to soften on your kitchen counter.  If I'm going to be frosting a cake in the morning, I will set out my butter the night before.  That said, in the winter, sometimes my kitchen can be too cold to sufficiently soften butter, and I will occasionally help it along by microwaving it very briefly, and on a very low power setting.
  9. Do you measure your ingredients by volume or weight?  I mostly use US volume measurements (cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons) for both dry and wet ingredients.  Although many professional bakers insist that weighing your ingredients is the best way (and I'm certainly not arguing the accuracy of it), I'm comfortable using volume measurements, and it works well for me.  First, you should always aerate your flour before measuring, by using a spoon or whisk to move it around the canister and make sure it's not compacted.  When measuring cups of flour, be sure to use the "spoon and sweep method".  This means that you do not use the measuring cup to scoop flour out of the bag or canister, which can compact it into your cup causing you to measure out more than you should; instead, you should use a spoon to lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cup, then use the back of a knife (or your finger) to sweep the flour off the top to level the cup.  For brown sugar, I lightly pack it into the measuring cup.  There are many online calculators you can use to convert my recipes to ounces or grams, if you're more comfortable measuring by weight.  I will often use weights (in pounds and ounces) for ingredients such as chopped chocolate for ganache, or fruit for pies, and other ingredients that are difficult to measure in cups.  Make sure you use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients like flour and sugar, and liquid measuring cups for liquids like milk, lemon juice and oil.
  10. Why do you add meringue powder to your buttercream?  I add a tablespoon of meringue powder to every batch of buttercream as it adds a little extra stability, but it can be left out.  It can be found in the baking aisle of craft stores such as Hobby Lobby, Michael's, and Joanne's, or online.
  11. Do you use salted or unsalted butter?  I always use unsalted butter for both cooking and baking, so that I can control the saltiness of the recipe.  I'll usually add a little pinch of salt to my buttercream which plays nicely with the sweetness.
  12. What kind of salt do you use?  Coarse Kosher salt, Kroger brand.  If you use a finer salt, then the saltiness of the dish will be more pronounced, and you may need to use less.
  13. How do I keep the buttercream on my cake from melting on a hot day?  I understand the angst of baking and decorating a beautiful cake and then worrying about it sitting for hours in a hot kitchen, or even outside at an event.  If it's outside, you should ensure it's sitting in the shade, and never in the sun.  But a little trick you can use to stabilize your buttercream in warm weather is simply to substitute vegetable shortening for half of the butter.  Shortening has a higher melting point than butter, and when whipped into buttercream, it creates a more stable product without adversely affecting the flavor.  I would never use only shortening, since that won't taste as good as half butter and half shortening will.
  14. My buttercream is ivory/yellowish in color from the butter, so how do I make it nice and white?  First, substituting vegetable shortening for half of the butter will give you a nice white buttercream.  Second, the longer you whip your buttercream, the lighter it will be in color, so be sure you whip it on medium-high speed for at least 4-5 minutes with your stand mixer.  Third, some cake decorators swear that by adding a teeny tiny dab of violet gel food coloring, it neutralizes the yellow color of the butter and whitens the buttercream; I've only tried this once, and wasn't sure if it worked or not, but it's worth trying.
  15. Why do some of your cake recipes call for vinegar?  Milk, combined with an acid like vinegar or lemon juice is essentially the same as buttermilk.  I don't always have buttermilk on hand, so if I create a cake recipe where I want to use buttermilk, I will sometimes use a combination of whole milk and vinegar.  The final baked cake does not taste like vinegar.  If you have buttermilk, you can certainly use that instead of the whole milk/vinegar combo.  To make my own buttermilk for a recipe, I will combine 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar with 1 cup of whole milk, and microwave on high for 1 minute to curdle the milk.
  16. Can I make a cake ahead of time and freeze it?  Yes, I often bake cakes a week or two ahead, if I know my schedule is going to be tight when it's time to frost and decorate them, and I also find that freezing a warm cake seals in even more moisture so that the cake tastes incredibly fresh when you thaw it out.  Just bake and cool your cakes, then wrap each layer individually in two layers of plastic wrap.  You can freeze for up to several months, if needed.  Thaw the cakes out at room temperature the night before you plan to frost them.
  17. Can I make buttercream ahead of time and freeze it?  Buttercream freezes very well, and I always have zip-lock bags of leftover buttercream in my freezer which I use for various projects, like spreading over brownies, filling cookies, frosting small individual cakes or cupcakes, or for extra piping on cakes.  In fact, when I make buttercream, I almost always make more than what I know I will need for that cake, because a stash of extra buttercream is extremely useful. You can freeze buttercream for up to several months, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and bring to room temperature for a few hours before you need to use it.  Sometimes I will re-whip the buttercream with my mixer if the texture seems to be a little dry after freezing.
  18. Can I bake/frost/assemble a cake and refrigerate it ahead of time for an event/trip?  Absolutely!  Buttercream frosted cakes (note: not cakes with fondant) can be assembled and frosted up to three days ahead of time, as the frosting will seal in the moisture of the cake (as long as it's not cut) and keep it very fresh.  For my own wedding several years ago, I baked all the desserts and five cakes.  I baked and froze the cake layers about a week ahead of time, then thawed out the cakes to assemble and frost them a couple of days before the wedding.  I packed up the cakes in cake boxes and kept them refrigerated until the day of our wedding, transferred them to the venue in coolers, and then let them come to room temperature for 4-5 hours at the venue.  They were perfect!  Even the caterer was asking me for my recipes, and said they were the best wedding cakes she had ever tasted in her catering career.  I've also taken cakes, packed securely in cake boxes or a hard cake carrier, on road trips, and a cake that's been refrigerated overnight should travel very well in an air-conditioned car without fear of the layers melting, sliding and collapsing; I've transported cakes for up to 6 hours in the car, and they arrived at our destination perfectly.  If your car is very hot, or you'll be driving for longer, I'd recommend keeping the cake in a cooler so the buttercream doesn't melt during the drive.
  19. How do you get a cake to bake more level?  Most of my cakes bake pretty level without my doing anything special to them.  After filling them with batter, I usually tap them on the counter a few times to release any large bubbles, and give the pan a gentle swirl to swirl the batter up the sides a little, which helps encourage the batter to climb the sides of the pans and rise evenly across the top.  There are "bake-even" strips available that you can wrap around the outside of your pans, which is supposed to conduct the heat more evenly resulting in more level cakes, but I've only used them once (with disastrous results).
  20. May I share your recipe on my own blog?  Of course, thank you for asking!  Just be sure to link back to my original post and credit me for my recipe.  You may not, however, copy and paste the content of my blog posts to re-post on your own website; everything must be in your own words.
  21. Do you sell your cakes, and how much are they?  I do sell cakes locally, as my schedule allows, and depending on what you're looking for.  I only accept work that fits in with my personal style (for example, I would rarely make or sell a cake requiring extensive fondant work, as that is not my style).  I won't make a cake if I think the design is ugly (I abhor geode cakes, for example), because it won't be an enjoyable job for me if I don't like how the cake looks - again, it has to fit in with my own personal decorating style.  I will also rarely agree to identically copy someone else's design for you; inspiration from other cakes is very helpful, but I need creative freedom to create the best design for you within my own skill level and personal style.  I can deliver the cake, depending on my schedule, and current delivery/mileage rates for my round trip will be added to the final price.  For further inquiries, please e-mail me at
  22. Comment Policy: This blog is my private space, not a public domain, and I reserve the right to delete any comment that I find rude, offensive, obnoxious or spammy.  Comments containing links to other websites or personal blogs will be deleted.  Although I try to respond to all questions, I may not answer all questions in the comments if that question has been answered either in a previous comment, within the post or recipe itself, or here in my FAQs.  Sometimes my blog's spam filter is over-zealous and marks a comment as spam even if it's not, especially for "anonymous" users, so those comments may not appear as published.  Please keep comments polite, and remember that I, and others here reading my posts are not faceless robots behind our computers, but real people with feelings.  Bullying and trolling will not be tolerated.


  1. Yay!! I just found your poppyseed cake recipe and thought, now I need to adjust for high altitude. So glad I read a little bit further. I live in Loveland!

    1. I’m so glad! The almond poppyseed is one of my personal favorites. :)


I love comments, and I read and appreciate every single one. Please review my comment policy under my Baking & Blog FAQs page.