How to bake a cake from scratch

Katy Yuan/Staff

There’s a reason birthday cakes don’t come with a return receipt. They are perfect for birthdays, anniversaries or graduation parties, and nothing says love more than handmade food. This recipe is perfect for busy UC Berkeley students because you only need one mixing bowl and you don’t need to sift the flour.


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (do not sift the flour)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups milk

Vegetable oil

1 stick butter (not margarine), softened

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs



Waxed paper/baking paper

Rubber spatula

Baking pans (any size pan will work)

Mixing bowl

Electric mixer

Measuring cups and spoons



Optional tools:

Cake-decorating turntable

Icing spatula



1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Cut wax paper to fit the bottom of (3) 9 x 1 1/2-inch round pans. Spray the pans with cooking spray, place the wax paper in the pans and spray the paper.

Tip: If you don’t have baking spray, use a paper towel and some butter or oil. If you don’t have baking paper, just make sure to grease the pan well.


3. Measure out all the ingredients.

Tip: If you don’t want to wash so many bowls, use squares of plastic wrap instead. Liquid things like vanilla extract and eggs can be measured directly into the mixing bowl.


4. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Tip: Mix lightly with a spatula or spoon until just combined. Do not overmix.


5. Measure the 1 to 1/4 cups of milk in a 2-cup measuring cup then add enough vegetable oil to bring the liquid up to 1 1/3 cups.

Tip: Bend down so the measuring cup is at eye level. Remember the meniscus?


6. Add the milk/vegetable oil mixture, butter and vanilla to the flour mixture and beat with an electric mixer on medium to medium-high speed for two minutes, scraping sides of bowl as needed.

Tip: You can beat the batter for less than 2 minutes but not more!

7. Add the eggs and continue beating an additional two minutes.


8. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Tip: If you don’t have two cake pans, bake half of the batter first. Refrigerate the other half while baking, but bring the batter back to room temperature and let the pan cool before baking again.


9. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center of cake comes out clean, or until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center.

Tip: Bang the pan on the table a few times right before baking, to let the batter settle. We poked the cake with a fork to make sure it was done, but a toothpick or chopstick works better.


10. Cool cakes on wire racks for 15 minutes; remove from pans and cool completely.


Cooked Chocolate Frosting

This is optional. Canned frostings from the store are also very good but very sweet. We recommend Betty Crocker frosting if you don’t want to make it yourself.


1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons cornstarch; packed

7 tablespoons cocoa

7 tablespoons butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon vanilla


11. Mix granulated sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and salt together in a large pot.


12. Stir in 1 1/2 cups boiling water with a wire whisk.

13. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla. Cool to frosting consistency.


14. Cut off the tops of your bottom layer(s) so they lie flat. Also feel free to cut off any hard parts.


15. Frost the middle of your cake, then put on the top layer(s). Continue frosting until done!

Tip: Put your cake on a piece of cardboard covered in wax paper or the lid of a container for easy transportation. We used the lid of a big square plastic container.


That’s it — you’re done! Congratulations!

The cake and frosting recipes were adapted from cheftalk.



Contact Katy Yuan at [email protected].