While box cake mix tends to come out nice and fluffy every time, making a cake from scratch requires a skilled balance of exact ingredients, gentle mixing and precise oven temperature to achieve that same light and airy texture. Knowing your ingredients and what roles they play in the creation of your cake's final texture is essential. With a little food chemistry know-how and attention to detail, you can achieve a light, fluffy cake in no time.
Place an oven thermometer in your oven before you even begin thinking about baking a cake. Preheat your oven to the temperature called for in your recipe and check the thermometer. If your oven does not heat to the correct temperature, adjust it accordingly. Temperatures too low can result in underdone cakes while too high can lead to an over-browned top and undercooked center.
Combine your fat -- typically butter-- and sugar in a mixing bowl as directed. This can be done with a mixer or by hand if you are feeling strong. Begin with room temperature butter and beat for 30 seconds. Slowly add the sugar and beat until the mixture becomes fluffy, yet with a grainy, clay consistency. Add the remaining ingredients to your batter as directed. This mixing, known as creaming, is what adds the air bubbles to your cake batter, resulting in the light, fluffy cake texture. Air bubbles develop on the sugar crystals and become trapped by the fat.
Substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour in your recipe. Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour -- cake flours have an average of 8 percent protein while all-purpose flour has an average of 10 to 12 percent. The lower protein content yields a lighter cake texture. Sift the flour before adding it to the cake batter. Gently stir in the flour to avoid breaking the air bubbles you created with the creaming.