*If it’s a butter-based cake, use softened butter so it whips properly. One stick of butter in my microwave for 45 seconds at low power comes out malleable, just right for beating.

*Grease and flour the pans (or, preferably, brush them with a mixture of equal parts vegetable oil, flour, and shortening, beaten until combined well — store leftovers of this in a sealed container). Then put in a sheet of parchment, cut to fit the bottom, and grease and flour it, too. This guarantees that your cake will willingly flip out of the pan.

*Use cake strips so your cake doesn’t bake up with a dome. Called either Bake-Even or Magic Cake strips, these reusable, silicone-coated fabric strips simply need moistening and wrapping around a cake pan to equalize the baking time between the edge and center of the cake. I think leveling a cake is a real pain; these nearly eliminate that need.

*Buy an inexpensive plastic turntable from a craft or kitchen store. Even if you rarely make cakes, you will be blessing yourself repeatedly when, at midnight the night before the party, you can slowly spin that cake around and frost with ease. I put a square of rubbery shelf liner under the turntable, and another on top of it (underneath the cake plate) to keep things from sliding.

*If possible, freeze your cake layers before frosting. I like to make my cake layers several days ahead, cool them completely, and wrap them in plastic and foil to freeze. Frost them straight out of the freezer; the frosting will set up and go on smoothly almost instantly. (And I’ve never had trouble with the cake throwing off too much moisture as it defrosts, to my surprise.) This keeps crumbs from getting into the frosting (otherwise, do a “crumb coat” — a thin layer of frosting to seal in crumbs that you let set for about 15 minutes before continuing with the frosting). Use a narrow-blade, offset spatula to spread the frosting, and when you’re almost done, dip it in hot water and wipe it dry before doing one final pass over the cake, for a super-smooth finish.

*For a Swiss buttercream, your life will be easier if you use an instant-read thermometer and a stand mixer, but neither are necessities. It can be chilled for a week, or frozen; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

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