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    I focus on balance. I love baking and eating (all types of food) but I also love feeling healthy and strong. I never restrict anything in my eating and focus on balance, mindful eating. Being active is fun for me. I don’t look at a workout as something I have to do, I do it because I want to. I find workouts and activities that I enjoy and usually do them with friends. I love the workout plans from @fitmamametta and the HIIT workout from @high.fitness. I also run, do Pilates reformer, and spin classes. Variety is key! I wrote a post about this one time, you can find it below!

    Having My Cake and Eating It Too

    I was active growing up but went through a rough time in college and got away from a healthy lifestyle for a while. I got back into it right before I had Westin. One day I decided I wanted to run a half marathon and just went for it. Since then I’ve always made it a priority in my life. Not because I have to, but because I want to. I do things that I enjoy, and I do it with friends- that always makes it something I look forward to. Some days it’s 5:30 or 6 in the morning to fit it in, and some days it doesn’t happen at all and that’s ok too. I make sure I’m always active with my kids no matter what.

    I’ve taught myself! Lots of trial and error along the way, but hopefully what I share with you reduces the amount of trial and error you have to go through.

    I’ve always loved to bake. I grew up in the kitchen with my mom and little sister. I didn’t start cakes though until Westin turned 1. We threw him a big party and I wanted to make something from scratch. It was a train wreck as far as looks, but it tasted amazing! Life changing good! I then just looked for any excuse to try new cake recipes. I eventually got the hang of things and started creating my own recipes. Then, with lots of encouragement from friends and family, decided to start Cake By Courtney three years ago.

    Just start. Find recipes that excite you and start baking. I don’t think there is one good recipe for beginners. I think it’s more important to find a recipe that you’re excited to eat, and then make it! No matter what it looks like, you know you’re going to enjoy it and that’s the whole point. Then look for opportunities or excuses to bake- with each time you make a new cake, you learn something new and get a little better.

    Yes, because I love dark chocolate! I also like using dark cocoa powder because it has a stronger chocolate flavor than regular chocolate. It’s also less sweet than milk chocolate, so it balances the sweeter elements in a cake.

    Yes. I have a Gluten Free Vanilla Cake on my website, but you can actually sub certain gluten free flours in any of my cakes. My favorite brand is Cup4Cup. I also like Bob’s Red Mill One for One Gluten Free Flour as well. You don’t have to change any measurements for either of those brands. I also have egg-free and dairy-free chocolate and vanilla cakes!

    Gluten Free Vanilla Cake

    Don’t let them over bake, it’s the main reason cakes turn out dry. Know your oven. Does it run hot? If so, reduce your time. Stay close to your oven as the baking time comes to an end. You want a few moist crumbs to come out on a toothpick when you insert it into the center of your cake.

    Any time you have a filling that’s soft or runny (i.e. lemon curd, peach compote, chocolate ganache, etc.), you’ll want to pipe a rim of frosting around the edge of the cake layer before adding the filling. I typically pipe the rim of frosting about a quarter inch in from the very edge of the cake. Also make sure you don’t put too much of the filling in. Using too much filling will cause your cake to be unstable while you stack and decorate. Save the extra filling and serve it on the side of your cake slices instead.

    There’s a couple things I like to do: the first is to beat the frosting for about five minutes. This will lighten the color quite a bit. The second is to add a little white food coloring or the slightest bit of purple food coloring (it acts like purple shampoo and cancels out the yellow).

    This could be the result of a few things: your baking powder and/or baking soda is expired (I don’t use anything older than 6 months from the time I buy it); you may be over-mixing your batter (when you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, make sure your mixer is on low and that you mix only until the dry ingredients are incorporated; or your internal oven temperature is off from what the screen is telling you (also make sure you give your oven 20 to 30 minutes to preheat).

    I always measure my flour and other dry ingredients by spooning the ingredient into my measuring cup and leveling it off with a knife. You don’t want to pack or shake your flour into your measuring cup because it will be too much flour and create a much denser cake.

    Yes, but it’s not my favorite. I prefer cake flour when called for. It’s much lighter in texture and offers a bit of a sweet taste to a cake, compared to all-purpose flour. Cake flour is great for vanilla and white cakes. You can make your own cake flour from all-purpose: measure the amount of flour needed for your recipe. Then, for every one cup of cake flour called for, remove two tablespoons of the all-purpose flour and add 2 tablespoons cornstarch in place of it. When you’re done with that step, sift the mixture at least six times before adding to the batter.

    It’s important to use room temperature wet ingredients. When your eggs and buttermilk are room temperature, they will better blend with the other ingredients and will be better absorbed by the dry ingredients. This all helps for your cakes to rise more evenly. Good cake pans also help. I use Fat Daddio pans. Additionally, you can use aluminum bake even strips or place a baking stone on the rack below your cakes (which helps push the air up and around the cakes like a convection oven).

    The most important piece of advice I can give you is to know your oven! Get an oven thermometer and make sure the internal oven temperature is accurate. Then, as the baking time is nearly over, keep an eye on your cakes. I look to make sure the top of the cake isn’t shiny anymore, that the sides of the cake have just barely pulled away from the pan, and a few moist crumbs come out on the toothpick. Remember it still cooks in the pan as it cools. Your cakes will taste dry if you over bake them even just a few minutes.

    One of the biggest mistakes beginner bakers make is not reading the recipe and instructions thoroughly. Make sure you have all the ingredients you need and aren’t trying to substitute anything last minute. Also make sure you’ve read through the instructions ahead of time so you know how long everything takes to make. Rushing through the cake making and cake decorating process makes the whole experience much more stressful. Plan ahead! You can even prep cake layers and frosting ahead of time so you just have to assemble the day of your party.

    Best Cakes for Beginner Bakers