This post comes to you today courtesy of my mom – the best baker I know. I have become accustomed to the most amazing cheesecakes, cookies (any kind), scones, biscuits and of course – homemade cakes. It’s tough really – having a star baker in the family, but thankfully she’s not one of those culinary types that prefers to keep her magic to herself. She’s an equalist and thinks everyone can bake just the way she does. She even wrote a tutorial – and now I’m sharing it with you! So here’s to my mom, and to a lifetime filled with (hopefully) blissful baking…
Cake Baking 101
Baking is a chemical process and reaction-an exact science-don’t change the amounts specified in a recipe or make substitutions (unless you know the substitute will work the same way the original ingredient does), it could change the way your cake looks and tastes. If you are following a recipe that calls for cake flour, it is best to use cake flour because:
The major difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour is the amount of protein present in them that influences the gluten or elastic quality of the flour. Cake flour has low protein content, around 7-8% while all-purpose flour has around 11-12%; The more gluten the chewier the end product. Think of the difference between good French bread and a good piece of cake. The bread is very chewy and elastic while the cake is crumbly and soft. That is because bread flour contains more protein than both cake flour and all-purpose flour.
Cake flour is made from soft wheat whereas all-purpose flour is a combination of both hard and soft wheat; cake flour is finely ground and chlorinated sometimes where purpose flour usually isn’t.
If you substitute all-purpose flour with cake flour: per 1 cup of cake flour, use 1 cup of all-purpose flour, less 2 tablespoons. You can add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch per cup to the all- purpose flour to make it more like cake flour.
Follow the recipe instructions carefully, always add the ingredients in the order given-because if you don’t, your cake may flop!
If your recipe calls for eggs, be sure to crack them into a separate bowl before adding them to your mix, this way if any eggshells get into the eggs it is easier to get them out. The best way to get a piece of eggshell out of the eggs is to use another piece of eggshell. There is some kind of magnetic attraction. You can also use a spoon.
- Always beat the batter for the amount of time given. Besides mixing the ingredients, beating the cake batter adds air to the mix- giving the cake a light, fluffy texture. But don’t over-mix! Or your cake might become too light and airy and may not be able to stand up to the frosting.
- Grease and flour your pans, unless the recipe tells you not to. To grease the pans I always use butter-use enough to make the entire surface and sides of the pan shiny, but not so much that you can see that it is butter-just a light, but thorough coating. Sprinkle some flour in the pan and shake the pan to coat the bottom with flour. Tilt the pan to the side and rotate to coat the sides. Add more flour if you need it. I usually do this part over the sink or the garbage can-otherwise you have a big mess! Also, when I make chocolate cake, I substitute cocoa powder for the flour-it works the same way and the brown chocolate cake doesn’t have a coating of white flour. A super easy way to grease and flour pans is to give the pans a good spray of Baker’s Joy-try it to see if you like it.
- When you put the batter in the pans divide it between the pans as evenly as possible, you want your cake layers to come out even. Smooth the batter with a small offset spatula.
- Put the cake in a preheated oven-let the oven preheat for at least 5 minutes to reach the temperature called for in your recipe. If your oven is older and not very reliable about temperature, it is a good idea to use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven temperature is accurate. When you put the pans in the oven, put them on a rack that is in the middle of the oven and do not let the pans tough one another or the sides of the oven. If the pans are touching metal, it might cause the cakes to rise unevenly (I found that out when I baked my first cake).
- I was always taught that you shouldn’t open the oven door until the cake is done or the cake will fall! The problem is-how are you supposed to tell if the cake is done? I’ll be honest, I open the door and check it a few minutes before it is supposed to be done-I don’t like cake that is over-baked. It is dry and tough in spots. There are a couple of ways to tell if a cake is done: by lightly tapping the middle once-if the cake springs back it is done. If it doesn’t move and your finger has left a dent-it needs to stay in the oven; or you can stick a toothpick in the center-if it comes out clean-or it just has crumbs on it, but no wet batter-the cake is done.
- When you take it out of the oven, let the cake cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes. You can take it out of the pan and finish cooling it on a cooling rack. Let the cake cool completely – if you try to frost it while it is still warm, the frosting will melt and you will have a big mess. (another lesson I learned that with that first cake).
- When you frost your cake, brush all the crumbs from the cake and use an offset spatula to make it easier to spread the frosting. I usually use the spatula to frost, but another utensil (either a spoon or bread knife) to add more frosting to the cake. This keeps the crumbs that can cling to your spatula from being added to the frosting. A good tip for making your cake look like a pro made it-make a small batch of frosting and thin it a bit more than regular frosting and use it as a glaze to cover the tops and sides of both cakes. Let it dry completely. Then frost your cake with regular frosting. It will be easier to frost and you won’t see any crumbs in the frosting! Another tip for making your cakes look like a pro-stack the layers upside down-so the cake is perfectly flat on top. If your cake is very puffed in the center, you might want to trim it with a serrated knife.