Let’s Talk Food: Baking a perfect cake

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Granddaughter-approved cupcakes.

There is nothing better than a moist, tender, homemade cake for a special celebration. But what does it take to make that perfect cake?

It sounds too simple, but follow the recipe and do not substitute ingredients unless the recipe states that you can. There usually is a reason why a specific ingredient is called for.

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Measuring flour is very important and you should never scoop the flour out of the container, but instead use the “spoon and level” method. By scooping, you can get up to 150% more flour than called for. Spoon the flour into a dry ingredient measuring cup, which will allow you to level the top with a straight end of a butter knife.

Do not pack the flour down or tap the measuring cup, as it would cause the flour to settle in the cup.

When the recipe calls for cake or all-purpose flour, there is a reason for that. Cake flour has lower proteins, is finely milled into a delicate consistency. It will produce a soft, tender texture to your finished cake. However, it does not work for certain cakes, like chocolate cake that calls for cocoa powder, which is a very fine dry ingredient. If you use cake flour with cocoa powder, you could end up with a flimsy cake. Cakes with fruit or vegetables, like spice cake, carrot cake, hummingbird cake or banana cake work best with all-purpose flour, with an exception of maybe pineapple-upside down cake (which usually calls for all-purpose flour but you could use cake flour instead).

Quality cake pans are essential and in this case, you will get what you pay for. Opt for aluminum pans with a dull finish since aluminum absorbs and conducts heat efficiently. Avoid shiny pans which deflect heat, and dark metal pans cause the outer edges of the cake to cook more quickly than in the center. It also tends to over brown your cake, which would result in a dry, tough cake.

Pans with at least 3-inch sides are great as they allow the cake to rise to its maximum height.

Use parchment paper to line your cake pans. Trace the pan’s bottom and cut to size to fit the bottom of the pan. Spray the pan as well as the parchment paper with cooking spray with flour. If you do not have cooking spray, butter the pan and the parchment paper. The worst thing is to have the cake stuck when you are removing it from the pan. That’s a patch and repair job, for sure!

Eggs, sour cream, butter and milk in a recipe usually state at room temperature. Room temperature ingredients bond together, easier and quicker since they are warmer. This also reduces the chances of overmixing. Room temperature butter is 65 degrees, which is cool to touch, but not warm and too soft. When the butter is too warm, you could end up with a dense cake. Butter is a solid fat and is capable of holding air and in the creaming process, traps air. While the cake is baking, the trapped air expands from the heat and produces a fluffy cake.

Cold ingredients do not emulsify well together and will result in clumpy frosting, clumpy cheesecake, dense cakes, flat breads and oily muffins.

Either a stand or hand-held mixer works for mixing as the powerful motor aerates the butter, sugar and egg mixture, which helps the cake rise nicely while baking. If using a hand-held, mix for a minute or two longer.

Don’t over or under mix your batter, but just mix until the ingredients have combined. Overmixing makes tough baked goods, because you are deflating all the air and overdeveloping the gluten. Undermixing won’t incorporate all the ingredients well.

Get an oven thermometer for your oven, to be sure you know your oven’s hot spots and how it performs. Do not open the oven door until the cake is set as opening the door lets cool air in and drastically changes the temperature and will cause the cake to sink. Temperature changes is a reason why cheesecakes can develop cracks. I have a commercial Wolf range and love it for baking cakes and cookies. I think it makes a difference, as the same recipe will develop a different product in another oven.

Test for doneness of your cake by the bounce-back test. Gently press down on the middle of the cake. If the cake bounces back completely, it is done. If your finger leaves a dent, it needs more.

Remember, once you remove the cake from the oven and it drops, there is nothing you can do to save it.

Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan. If you are in a rush, place the pans in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes to speed up the cooling process.

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Look for your favorite cake recipe and use these guidelines and see if these guidelines would produce a moist, tender cake.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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