Cakes 101: Introduction
Cake baking is relatively easy enough. However, cakes can turn out much prettier and tastier, using some simple baking techniques that many bakers have developed over years of trail and error. Many people do not even realize the importance of sifting, using proper cake pans, and baking in a level, calibrated oven. This is an introduction to cakes and tips for baking prettier, more delicious cakes. After all, a trip to the bakery is expensive. It is very possible to make bakery quality items at home, from scratch, that cost a significant amount less. Children love birthday cakes made by Mom, and family members enjoy eating cakes baked from scratch for holidays and special occasions.
Different Types of Cakes:
There are many different types of cakes. The most popular being layer, sheet and Bundt cakes. Of course, let us not forget those little pieces of heave called cupcakes! A child's dream come true. Cupcakes offer versatility of offering a little bit of something for everyone, different flavors and frosting. The less common types of cakes include fruit, sponge and chiffon cakes.
Tips for baking better cakes:
Cake Flour, All-purpose or Self-rising:
Is there any difference in cake flour, all-purpose flour and self rising flour when making a cake? Well, yes there is. Cake flour contains less protein, which will lead to a smaller amount of gluten produced. This will aid cakes in being more tender, light and fluffy. All-purpose flour should be used when a recipe calls for it. Why? Many recipes that call for ingredients, such as buttermilk can cause problems with the cakes ability to rise. These recipes are formulated with the extra rising ingredients needed to handle this problem. Substituting might equal a disaster. Self-rising flour is usually used in very common and easy recipes. It is made to simplify baking, as it contains the ingredients (baking soda, powder and salt), to make the flour rise while baking.
Importance of Sifting:
Sifting gets all the lumps out of the flour and/or other dry ingredients. Flour should always be sifted twice for cake recipes. It should also be sifted before measuring. Sifted flour measures out differently than non-sifted flour. Cakes made with sifted flour are more tender and have a better texture. This is because the ingredients combine better and more evenly.
Powdered sugar should be sifted in a sieve, not a flour sifter. When should you sift powdered sugar? This is helpful for dusting the tops of desserts and making frosting. The sifted powdered sugar is finer and works better for dusting. It spreads more evenly. Sifting aids in a smoother texture for frosting.
For Better Tasting Cakes:
Once a cake is in the process of being made, stay with it. A batter that sits out unattended makes for a cake that can flop. Certain ingredients will loose their abilities to peak to the highest performance.
When a recipe calls for one teaspoon of vanilla extract, add two. This makes a cake more flavorful and better tasting. After adding in the flavoring, of any type, beat the batter well on medium-high. These will help the batter become as light and fluffy as possible.
Add flour and dry mixtures to the cake batter into fourths or thirds, beating after each addition. Dumping it all in at one time takes away from the light and fluffy possibilities the cake can produce.
When a recipe calls for egg whites to be beaten, then folded into the batter, do the beating right before folding them in the batter. Egg whites that are beaten early will loose their peak and effect. Be sure to use clean beaters, using dirty ones can effect the outcome of the peaks. To help the egg whites for better peaks, beat in a small amount of sugar once the peaks have formed. This helps the mixture hold it's shape.
Always measure the ingredients out and do this accurately. Guessing and mis-measuring can result in a cake that doesn't turn out.
Proper Cake Pans:
Avoid using cake pans with nonstick coatings and dark colored finishes. The dark coloring makes cakes bake faster, causing the outside to brown before the cake is done. However, using a cake pan made of stainless steel will have the reverse effect. A cake baked in a stainless steel pan will cook slower and uneven. The best pan for baking cakes is made of an anodized aluminum.
Greasing a Cake Pan Properly:
Sure it seems simple to just throw some oil, shortening or spray some non-stick spray in the pan, but it might not be best. The best way to grease and flour a cake pan is by using a recipe of special grease. This recipe should be used when a cake calls for the pan to be greased and/or floured.
1/2 cup of softened vegetable shortening
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
Mix well with an electric mixer, on high speed until well blended. Put in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 2 months. This mixture is for the use of cakes and muffins that call for grease and floured pans. Do not use it for cookies.
Baking the Cake:
When baking a cake, bake it in the center of the oven for even distribution of heat and remove a cake the instant it is done baking. Cakes test done with a toothpick or piece of uncooked spaghetti comes out of the center clean. Sponge cakes test done when the cake springs back, when touched in the center. Remember the saying "stop, you'll make my cake fall". This is true, jars and jiggles to the oven can make a cake fall. So can opening the door before the cake is near done. Cool air, jars and jiggles will make a cake fall. So it's best to bake a cake when the children are resting or not at home for best results.
Cakes should be baked in a level oven for obvious reasons. Lopsided cakes do not look very attractive. Not to mention, a lopsided layer cake is a disaster waiting to happen, if it even makes it through the frosting stage. This is especially true for layer cakes. Many stoves and ovens are leveled upon installation. If not, there should be twist that allow a person to adjust their stove. Place a level on top of the surface to check. However, no matter how level an oven is, it doesn't prevent cake crowns (those high peaks in the middle of layer cakes). To avoid these, use cake strips prior and while baking. These are sold in the cake decorating or baking section of stores. Another option is to use a cake leveler or large knife to cut the top off. This can be difficult to do without the right tools.
Baking in an accurate, calibrated oven is of up most importance for cakes to turn out their best. If unsure, test the oven's accuracy. Adjust recipes accordingly for the best, most delicious and moist results.