Saturday, May 11, 2013

How to Bake a Cake

Once upon a time, there were no cake mixes.  It was a long time ago, as cake mixes have been readily available since the 1950's and the first baking mixes we know of date 1849.  But even in my lifetime, most of my childhood cakes were made from scratch by my mother or myself, and now cake mixes are so cheap and easy that most of the cakes I make come from those handy boxes too.  Yet cake making is an art, and as such, I think it should be preserved.  Besides, if you are prone to scanning old cookbooks like I am, you will often come across directions that say something like: "combine using cake method", and you will wonder what that means.  So today I wanted to give a little instruction that will enable you to try those tempting recipes with confidence.

How to Bake a Cake
The words "cake method" refer to how the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients are added to a cake batter.

 A good cake starts with creaming the fat (usually butter or shortening) and sugar together. You do this by mixing with a mixer or beating the fat and sugar together with a spoon until it is fluffy looking and all one color.  It should look light and you shouldn't detect individual sugar crystals.
To this creamed mix, eggs are added, according to the recipe, and all is beaten together again until you have a light colored fluffy texture again and everything is a uniform color.
Many recipes will have you measure the dry ingredients together and set them aside at the beginning of the process.
If you are using all purpose flour, you should stir it with a spoon or whisk to fluff it a bit before you measure.  If you are using cake flour, it is an extra bleached flour with a different starch/gluten ratio and results in a lighter product.  My college text gives a hint that you can achieve a better product with all purpose flour if you measure two tablespoons of cornstarch into a 1 cup measure, then top off with flour for each cup of flour called for in the cake. Liquid ingredients are also combined with one another.  Often though it is just milk or water you are incorporating.

Now we start by adding a bit of the flour mixture, about a third of it, and beating the batter until it is all incorporated.
Then you will add about half of the milk, and beat again.
Each time you make an addition, you are beating to both incorporate the milk or flour, and to incorporate air into the mix.  It is a key leavening ingredient. Continue by adding another third of the flour, and beating, then the rest of the milk and beating.  Finally the last of the flour.  The process should both begin and end with flour.
The results should be a creamy, light textured batter.  The batter is now ready to pour into cake pans, prepared as specified by your recipe, and to bake in a preheated oven.  Cake batter should not sit around waiting to bake, because you lose some of your precious air bubbles.

I hope you will try baking a cake soon.  Here are two recipes from this blog you can try: Yellow Cake (3 Egg Cake) and Whopper Cake. Also thanks for the tips to my most useful old textbook:  Foundations of Food Preparation (5th edition).
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If you are visiting, welcome! I am in the process of a Vulcan Mind Meld with my computer to put all of my right hand recipes for feeding my family on here as fast as possible. Please come back often and stay awhile. There are so many exciting things to come!

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A clearing house for all my favorite recipes. All my food musings. All my favorite cookbooks and kitchen gadgets. If you enjoy it here, and find it useful, welcome!