Cakes. Are they in . . . or out? Well, they haven't been spotted in the fad lists of food ins and outs, but as one of the oldest foods they've had a constant following and are here to grace dessert tables forever. Cakes baked today reflect refined techniques and basic ingredients handed down from generations of bakers. For the modern home baker, here are cake-making tips as well as some explanations as to why a cake sometimes may not rise to one's expectations.
--Precision in cake making starts in reading and understanding the whole recipe thoroughly. Set out all tools and every ingredient needed, measuring accurately. Use glass measuring cups for liquid ingredients and individual cup measures for dry ingredients.
--Always prepare baking pans in advance. Once the batter is mixed with the leavening agent there's no time for greasing or cutting paper liners. Use the correct pan size--low volume will result if the pan is too large, whereas a smaller pan could cause an overflow, and often loss of volume, during baking.
--If using glass baking pans when the recipe calls for metal, reduce oven temperature 25 degrees. Conversely, if using metal baking pans when the recipe calls for glass, increase the temperature 25 degrees. Black steel or other dull metal pans produce heavier, darker-crusted cakes, whereas bright, light aluminum pans produce lighter products.
Use With All-Purpose Flour
--Solid vegetable shortening (instead of oil, clarified, melted or soft butter) works well for greasing pans. Use with all-purpose flour when using decorative or plain molds. When directions call for a greased and floured pan, brush with shortening, then spoon in a tablespoon or so flour. Turn and tip pan, shaking slightly until flour coats it well. When pan is lightly coated, shake out any excess flour. For layer and sheet pans, particularly large ones, it may be necessary to line pans with parchment and brush with shortening. Extra greasing and use of paper lining also helps with removing rich, highly sweetened cakes from the pan. Greasing is not required when baking angel food and chiffon cakes and when using tube pans with removable bottoms.
--Sifting of flour is particularly needed in foam cakes to aerate and evenly distribute the flour and leavening throughout the batter. When a recipe calls for sifted flour, the flour should first be sifted, then measured and sifted again.
--The scoop level technique is often recommended when measuring flour, sifted or unsifted: Dip 1 cup dry measure into the flour, scoop up the flour and sweep off excess with a metal spatula.
--Never shake the cup as this will result in too much flour. Too much flour produces a tough, compact cake, and the top may split in the center. Too little flour will cause a cake to collapse when baking, resulting in a small cake with gummy texture.
--Seven-eighths cup of all-purpose flour may be substituted for cake flour, but the texture will not be as delicate. Cake flour has a low gluten content, which is needed for tenderness and fine texture.
A Need to Work Fast
--Baking powder may be replaced by baking soda in butter cakes if an acid liquid such as buttermilk, fruit juice or even mashed fruit is used to react with the soda. When the leavening mixes with the acid, carbon dioxide is released, so one needs to work fast. Otherwise the gas will be lost, which would result in a cake with poor volume.
--If you see old recipes with soda added to the liquid, the explanation is that soda used to be coarsely ground and needed to be dissolved in liquid first, sometimes in hot liquid. When making those recipes today, revise by sifting the fine soda with the dry ingredients.
--Some cakes become too bitter because of too much soda. Old recipes called for more of it since it was coarser and therefore less concentrated. A good guide is to use 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for every cup of flour.
--Always use strictly fresh baking powder, checking date code. One teaspoon baking powder per cup of flour is usually adequate. Increasing the baking powder might increase the volume but the texture will be coarser. Too much baking powder will stretch the gluten strands to the breaking point and the cake will fall and have a very small volume. Also, the cake may have an unpleasant bitter taste.
--In old-fashioned cake recipes calling for sour milk, buttermilk may be used. Otherwise, to "sour" sweet milk, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar per cup of milk.