So you have decided to bake a cake. It's that time again . . . a glorious Easter weekend coming . . . colorful flowers of spring in beautiful bloom. What better inspiration could one want, other than envisioning delighted faces and getting a pat on the back from satisfied cake devotees?
What else could stop you?
Afraid to take another chance after a chocolate mousse cake turned out to be disaster? Blame it on that temperamental mousse, genoise.
Worried you might have to dash out again to that French bakery (thank goodness, it's just a block away) two minutes before your guests arrive?
Voices start echoing: "We want HOMEMADE, we want HOMEMADE. . . ." Surely they'll forgive you for not having a cake with the perfectly symmetrical looks of a bakery creation. That ultimate homemade taste and freshness will definitely make up for the looks.
Challenged? Should you attempt to give that recipe another whirl? After all, the food writer emphatically told you on the phone that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the recipe and you were the only caller professing problems with it.
If you wish to pursue the project (Grandma's efforts of love were often rewarded, you know) and risk the expense again--forget your pride and examine your conscience. No, evil thoughts do not make that cake crumble.
You claimed you "followed the recipe exactly." Exactly? Are you willing to bet your brand new food processor on that? Remember when you had to reduce the amount of sugar by half because you couldn't afford to add another inch to your waist? No wonder the cake was sand-dry, hard, low in volume and rather pale.
What about that time when you thought that honey was the healthful in-thing and it would be so " au naturel " to substitute it for sugar in your trusty chiffon cake? If waste disposals had a say, your honey-baked "leather" was most likely growled at or rejected.
Another case was when you doubled a birthday cake recipe because your son invited more guests to his party. Did you adjust the baking time? And remember how using a much larger pan produce a cake that didn't seem to have the expected doubling of volume? The cake also became too salty, too spicy. That's when you learned that some ingredients intensify in taste when simply multiplied directly.
Are you one of those who say, "I've been baking for years. . . "? You pride yourself on being an experienced baker, are conscientious about gathering all the ingredients, but will you admit that you sometimes don't read instructions since you have all the experience backing you up? So you presume the cake will be baked at 350 degrees . . . or done in half an hour . . . and so on.
Are you also the one who threw away that rusting old triple sifter because somehow it just didn't belong in your newly remodeled kitchen anymore? Or maybe you just decided to put your full trust in "pre-sifted" flour? The bad news is that that so-called product, after being packed, stacked and thrown around from manufacturer to store to your shelf might as well be labeled "unsifted." Didn't you ever think that sifting could have saved your spongecake from being dotted with those tiny pearls of flour?
Weren't there times when you thought you had greased the pan to death, yet ended up prying loose a gooey-bottom crust? Sometimes improperly mixed batters or those with high-sugar or high-fat content can cause the unexpected dilemma. And leaving the cake in the pan too long can make it either sweat or stick. Also, think back to when you relied on those new non-stick pans to do the trick, not realizing that the rich cake batter contained a lot of sticky fruit so that the pans still needed to be greased and floured. Don't forget to blame the weather, too, as humidity can play tricks on some cakes, particularly meringue tortes. Although you may still be able to eat your mistake in this case, it's good to know that heaven-sent parchment paper does exist and next time you may welcome it as a good safeguard.
What type of grease should be used? In many cases, even with butter cakes, good old solid vegetable shortening works best in forming that barrier between the pan and the batter.
And regarding problems of substitution, you always say you want the best and thus use butter instead of the less expensive vegetable shortening called for in the recipe. It helps to know that the cheaper fat has some virtues, too. Its softer consistency helps in even distribution of the fat, producing a finer and softer cake texture. But, you argue, it's butter cake or poundcake. If flavor is your priority, go for the butter.
When substituting butter, however, for the original shortening, it's important to have it at room temperature and to cream it thoroughly. Does this explain why that poundcake was so heavy, dense and flat when you were in a hurry one time and didn't get the butter well creamed? Don't blame the recipe for not having baking powder since classic poundcakes don't use this leavening.