Question: No matter how closely I follow a cake recipe, I can never get it to stay as high as it is when it comes out the the oven. Sometimes it goes down much more than I know it should. Any suggestions?
Answer: The problem may not be the recipe, but your baking pans or oven. In "Understanding Food" (John Wiley and Sons: 1969), authors Lendal H. Kotschevar and Margaret McWilliams give this tip: "For easy removal, grease the pan bottoms or line them with wax paper. Leave the sides of the pan ungreased so that the cake can cling to the sides and help pull itself up to the maximum volume."
The authors define "shortened" cakes as those made with flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, eggs, liquid, shortening and flavoring, and go on to offer the following information to achieve optimum baking results of these cakes. "Most cake recipes requiring two cups of flour make about a quart of batter. This can be divided to fill two (eight-inch) layer pans just over half full. During baking, the cake will just fill the pan because most cakes do not quite double in volume during baking. Overfilling the pan will give lower volume and may result in the cake running over.
"Shortened cakes should be positioned in the center of an oven preheated to the desired temperature. The usual baking temperature is 350 degrees, but this may vary with the recipe. Place the cake pans at least one inch from the walls and door of the oven to allow good air circulation and even heating during baking. Space should also be left between pans to avoid interrupted air flow.
"If it is necessary to use two oven racks, try to stagger the pans on the two shelves rather than placing one directly above the other. Without a staggered arrangement, the surface of the lower cake will not brown well. It is important to avoid the lowest and the highest rack positions in the oven; the former creates too dark a crust on the bottom of the cake and the latter leaves the upper crust too light.
"All cakes should be baked in baking pans designed for the job. Bright metal pans reflect heat away from the surface and, consequently, the cakes bake less well in these pans than in darker pans, which tend to absorb the heat. Uneven, warped pans give misshapen cakes.
"Shortened cakes are done when a wood pick inserted in the center comes out clean. If some of the cake clings to the pick, the cake needs to be baked longer. A cake is overbaked if it draws away from the sides of the pan.
"When shortened cakes are done, remove them carefully from the oven and gently set them upright on the counter to cool. The structure of these cakes is extremely delicate when they are hot. However, the structure becomes less fragile as the cake cools; it is possible to remove shortened cakes from the pan onto a cooling rack while the cake is still fairly warm but not steaming hot.
"Removal is easy because the fat or the wax paper will not be firm when warm and the cake is readily persuaded to leave the pan. Then it is a simple matter to peel off the wax paper quickly. Allow the cake to finish cooling undisturbed on the rack. The rack permits steam to escape and helps prevent a soggy cake."