We’ve compiled tips and techniques to help you make marvelous cakes. You’ll find information on ingredients, mixing, and baking. As long as you’re dealing with well-balanced recipes, this information should equip you to bake marvelous cakes.
We’ve created this article in parts. Since most cake recipes (but not all) call for creaming, we’ve set forth the proper techniques for creaming. Cakes are rich in both fat (butter or shortening) and liquids. By nature, fats and water don’t mix and require special treatment, emulsifying. When they don’t mix properly, your batter curdles. In the second part of this article, we discuss mixing fats and oils and tell you how to avoid problems. In the third part, we’ve set forth tips for marvelous cakes.
Everything you need to bake marvelous cakes should be right here.
How to Cream a Cake
1. Let your butter and eggs come to room temperature—70 degrees.
2. Using the paddle attachment of your stand-type mixer, slowly beat the butter or shortening until it is soft and creamy.
3. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until soft and fluffy. This will take six to eight minutes.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each. Scrape down the sides to assure an even mixture. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
5. Add one-fourth of the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until it is almost combined.
6. Add one-third of the liquids and beat at low speed until it is almost combined.
7. Repeat with the dry and liquid ingredients scraping down the sides as necessary.
Mixing Fats and Water
Cakes have a high fat content—butter or shortening—and a high moisture content—milk, water, or cream. They naturally separate. When we have a stable mixture of water and oil, it is called an emulsion—a uniform mixture where the water is held in tiny droplets in an oil-rich batter. If you don’t create an emulsion, you have curdled batter. A successful emulsion requires both the right balance of ingredients and careful mixing. (We have explained how creamed batters should be mixed.)
The following factors may cause curdling in your batter:
1. Too much liquid. Follow the recipe carefully. The fat can carry only so much liquid. Once you overload the fat—flour absorbs some of the liquid—water floats free of the fat and you have curdled batter.
2. Adding too much liquid too quickly. Many recipes call for adding the flour alternatively with the liquid. Add the flour first for the flour will absorb and buffer the liquid. Don’t add too much liquid at a time. The eggs are added and mixed one at time since they contain water. (Egg yolks are an emulsifier that helps suspend water in the batter.)
3. Failure to cream the sugar and fat properly. Cutting the sugar through the fat creates a cell structure that holds water.
4. Butter and ingredients that are the wrong temperature. Take the chill off butter and eggs before using them. Butter that is 60 degrees is too hard to form good air cells. Butter above 75 degrees is too soft. Batters will hold water in emulsion best at 70 degrees.
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Tips for Marvelous Cakes
1. Slow the mixer down. When the mixer is set on a high speed two things can go wrong—the friction may overheat the butter or the batter and the protein in the flour is developed into gluten to make the cake chewy instead of tender.
2. Use a low protein flour. Cake or pastry flour is best; all-purpose will work.
3. Don’t mix the batter any longer than necessary. Mixing develops gluten. As soon as the dry ingredients are combined and moistened, stop.
4. If the recipe calls for mixing dry and wet ingredients alternately, always start with the flour mixture. The initial flour will help hold the water in suspension while adding water before the flour may overload the water-holding capacity of the batter.
5. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides several times during mixing. Without getting a smooth mixture, your batter may be out of balance.
6. Always bake at the correct temperature. Too hot and the cake may dome excessively or set before it is fully risen. Too cool and the steam in the batter may not form sufficiently resulting in less volume.
7. Do not open the oven until the cake is nearly baked and starting to brown. Checking on the cake too early may cause it to fall.
8. Don’t rely entirely on the baking time in the recipe. Different pans, different ovens, and different pan placement in the oven will affect cooking times.
9. When putting multiple pans in the oven, space them apart. When they are too close together, the air does not circulate properly creating hot and cold spots in the oven.
10. When a cake is done, the cake will pull away from the sides of the pan slightly, the center of the cake will be set and spring back slightly when pressed, and a toothpick will come out clean when inserted in the center of the cake