This guide "How to Easily bake the Perfect Cake: Empower Success Every Time" is the result of the many baking questions we're often asked about cake baking. Common questions about cake baking include everything from the difference between baking soda to baking powder, butter, flour and recipe issues.
At Dello Mano, we specialise in Cake and Brownie baking. We started our business in 2006 so now 15 years later we have a lot of delicious cakes and brownies out of the oven.
We're asked a lot about different aspects of cake baking. We know from our own history that getting things right is essential. Of course we've had our own problems along the way with test bakes. We too have had things in the kitchen going wrong at different times along the way. One thing we know for sure is that following the science of baking and appreciating the art of baking are both critical to empower baking success.
Here are some of the most asked baking questions which should help with your own baking success.
It is unlikely that there is a mistake in the recipe, although having said that developing a cake recipe is a time-consuming science. In the past recipes were tested over and over to make sure of clarity in recipe procedure and guarantee a great result. When our girls were growing up, I always said "if in doubt use a Women's Weekly recipe" as they've a long history of ensuring the recipe is right. It's such an expense to use a recipe that is incorrect.
I know when I was Marketing Manager in my early career I'd get letters from customers that had tried to make a chocolate recipe and things had done wrong. The chocolate recipes were expensive and customers rightly were upset. In my opinion the Women's Weekly have always taken the responsibility to their reader so very seriously. So if you're looking for a great recipe to try something new in baking I would direct you there.
These days, however, with lots of internet posting the recipe environment is not as controlled. Most people putting up recipes do try to be correct however it is worth reading the whole recipe before beginning and make sure it has a good logical flow. We all know what it is like to be halfway through making something only to discover something that doesn't make sense. Personally, I read a recipe first. I don't use a recipe if is poorly written in terms of procedure as it's usually and indication that things may not go well.
A very common baking question is about cakes sinking. There are a number of factors that can cause a cake to sink:
Oven temperature is too hot. A hot temperature in the oven may cause a cake to rise really quickly and not establish a strong textural structure. Always use an oven thermometer and just get a really good handle on the real temperature as compared to the oven setting. Ovens vary and although a recipe states a temperature it really is a matter of checking your own oven.
Check your cake is fully cooked before removing from the oven. Insert a skewer toward the middle of the cake before removing it from the oven. If the cake is cooked fully the skewer will exit the cake dry and crumbly. If the cake is not cooked fully it will sink when you remove it from the oven. Importantly know how to check a cake is cooked with a skewer.
When you are baking cakes the flour you choose will make a difference. The main difference between cake flour ( 6-8%) and plain flour (10-12%) is the protein content. Protein in the flour plays a key role in the texture and shape of the cake. When baking cake you want to have a softer texture so sometimes using cake flour is required. When baking a sponge cake for example cake flour is a great alternative as it helps develop a lighter softer texture. For a more robust cake like Pound Cake a simple all purpose flour is usually sufficient.
Just to put the cake protein question in perspective as a comparison bread flour has 12-14 % protein. This is because a strong network is required to give baked goods like bread shape and structure.
Heavy-handed butter greasing can impact cake baking. Less of a difference if you are making a cake but if you're making cookies then you'll need to watch how much butter you add to the tray. Excess greasing on the tray once in the oven will cause melted butter and this may work its way into the cookie dough resulting in misshapen cookies.
It's usually best to line your tray with baking paper .... or monitor carefully the greasing of your trays with the butter. paper and butter greasing. If you use the greasing method on your cake pan instead of parchment paper then be sure to minimise the spray or butter as too much can also cause the sides of the cake to crust up leaving you with crunchy cake edges.
If you add all of your ingredients and turn on the stand mixer, stay with it so that you watch and don't overmix. If the cake is mixed too much the gluten from the flour will be overworked and may affect your cakes' final texture. Mixers overbeaten may end up tough cakes!
Cake tins generally speaking should only ever be filled as much as two thirds. This allows for the cake to rise in the cake tin without overflowing and spoiling the shape of your cake.
A cake decorator would usually decorate the cake with frosting on the day. It is sometimes a good idea to do a crumb coat ( rough first coat) in advance allowing this to set and thus providing a solid foundation for the final coat. Usually though a buttercream first coat as we use at Dello Mano requires only a short setting period and not a whole day to set.
It is a good idea to frost between the cake layer a few hours in advance, again to let the cake set and firm up before the final decoration stage.
Eggs play a really significant role in our baked goods. Both the egg whites and the egg yolk play a role. They impact texture, the rise of your cake, the flavour and the colour. A baked good texture will vary on the recipe and importantly the number and size of the eggs as well whether the yolks and the whites are used.
Most recipes are written with large eggs in mind. A large egg generally has around 59g of egg white and egg yolk. Take care and check your eggs before you use them in a recipe.
Eggs for cake baking should be stored at room temperature. They perform better at room temperature creating lighter fluffier textures. If you forget to bring your eggs out of the fridge then it is a matter of just placing them in warm tap water for a minute or so. This will quickly bring the eggs to room temperature.
A common question is why did my cake crack on top? This is usually caused by an oven temperature that is too hot. If the temperature of the oven is too hot then the cake will cook on top before the cake has finished rising. As the top of the cake cooks and crusts any leavening action yet to be done will rise up and crack the cake top.
You can substitute salted butter (normal table butter) for unsalted butter. Many cake recipes call for unsalted butter though often household kitchens only have salted butter on hand. If you substitute salted butter then be sure to remember to adjust down the salt in your recipe.
If the recipe calls for softened butter, this means butter at room temperature. It does not mean melted butter in the microwave - use softened butter not fully melted.
Be sure too when you cream the butter and sugar that you are careful with this step. The creaming of butter and sugar is essential to ensure you cake is light and fluffy. The creaming process incorporates air into your mix helping it to rise evenly and thus creating the lovely soft and airy cake texture we all love.
A very common baking question is around the difference between baking soda and baking powder. Essential to note is that they both operate very differently and are not able to be straight substituted in a recipe.
Both Baking Soda and Baking Powder help a cake to rise. Baking soda works by forming bubbles in the oven while baking. It helps cake batter and dough rise. Its ability to help a cake rise is dependent on acidic ingredients being present in the recipe like milk, lemon juice, sour cream or butter milk. Baking powder helps form gases and therefore helps the cake rise by reacting with heat and moisture. Once heat and moisture are available the baking powder releases carbon dioxide bubbles.
Sugar plays a critical role in cake baking. The molecules in sugar allow moisture to be trapped and so sugar plays an important part in determining the moistness of a cake. The amount of sugar in cake recipe will impact the softness and the moistness of the cake.
Granulated sugar ( grocery sugar) is most commonly used in cake baking. Caster sugar can be used in cake baking and can be substituted like for like with granulated sugar. Brown sugar is typically not used in cake recipes but can be used very well in cookies to achieve a more caramel, softer chewier texture.
Sugar too plays a role in colour formation and also crunchiness of the surface of cakes and cookies.
Wile cake baking is fun it is though both an art and a science. Taking notes of the role of different ingredients and the basic ideas around cake ingredient substitutions and ratios will really help.
Whether your making cupcakes or a celebration cake I hope here to have helped with many of the common cake baking questions. It is easy to bake the perfect cake. Following the guidelines will empower success every time!
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