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Cake Making Technique

Cake making is not difficult but having an understanding of the role ingredients and technique play in the quality of your finished cake will help you to have consistent and excellent results every time.

You may not know the differences between the two types of cakes; foam and butter, and the different techniques used to make them. Cake making usually begins by trying a recipe that catches your interest and whether it is a sponge cake, butter cake, chiffon cake, or genoise doesn't matter at first, only how it tastes and looks matters. But as you gain more experience, you start to develop definite taste preferences. Frustration often results when a recipe doesn't work or meet your expectations. This is when you need to learn about technique and cake types so you can become better at; choosing recipes that match your preferences, avoiding mistakes, and even changing a recipe to suit your own taste.

There are two types of raised cakes:

1. FOAM Cakes -( No fat )
Foam cakes have a high proportion of eggs to flour. They are leavened solely by the air beaten into whole eggs or egg whites. They contain very little, if any, fat and have a spongy texture.

The two categories of foam cakes are:
i) Those that contain no fat
- Angel Food Cakes, Meringues, and Dacquoises.
ii) Those where the only fat is from egg yolks
- Sponge Cakes, some Biscuits, Roulades

These cakes contain fat (butter, margarine or shortening) plus egg yolks.
- Genoises and Chiffons  and rely on a chemical leavener (baking powder, baking soda) for their rise. They are flavorful, and have a good texture and volume. The American-style butter cake evolved from the English pound cake recipe of 1 pound of flour, 1 pound of sugar, 1 pound of butter, and 1 pound of eggs. The French called the pound cake "quatre-quarts" which translates to four-quarters, meaning of the recipe is flour, sugar, butter and eggs. The first pound cakes had no artificial leavener and volume was obtained through the mixing (aeration) of the batter.

Other examples of butter cakes are the white and yellow cake, coffee cakes, teacakes, and fruitcakes. Some butter cakes are rich and flavorful enough to stand alone (fruitcakes, teacakes) or with a sifting of confectioners sugar or drizzled with a glaze. Others, layer or sheet butter cakes, taste even better with a layer of frosting, lemon curd, jam and preserves, nuts, or even ice cream.

Butter cakes consist of taking the most basic of ingredients butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and a leavening agent (baking powder or baking soda) and transforming them into a baked good with a wonderful taste and texture.

Self Raising Flour vs Plain Flour
Generally, it is always preferable to use self raising flour or cake flour for making basic cakes without any icing or decoration. This is because self raising flour has a much lower gluten level than plain flour and this will also produce a much lighter and fluffy cake. Unless specified in the recipe like Banana Cake which requires a heavier batter or you are making a decorative cake with several tiers and icing which requires a more firm cake base, then it is better to use Plain flour plus baking powder or leavening agent. Plain flour has a much higher level of gluten.

How to make your butter cake light & fluffy (creaming method most popular)
Step 1: Place softened butter and sugar in a large bowl. Use an electric beater to beat until pale and creamy.
Step 2: Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time (this stops it curdling), and beat until just combined. Do not over beat.
Step 3: Add the flour to the mixture and use a spoon or spatula to gently fold until just combined.

There are actually three methods used in making butter cakes and the goal of each method is to incorporate the maximum amount of air into the batter (produces the volume and texture of the cake), to restrict the development of gluten in the flour (provides tenderness, texture and volume), and to have a uniform batter.

1) Creaming Method - Most American-style butter cakes are prepared using one of three methods.
The creaming method is the most popular of the three. This is the easiest and produces the lightest cake with the best volume.
2) One Bowl, Quick or Blending Method - The one bowl, quick, or blending method is the quickest and easiest cake to make and produces a melt-in-your-mouth texture but it is denser with less volume than a cake made with creaming method.
3) Combination Method - The combination method is similar to the creaming method but involves whipping the egg whites separately from the yolks and then adding them to the batter.  Example - chiffon cake, angel cake

The creaming method
The Creaming method is the most common of the three methods, and produces the lightest cake with the greatest volume. To start, the butter should be unsalted, of good quality, and at room temperature (65 - 70 degrees F) (18 - 21 degrees C). Butter that has a high butterfat content produces more air bubbles and tends to produce less curdling. The type of sugar used can vary by recipe from regular granulated white sugar to superfine (castor) white sugar.

Mixing  the sugar and Butter
Creaming or 'to Cream' - How often have you seen a recipe begin with the words 'cream the butter' or 'cream the butter with the sugar'? This mixing or beating technique not only combines ingredients to make a uniform mixture, but also incorporates air into this mixture. A whisk, wooden spoon, or electric mixer with paddle attachment can be used. The butter should be at room temperature so it incorporates the sugar sufficiently to produce a smooth and creamy batter that is light and fluffy. Follow your recipe's instructions, as this step can vary in length from seconds to minutes, depending on how much air needs to be incorporated into the batter so it rises properly in the oven

To begin, place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and start beating these two ingredients on LOW speed. The creaming of the butter and sugar produces air bubbles in the fat created by the rubbing of the sugar crystals against the fat. These holes will get larger and multiply as you continue beating. Starting on LOW speed and then gradually increasing the speed allows the air bubbles to form and strengthen. Starting at too high a speed could damage or break the fragile air bubbles which will cause the finished cake to be heavy with a compact texture. The goal is to have maximum aeration, that is, lots of air bubbles in the fat. A well aerated batter means a cake with good volume and a soft crumb. Beating time can range anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes so be sure to follow your recipe.

Butter and sugar have different jobs in cake making. Butter provides flavor, tenderizes the batter and provides volume. Sugar, on the other hand, helps to tenderize the batter (slows down the gluten development in the flour) but also sweetens the batter, moistens the batter which helps keep the cake fresh, and helps with browning.

Adding the eggs - when and how
At the point where the butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy, room temperature eggs are added. (The use of cold eggs will reduce the volume of your finished cake. ) You may have noticed that there may be curdling of the batter at this stage. This is particularly so when the recipe is for a high-ratio cake (see below). This is caused by the addition of more liquid (eggs) than the batter can handle at one time. Once the flour has been added it will smooth out the batter so don't worry. One solution is to add the eggs to the batter more slowly as opposed to one egg at a time as most recipes state. Lightly beating each egg first and then slowly adding the egg down the side of the bowl as the mixer is running will help. If you see curdling, stop adding the egg and beat the batter a little to smooth it out before continuing the addition of more egg.

Eggs play a major role in cake making. Not only do they add needed aeration to the batter, they also provide structure to the cake, help to bind the ingredients together, keep the cake moist, add flavor, and tenderness.

When to adding Flavorings
Once the eggs have been combined and you have a smooth batter, flavorings, such as extracts are added.

Adding the flour, Baking powder and Milk or Water
First, the flour is sifted with a leavening agent (baking powder/baking soda) and salt. This is done not only to aerate the flour and remove any lumps, but to evenly distribute the leavening agent and salt throughout the flour. If the leavening agent is not evenly distributed throughout the cake batter, holes in the baked cake can occur. Baking powder's role is to enlarge the bubbles created in the fat during the creaming of the fat and sugar.

The flour mixture and room temperature liquid (milk, water, etc.) are added alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture to ensure a smooth and light batter. It is very important NOT to over mix the batter at this point. Over mixing will develop too much gluten in the flour and the result will be a tough cake or your cake will sink in the centre. Mix only to incorporate the ingredients. The first addition of flour will be fully coated with the fat and does not form gluten, so it is a good idea to add the largest amount of flour in the first addition. When you add the liquid any uncoated flour will combine with the liquid and form gluten. Continue adding the flour and liquid alternately, making sure you mix on low speed just until blended. This will enable enough gluten to develop to provide structure but not enough to make a heavy and compact cake.

Liquids are used in butter cakes to dissolve the salt and sugar, to add color and richness, and to not only moisten and therefore activate the baking powder/baking soda in the batter, but to also create steam when the cake batter is placed in the oven so the cake will rise and reach its full volume.

Leavening: (This is a general guideline as the other ingredients used in a recipe also affect the amount of baking powder/baking soda used.)

1 - 1 teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of flour
teaspoon baking soda for each cup of flour

The one bowl or quick method
The one bowl or quick method produces a cake which is very moist, dense, with a fine and velvety texture. As the name implies, this method is faster and easier than the creaming method as the creaming step of the butter and sugar is eliminated.
All the dry ingredients are first put into a mixing bowl and then soft butter and a little liquid are added. This is thoroughly beaten together and then the eggs, flavoring, and remaining liquid are added. Since the liquid is added after the butter and flour are combined, it reduces the gluten formation in the flour because the fat has had a chance to coat all the flour before the toughening action from the liquid can take place. This is why this method produces a melt-in-your-mouth cake (less gluten is formed).
 However, using the one bowl method does not produce a cake with as much volume as the creaming method. This is because the butter tends to melt into the batter, so it doesn't form as many air bubbles needed for maximum volume as in the creaming method. The temperature of the ingredients plus the mixing speed are very important with this method so be sure to follow your recipe's instructions.

The combination method
The combination method when whipped egg whites are added to the creamed ingredients. This method gives additional volume and light texture to your cake. Some recipes that call for the creaming method can be changed to this method by simply separating the eggs, beating the whites separately with a little of the recipe's sugar, and then adding the whites to the finished batter.

How to beat Egg whites - youtube video

Related - How to fold in egg whites ( video)

With all three methods, once the batter is mixed it is then placed in greased and floured pan(s) (sometimes lined with parchment paper). The batter should fill approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the cake pan(s) to allow room for the batter to expand. See the Pan Sizes page if you wish to change the size of the pans called for in your recipe. If you have a problem with over browning of the edges of your cake, you can place reusable Bake-Even Strips (available at most cake supply stores) around the outside of the cake pans. Make sure you take into account that dark and/or dull colored pans absorb more heat than aluminum and/or shiny pans and therefore the batter will bake faster. Lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F if using a glass pan to prevent over browning.

The oven temperature affects both the texture and look of the cake. How hot the oven temperature determines how long it takes for the batter to set. The longer it takes for the eggs, milk and flour to coagulate, the more time the air cells in the batter have to grow larger and produce volume in the cake. Too hot and the outer edges of the cake will set before the middle has a chance to fully bake. This is why it is important to have an accurate oven temperature. Having a free standing oven thermometer in your oven will give you a proper reading on temperature as some ovens are not calibrated properly.

Fan and conventional oven.-
The general rule is that you subtract 20C (about 36F) when using a fan oven.

The oven should always be preheated about 15 minutes before placing the pans in the oven. If baking more than one layer at a time, arrange the cake pans so they are about 2 inches (5 cm) apart and 2 inches (5 cm) from the sides of the oven. This ensures adequate air circulation and promotes even baking. Do not open the oven door, especially during the first 15 minutes of baking, as the oven temperature drops about 25 degrees F every time the oven door is opened.

Butter cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the baked cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before releasing.

There are formulas for butter cakes that professionals follow and deviations from these formulas of about 20% can be supported. This is why you have so many different recipes for one type of cake. Some alterations in using eggs can be made. Egg whites and yolks play different roles in cake making and changes in the balance of whites and yolks will affect the baked cake. For example, in layer cakes you can replace one whole egg with either 2 egg yolks or else 1  egg whites to change the texture. Using yolks will produce a more flavorful cake with a darker color, but a cake with less structure. Using whites will produce a softer cake because egg whites do not firm up as much as egg yolks when baked. Types of fats (butter, margarine, shortening), sugars (regular, superfine or brown) and flours (all-purpose or cake) used also affect the cake.

If you have a recipe that is not working compare it to these formulas to see if there may be a problem with the proportions of the ingredients in the recipe.

Formula for regular butter cake:
- Weight of sugar is equal or less than weight of flour
- Weight of eggs is equal or greater than weight of fat
- Weight of liquids (egg and milk) is equal to weight of flour

Formula for high ratio butter cake:
- Weight of sugar is equal or greater than weight of flour
- Weight of eggs is greater than weight of fat
- Weight of liquid (egg and milk) is equal or greater than weight of sugar

Double action baking powder -(Rule of Thumb: 1 teaspoon for every 1 cup of flour)
1 teaspoon =1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons single-action baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt to replace 1/2 cup (120 ml) non-acidic liquid

Single Action baking powder
1 teaspoon = 2/3 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch

Baking soda ( Bi carbonate of soda)
Rule of Thumb: 1/4 teaspoon for every 1 cup of flour)
1/2 teaspoon = 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder (must replace the acidic liquid in recipe with non-acidic liquid)
1/2 teaspoon potassium bicarbonate

Troubleshoot Butter cake

Sometimes our butter cakes don't turn out the way we expected. Maybe they are domed, or sink in the middle, or are too heavy, or have holes. There are many reasons that cakes fail and understanding these reasons will help to prevent the next disaster.

When baking butter cakes, as with all baking, it is very important to accurately measure or weigh all your ingredients. Having too little or too much of any one ingredient will affect the outcome of the cake. Also, the correct oven temperature is paramount to a wonderful cake. A perfectly measured and mixed batter will fail if your oven temperature is incorrect. Therefore, if you find your cakes are done before the specified time, invest in a good freestanding oven thermometer to accurately measure the temperature of your oven.

Proper mixing of the batter will also affect the outcome. With the creaming method, creaming the butter and sugar develops air cells in the batter, which helps give cakes their volume and texture. Sifting the flour with the baking powder/soda prevents uneven distribution of the leavener which can cause holes in the finished cake. When adding the flour to the batter, do not over mix or it will produce too much gluten. Too much gluten causes a cracked and domed top.

Some common problems and their causes are:

Definitely do NOT over beat or over cream the butter and sugar.
At the point where the butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy,  eggs are added. Over beating eggs with the butter and sugar mixture will make it turn watery and loses it's aeration and cause it to break and collapse resulting in a sink cake in the center.  Roughly about 10 mins is more than enough for your small beater and for big beaters, 8 mins is enough.
When the eggs and sugar are beaten, it should thick rather than watery. Suggest instead of pouring in one short, sift the flour into the egg and sugar mixture then fold.

Whisking the eggs and sugar is simple. whisk till it's thick and creamy. The difficult part is folding the flour into the egg mixture. At this juncture, you might deflat the air bubbles and thus get a flat cake instead. Mix or fold only to incorporate the ingredients

- batter over mixed
- wrong type of flour or too much
- too little baking powder/soda or sugar
- oven temperature too hot

- batter over mixed
- too much fat and/or sugar or leavening
- not enough liquid
- oven temperature too low

- improper mixing
- butter and eggs wrong temperature
- too much or too little fat
- too little baking powder or baking powder is too old
- oven temperature too hot
- wrong pan size

- over baked
- wrong oven temperature
- too much sugar, baking powder/baking soda

- oven temperature too low
- too much baking powder/baking soda
- too little liquid

- too much baking powder/baking soda, sugar, or fat
- improper mixing
- oven temperature too low

Icing sugar and granulated sugar
Sometimes you are in a hurry and you run out of either Icing or granulated sugar. Instead of running out to the store ,you can make your own powder sugar or substitute them.

Make your own powder/Icing sugar
Powdered sugar, also known as confectioner's sugar or icing sugar, is a finely grained sugar that dissolves quickly in water. It is used mostly for icing on cakes and is called for in many recipes. Powdered sugar is typically more expensive than regular sugar so youll save money as well.
When substituting powdered sugar with granulated sugar, take 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 tsp of cornstarch for every 1 cup of powdered sugar needed, and grind them in a blender. Make sure to use a blender, because a food processor won't work for this. The cornstarch is used to keep the powdered sugar substitute from clumping up during storage

To substitute granulated sugar with Powder or Icing Sugar
1.Determine the amount of granulated sugar that the recipe requires.
2 Multiply the amount of granulated sugar needed by 1.75. It takes 1 3/4 cup of powdered sugar to substitute for 1 cup of granulated sugar.
3.Ensure  if the addition of cornstarch will negatively impact the recipe. Powdered sugar contains corn starch to make it flow freely. This will not be a problem if baking, but it could cause a sauce or pudding to become overly thick.

How to make whipped cream.
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/3 cups sugar. (icing sugar mixes in more easily)
1 pinch salt
1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract

The cream will expand into more so be careful how much cream you put in.
e.g. if you put in 1 cup it will multiply into 2 cups.

1. Pour the 1 cup of heavy cream into a large bowl.
2. Add in about a 1/3 cup of sugar and a tiny pinch of salt.
3. Adding more sugar will help thicken the mixture, but don't add too much.3/4 a cup to a cup is too much.
4. Using a wire whisk or beater, whip the mixture together until you get soft peaks.
5.Let it chilled  in fridge to cool.

The longer you whip the frothier it becomes, but whip it too long and it becomes butter.
Add food colouring for special events.If it tastes tart, add more sugar.
Alternately, use powdered sugar,  or your favorite artificial sweetener, and sweeten to taste. You can certainly use less sugar. The key to truly tasty whipped cream is vanilla extract (about a half teaspoon)
You can also add different extracts or liquor for extra flavors.

Substitution for Whipping cream
1.Butter and Milk
Mix 1/3 cup softened butter with 3/4 cup milk for a whipping cream substitute. Using an electric mixer will help achieve the desired consistency. This is not a dairy-free option, but it works if you are out of whipping cream and need it for a recipe. This ratio is the equivalent of 1 cup of cream. This substitute works for baking or cooking.

2.Dry Milk, Lemon Juice and Vanilla
Using an electric mixer, combine 1/3 cup ice water with 1 1/4 tsp. lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. vanilla. Once the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, slowly add 1/3 cup dry, nonfat milk. Beat at a medium speed for five minutes and check the consistency. If the mixture needs to stiffen a bit, continue to mix for another five minutes. Sprinkle in 2 tbsp. sugar and beat for another minute or two.

3.Banana and Egg White
For those who want to avoid the dairy in whipping cream, beat one ripe banana with an egg white. Keep an eye on the mixture so that you can stop beating when it reaches the desired consistency. If needed, you can add sugar to sweeten the final product.

4.Chilled Evaporated Milk
Chill 13 oz. of evaporated milk in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 12 hours. Combine the chilled evaporated milk with 1 tsp. lemon juice and beat with an electric mixer. Continue whipping until the mix reaches your desired consistency or stiffness.

5.Milk, Cornstarch and Flour
For a low-fat, low-carb alternative to whipping cream, whisk together 1 cup of low-fat or fat-free milk with 2 tbsp. of cornstarch. When combined, continue whisking and add 1 tbsp. flour. You can also use almond or rice milk. This substitute works best in recipes that call for whipping cream as a thickening agent.

Tricks and Tips
Instead of lining your cake tin with wax paper, you can also grease you cake tin with ordinary vegetable oil and dust with flour before you pour in your cake mixture for baking. This will enable your cake to be easily taken out after the cake is done.

- The most suitable flours for producing dried cookies are low protein flours.
- The ideal baking temperature for cookies is dependent upon the sugar level. The standard is at 160C for 20 minutes.
- Apart from flour, other important components in baking cookies are icing sugar and margarine.
- Dose of baking powder and bicarbonate should exceed 0.3%-0.4% the total weight of used flour.
- To make egg yolk smoother during layering, mix it with a little salt water.
- When adding peanuts into the dough, heat them up first in a pan.
- To prevent chocolate chips from easily melting, refrigerate them for at least an hour minutes before using. Maintain the oven temperature at 170C.

Why do some cookies crumble easily?
Because too much butter and/or eggs are used.

Why do some cookies turn soggy, even wet?
Because its too thick, oven temperature too high, or use of the wrong type of flour.

Why do some cookies become oily after baking?
Try not to polish the baking tray with too much butter before baking.

Why do cookie molds or patterns crumble from the widening of cookie shape?
Because margarine and sugar are mixed for too long or from lack of flour. Sugar and margarine should only be stirred, not blended.

- To prevent burning, avoid storing the baking tray too close to fire source. Also try not to set the oven temperature too high.
- Cover the base of the baking tray with bread paper sprinkled with flour (without margarine), because it will thicken the paper and make it easier to peel off.
- Thin cakes are best baked at a higher oven temperature ( 200C), while thicker cakes will need a temperature of  180C.
- Wrap cake with aluminum foil and store in freezer, and it will stay edible for more than five weeks.
- Make sure the oven is preheated before baking and that water is already boiled properly before steaming.
- Sieve chocolate powder together with wheat flour to produce a smoother and less grainy mixture.
- To maximize cakes volume, liquid food coloring has to be inserted the first time dough is stirred.
- Cool off liquid butter before adding it to dough to prevent the cakes texture becoming rough.
- When adding butter cream, ensure that cake is already cooled off for two hours to prevent it from melting.
- Poundcake is the most suitable dough for making a fruitcake.
- Dont use fruits with high water/slime content because it will make it difficult to preserve.
- When using broiler chicken eggs, making sure theyre not more than three days old. If eggs have become to thin, try adding cake emulsifier.
- Do not use eggs that have just been taken out of the fridge, because they will not capture air when stirred.

Why is it so hard to make muffins bloom?
It requires at least 25 minutes at 200C oven temperature to bake a muffin properly. If not, muffins will not bloom.

Why do roll cakes often crumble and cant be rolled properly?
Because of not high enough oven temperature and too much baking time. Roll cakes usually require 12 minutes of baking at 220C.

Why do cake fillings turn hollow or rough?
Too much egg white or too little margarine.

What causes thick clods in cakes?
Too much use of margarine, too much or uneven stirring.

Why is the cakes middle layer not as well-baked as its exterior?
Oven temperature is too high.

Why is cake hard and dry?
Because of not enough use of sugar, margarine and eggs. Or from too much baking powder. On the other hand, cake can be too runny also from lack of emulsifier or flour, or from too much egg white.

Which wheat flours are suitable for making cakes?
Those with low protein, or those made from mixing medium-protein flour with maizena flour.

Whats the difference between chiffon cake, pound cake and sponge cake?
Chiffon cake is made by mixing egg yolk, oil, flour and baking powder, whereby egg white is first mixed and braised with sugar before other ingredients are added. Pound cake is a cake that has the same ratio of egg, sugar and flour, which weighs about one pound each about 450 g. Sponge cake is made by braising eggs with sugar, followed by wheat flour and lastly margarine or butter.

Why does cake surface become grooved?
Not enough wheat flour in the dough, or vice versa.

Why does cake surface crack?
Too much sugar and wheat flour or because the wrong type of flour is used. Other causes include baking tray being too small or not high enough oven temperature.

Lastly and most important is to choose and understand the correct type of flour used for your cake.
Please see Understanding flour and the varies type of flour before you start.


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