Cut In, to
This large category of baked goods includes a vast array of different cakes. Made from batters that include flour, sugar, eggs, sometimes flavorings, liquid and fat, cakes can be as small as cupcakes or as grand and towering as a multi-tiered wedding cake with countless variations in between.
Cakes are generally divided into two broad groups based on how they are leavened: chemically leavened (shortened) and air-leavened (foam) cakes.
The first group, which includes
pound cakes, butter cakes, chocolate cakes and fruit cakes, uses baking
powder or baking soda as the primary leavening agent. These cakes contain
fat, such as butter, shortening, margarine or oil. Butter or shortening
should be at room temperature. Margarine needs to be softened until it becomes
pliable, which generally occurs between 50° to 55°F. Solid fat is beaten (a technique called "creaming")
together with sugar until the mixture is smooth, light and fluffy.
There are some basic techniques that should be followed when mixing the batter of shortened cakes. Eggs (or yolks, if the whites are beaten separately) should be at room temperature, added one at a time, and mixed thoroughly after each addition. Combined liquids and flavorings, such as vanilla, should be added alternately with flour that has been mixed with a leavening agent (baking powder or baking soda). The liquid and flour mixtures are generally divided into halves or thirds before adding. As the flour is added, it is important not to overmix or the cake will be tough. If the egg whites are beaten separately, they should be folded in gently with a rubber spatula as the final step. Throughout the mixing process, be sure to scrape the side and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure that all ingredients are well blended.
Shortened cakes that use vegetable oil or melted fat are mixed differently. Combine all dry ingredients, such as flour, sugar, baking powder and spices, in a mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients, liquid, fat, eggs and flavorings, one at a time and mix thoroughly after all have been added.
The second group, which includes angel food and sponge cakes, relies solely on the air beaten into egg whites or eggs for leavening. They contain no baking powder or baking soda. Angel food cakes are made with egg whites and contain no fat. Sponge cakes contain some fat because they are made with egg yolks as well as egg whites.
When preparing foam cakes, the following general recommendations are useful to remember. (Techniques for sponge and chiffon cakes may vary from these, so be sure to follow each recipe carefully.) The egg yolks should be separated from the egg whites, and the egg whites placed in a very large, perfectly clean bowl. Any trace of fat will interfere with foaming. With an electric mixer on low speed, mix the whites until they are foamy. Add a small amount of cream of tartar to stabilize the egg white foam. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. For angel food cake, some sugar should be beaten in, a little at a time, until the whites are thick and glossy. Very gently fold in the flour mixture. (Cake flour is used in angel food cake; it should be sifted at least three times. In angel food and some chiffon cake recipes, part of the sugar is sifted into the flour.) Cake pans for foam cakes are not greased, as grease will prevent satisfactory rising.
Chiffon cakes are a hybrid in that they share characteristics of both shortened cakes (fat in the form of vegetable oil and a chemical leavener, baking powder) and foam cakes (beaten eggs provide some of the leaven).
Another variation of the foam cake is the flourless chocolate cake, a very rich cake leavened with eggs. Its richness comes from chocolate, egg yolks and some type of fat, usually butter.
Testing for Doneness
To test whether a cake is done, insert a wooden toothpick or cake tester into the center, gently pressing it about halfway down. When the pick is removed, it should be dry and free of crumbs, unless recipe directions indicate otherwise. Begin testing about five minutes before the end of the specified baking time.
Cooling and Removing from Pan
Many cakes are removed from the pan after 10 or 15 minutes of cooling on a wire rack. Two important exceptions are angel food cakes and flourless cakes. Because they have a more delicate structure, they are cooled in the pan. Angel food cakes and some chiffon cakes are cooled in the pan upside down. An angel food cake pan has three metal feet on which the inverted pan stands for cooling. If you use a tube pan instead, invert the pan on a funnel or narrow-necked bottle.
Before attempting to remove a cake from its pan, carefully run a table knife or narrow metal spatula around the outside of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Using oven mitts or hot pads (if the pan is hot), place a wire cooling rack on top of the cake and pan. Turn the cake over so that the wire rack is on the bottom. Gently shake the cake to release it from the pan. Place the rack on a counter and remove the pan.
Tips for Successful Cake Making
Follow recipe directions exactly. If the recipe instructions differ from the general tips listed here, follow the recipe instructions.
- Begin with top quality ingredients, resisting temptations to substitute.
- Measure ingredients carefully, using spoons and measuring cups made especially for this purpose. All measurements are usually level.
- All-purpose flour usually
doesn't need to be sifted; simply stir it lightly with a spoon before measuring.
When sifted flour is called for, note carefully the wording of the
When the ingredient list calls for "1 cup sifted flour," the flour should be sifted before it is measured. If "1 cup flour, sifted" is
required, the flour should be measured before it is sifted. Because
it is more finely milled, cake flour has a tendency to form lumps so it
always be sifted or strained before using.
- Use the pan sizes suggested and prepare baking pans carefully as indicated in the recipe. Shortened cakes usually require a greased pan; foam cakes do not. Solid vegetable shortening has superior releasing qualities, and it is the best choice for greasing pans. Sometimes butter is used for flavor. Liquid fats, such as melted butter or vegetable oil, should be avoided. Using a paper towel, waxed paper or pastry brush to apply, coat the entire inside of the pan, paying particular attention to creases and molded shapes. To line a pan with parchment or waxed paper, place it on a piece of paper larger than the pan. Trace around the outside of the pan; cut inside the traced line to form a liner that fits inside the pan. Grease the paper.
- Dusting the inside of the pan with flour helps the cake to develop a thin, crisp crust and prevents the cake from absorbing the fat used to grease the pan. Use all-purpose flour, sprinkling about 1 tablespoon into the pan and then shaking and tilting the pan until the bottom and sides have a fine coating. Hold the pan upside down over the sink and tap it gently on the side so any excess flour falls away.
- When filling two or more cake pans for a layer cake, divide the batter equally among the pans, so that all layers are the same depth.
- Immediately place the pan into a preheated oven. Cake batter should not sit before baking, because chemical leaveners begin working as soon as they are mixed with liquids or because the air in foam batters will begin to dissipate. Place the pan on the center rack of the oven. If two or more pans are used, allow at least an inch of space between the pans and two inches between the pans and the walls of the oven for proper heat circulation.
- Do not open the oven during the first half of the baking time. Cold air will interfere with the rising of the cake.