The original title of this post was ‘Baking perfect cakes’ but I changed it! As you can see from the picture above, my cakes rarely turn out perfect, but they almost always turn out delicious.
Cakes can be really intimitidating for beginner bakers, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts covering the basics! I’ll cover some hints and tips and how to tell for sure when your cake is done in this post, and then move onto using food colouring to tint cakes and frostings next!
First, some tips for better cakes. They’re worth considering every time you set out to bake – if something goes wrong, one of these will be the likely culprit.
- Before you start, read your recipe. Then read it again
Skim reading a recipe as you go along while baking in a rush is a sure fire way to mess something up. Before you start, read the recipe twice and be sure you understand all the steps. You’ll thank yourself later.
2. Bring your ingredients to room temperature
Lush fluffy cakes are made with softened butter, and eggs and other ingredients at room temperature. The only exception to this is cream cheese for cream cheese frosting – you should keep it in the fridge right up until you’re ready to make your frosting.
3. Weigh your ingredients, ideally with an electronic scale, before you start
Makes it less likely you’ll ingredients in the wrong sequence, plus you can totally pretend you have your own cooking show. Don’t pretend you don’t do that.
4. Buy real vanilla extract
5. Use quality ingredients, sometimes
Flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda, sugar, cream cheese = buy the cheapest you can find. I’ve experimented with different flours and sugars and found not one jot of difference. Eggs = buy free range and ALWAYS check that none of them is cracked before you leave the store. Butter = be sure to buy a 100% butter and not a vegetable spread/butter mix. I favour Kerrygold and Country Life. Chocolate = buy according to what you’re baking. So for example, for chocolate chip cookies I’d happily use anything from dairy milk to supermarket own brand chocolate. For chocolate brownies, mousse or cake where you want a good depth of chocolate flavour, you need to be sure to use a chocolate with high cocoa solids like a 70% chocolate. You can get supermarket own brand versions that are fine for baking – there’s no need to spend a lot on Green & Blacks or Lindt unless its important to you such as for a special occasion. Do not even contemplate going anywhere near any cooking chocolate.
6. Move fast once the flour’s gone in
Once the gluten gets added to the cake, act fast. The gluten in the flour forms the network that holds the cake together. Its a ‘toughening’ ingredient to the ‘tenderising’ butter and sugar. The more the gluten in your cake mix is developed, the tougher and chewier your cake will be. To avoid a tough cake, make sure all your other ingredients are well mixed and then add the flour / baking powder / bicarb of soda at the end. Mix to just incorporate, and then put straight in the oven. Cake mix can’t hang around.
7. Don’t overbake
Pre-heat your oven for at least 20 minutes before you bake, cook your cakes on the middle shelf (or if making multiple cakes or cookies, rotate them between shelves) and start testing for doneness roughly two thirds of the way through the recommended cooking time.
The classic signs of doneness are – browning and pulling away from the edges
Cake bounces back when pressed down slightly
And the most failproof test – the skewer test. Use a knife, skewer, or cocktail stick and stick the centre of the cake. If it comes out with clean (apart from steam and a few crumbs) – the cake is definitely done. If there’s still some raw batter on your skewer, return the cake to the oven for a few more minutes. Try not to worry if your cake takes much less or more time than the recommended cooking time – ovens are all different and I’ve had cakes take twice as long as recommended! Just follow the tests above and you’ll be fine!