How to bake great cakes
“Bake with the kids they said”, “It’ll be easy and fun!”
Now your kitchen looks like a war zone.
The kids scarped ages ago, leaving you to clean up the mess.
To add insult to injury the cake looks like it should be put in quarantine.
Even the dog won’t touch it.
You followed the recipe to the letter….sort of.
But it looks nothing like Mary Berry’s.
That’s an hour of your life you’ll never get back.
Two! if you count the time it’ll take you to clean up.
Just imagine what your cakes could look and taste like if you knew what you were doing.
If you weren’t always second guessing the recipe.
They do say baking is a science. And now you know why. Science was never your strong point at school.
But you can learn to bake great cakes!
And these 3 science secrets will have you turning out cakes to rival Mary’s in no time.
So on your marks, get set, BAKE!!
Baking Building Blocks: Ingredients
The foundations of your cake. Not just the type but the quantity too.
When you improvise with a recipe, for example using 200g of flour instead of 250g, that 50g can make a big difference.
Flour is a core ingredient of your cake.
It contains protein, in the form of gluten in flours that are derived from wheat or xanthan gum in gluten-free flours. This is what gives your cake it’s structure.
Proteins are the building blocks of life. In the same way that proteins in your body give your cells and tissues structure, strength, and elasticity, the same is true of the proteins in your cakes.
Take away 20% of the flour and you remove 20% of the structure, strength, and elasticity.
Which will at best give you a dense cake and at worst cause it to collapse completely.
“But what if I don’t have all the ingredients in the right quantities?”
Adjust your other ingredients accordingly.
20% less butter, eggs, and sugar.
Speaking of sugar….
You may think it’s just there for sweetness and that other great ability to turn the kids feral. 🤪
But its role is far more important.
Beat sugar with butter and magic happens.
The crystals of sugar with their super sharp edges cut through the soft butter trapping tiny pockets of air.
You’ll see this as the cake batter:
- Lightens in colour
- Volume increases
- The texture becomes creamy and smooth
Reducing the amount of sugar in an attempt to make your cake less sweet or simply because you don’t have enough, results in fewer air pockets forming and a denser cake.
Sugar is also responsible for that lovely golden-brown colour your cake will take on as it bakes. Too much though and your cake will burn or develop a hard surface.
Why so many methods?
All in one. Creaming. Reverse creaming. Foaming. Folding. Beating. Whisking.
All these terms just to say mix?
Are they really that different?
Whilst the end result is the same. These terms refer to very specific techniques that make the most of the ingredients being used and are based on the order that the ingredients are added.
The all-in-one method, for example, typically relies on margarine or oil as the fat.
They combine quickly and easily with other ingredients.
But that does come at a price. And that price is flavour.
When it comes to flavour butter is the king.
But use it in an all in one recipe and you’ll have lumps of butter in your cake batter if it’s too firm.
Using butter in an all-in-one method means you’ll be mixing the batter for longer. This has the knock-on effect of activating more gluten in your flour.
And as this is the protein that gives cake its strength, structure, and elasticity, too much of it will result in a chewy texture.
Great for bread, not so great for cake.
Usually, if butter is used it is creamed, beaten with sugar, to create all those lovely air bubbles mentioned above. Flour is folded in, using a specific technique, which ensures you don’t end up popping all the air bubbles or develop too much gluten.
Prepare your cake batter keeping the above in mind and your batter will be smooth glossy and ready for the oven.
You’re almost there!
It’s time to get those bubbles working, so you can serve up a deliciously light and moist cake and prove to the kids that mummy isn’t a lost cause when it comes to baking, after all.
Pre-heating your oven ensures it’s at the right temperature when you’re ready to bake. It’s why most recipes, good ones anyway, will get you to do this before anything else.
A specific temperature is needed to get the bubbles of air in your cake batter moving.
The hotter they get the faster they’ll move, the faster they move and the more they’ll expand.
It’s this expansion of air that causes your cake batter to rise.
The elastic nature of the batter, a consequence of the flour’s protein, allows it to stretch like the skin of a balloon and also stops the air bubbles from escaping completely.
At the same time water, in the eggs and butter evaporates. Your batter slowly changes from a liquid to a solid as your cake bakes.
If this happens too quickly because the oven temperature is too high, the outside of your cake will bake before the middle. It will solidify, become heavy and the cake will collapse as the unbaked, and still liquid centre, cannot support the weight.
If the oven temperature is too low, water evaporates slowly, the air bubbles won’t expand and your cake won’t rise and will take a long time to solidify.
So there they are, 3 simple science secrets so you can bake great cakes!
- Ingredients: Their amazing and unique properties and the science of the different roles they perform.
- Methods: How different techniques bring the ingredients together.
- The bake: How creating the best baking environment ensures your time and effort will result in a tasty conclusion.
By building your confidence in your baking skills through understanding of the process, you can bake great cakes with the kids and make it successful and educational.
Science at school was never this fun or tasty!
If you’ve found this post on how to bake great cakes useful why not come and join my FREE Facebook group, Busy Mums Baking. A community of mummy bakers learning and sharing how to bake together, through fun baking projects and challenges.