Welcome back, friends! Continuing on our journey towards master cake maker and decorating genius, today we will go over some Baking Basics. Now that we know what tools to use, let's use them to mix up some quality ingredients to make something delicious.
Great cakes start from the beginning. What is the point of a gorgeously decorated confection if it does not leave you salivating for more? Now, I am not one to judge, but I can almost guarantee that a cake baked properly from scratch with high quality ingredients will always be richer in flavor and freshness over one that comes from a box. And if we are going to take the time to learn new techniques and tricks, let's do it right.
Flour: Flour binds liquids and fats in batters and dough. Be sure to pay attention to what type of flour your recipe calls for. Each type has different properties and its own characteristics to create the perfect texture in the final product.
Fats: Although we live in a diet-hunting, low-fat striving society, we are talking baked goods here, so let's get real. Fat is important. It adds moisture, creates tenderness, and enhances texture. Butter gives a rich but non-greasy texture in cakes. Always reach for the unsalted or "sweet butter." If you can help it, don't skimp here. Go for the good stuff! If your recipe calls for oil instead, make sure to select something that is light and mild in flavor. I usually stick to Canola or Safflower oil.
Liquids: These ultimately add moisture to your batter. Recipes typically call for milk, buttermilk, coffee, and even plain water. Liquids help to lubricate the dry ingredients to create the right consistency.
Eggs: I am a big supporter of cage-free, organic eggs, but that's just me. Just make sure they are fresh. Recipes calling for just egg yolks tend to be richer in flavor and velvety in texture, while those with separately whipped egg whites lean towards a more delicate crumb.
Leavening Agents: These usually come in the form of baking soda, baking powders, cream of tartar, and yeast. They are important to create pockets of gas that expand to support the structure of the cake.
Salt: You may be weary of using salt in a sweet dish, but salt can also enhance certain ingredients, heightening the overall flavor of the product.
As this series continues, you will realize that my stand-mixer is like my baby. Fortunately, most of the methods and techniques I will describe can be done with a hand-mixer, or just by hand. Each recipe will have its own method of combing ingredients, but I will give some helpful hints that will be applicable in most scenarios.
Measuring: For the most accurate reading, weigh out your ingredients with a kitchen scale. If we are being honest, the only time I am really conscious of weighing ingredients is when making French macarons. Do as I say, not as I do ;) Most often, you will need to sift cake flour and confectioner's sugar before measuring. If you have a fairly fine, lump-free all purpose flour, then you can reserve the sifting for after you measure. If you are not using a scale, spoon flour into a measuring cup. Do not use the cup to scoop up flour, or you run the risk of it becoming too compact. Once spooned in, rap the cup on the counter and level the top with a metal spatula or knife.
Creaming: Most recipes will start by combing butter and sugar. Do not skip this step! The point of creaming the butter and sugar is to evenly blend the two ingredients while also incorporating air into the mixture. Do this with a paddle and your stand mixer on medium for about 3-5 minutes. If doing so by hand, press the sugar granules into the butter with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. The end product should be pale and fluffy.
Folding: Recipes will ask you to fold in ingredients (typically nuts, chocolate chips, or egg whites) when you want to incorporate something with out deflating. You will need to use a large rubber spatula and smooth, gentle motions to "turn" the batter from the bottom of the bowl to the top.
If unspecified, I usually stick to this order:
- Cream butter and sugar(s)
- Add eggs, one at a time
- Add vanilla extract
- Alternate dry ingredients and liquids (starting and ending with dry)
Oven: Get to know your oven. If you have one like mine, then you know the that the digital read-out means absolutely nothing compared to what is going on inside. Just because it says it's 350 degrees on the outside, you can't deny the inferno within. If you can't calibrate your oven, get an internal thermometer so you can learn what is really going on and adjust accordingly. Also, when using my convection oven at the bakery, I always baked at about 25 degrees lower than what was specified by the recipe. This might not work for everyone, so just be conscious. Don't forget to pre-heat!
Preparing Pans: There is not much that is more heart-breaking than pulling a warm, beautiful cake from the oven and having half of it stick to the pan and crumble into pieces. Your safest bet is to grease and flour your pans. Using a piece of plastic wrap or a pastry brush, cover the pan with butter, shortening, or baking grease. Sprinkle in a small amount of flour and swirl around to coat. Invert and tap the bottom of the pan and shake out the excess. Always use all-purpose flour here despite what the recipe calls for. You may also want to use a parchment round in the bottom and just grease the sides. The quickest solution is to use a non-stick spray, but this sometimes yields faulty results.
"Doneness:" I won't begin to tell you how long to bake for without knowing what you are making or what size pan you are using. However, I do recommend rotating your pans about halfway through baking. Try to refrain from opening the oven too much, or the temperature might drop. To check and see if you cakes are done, you can use a wooden skewer or toothpick. The skewer should come out clean after being inserted into the cake, or have just a few crumbs attached. The edges of the cake may also start to pull away from the sides of the pan.
De-panning: You will want to let your cakes rest for about 10-20 minutes before removing them from their pans. Once ready, run a thin blade around the edge of the cake to release it from the pan. Turn out the cake by inverting the pan onto a piece of parchment. Don't be afraid to give it a good pat or rap on the counter to get it motivated. Re-invert the cake and allow it to completely cool on a wire rack.
Getting Ready to Ice:
Before doing anything else, you MUST allow your cake to cool. Trying to ice or cut a warm cake is begging for a disaster to occur. You may be eager to get to icing, but trust me on this one.
Torting: Does your cake have a hump on top? If so, let's get rid of it. Once again, make sure your cake is completely cool. Keeping one hand on TOP of the cake, carefully saw off the top portion with a serrated knife. To make an even top, cut in only an inch at a time, rotating your cake as you go. Always keep your free hand on top of the cake to stabilize it. Please learn from my mistakes. If you keep your hand on the side of the cake, you run the risk of that knife slicing thru the cake and into your skin.
At this point, you may start filling and stacking your cake. If not, carefully wrap your cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until later use. It's okay to chill your cakes before moving onto the next step and usually makes them easier to handle.
For your baking enjoyment, here is my favorite Red Velvet Cake recipe to get you started:
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons Red Velvet emulsion flavor
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking pans, set aside.
- Measure and sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) and set aside
- With a paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for a couple minutes.
- Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes)
- With the mixer on medium-low, add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and sour cream
- Alternating between the flour mixture and the milk, add in dry ingredients in two batches. Do so with the mixer on low. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the mixing bowl between additions. Turn mixer to medium speed, until everything is just incorporated.
- Add in the Red Velvet emulsion or red food gel, if desired.
- Pour batter into prepared pans.
- Bake until done (about 20 minutes for 3 X 8" round pans)
Now let's get baking! Enjoy ;)
Next time on "Cake It Pretty"- Kitchen Staples (my go-to cakes and icings)