We like to think of cakes as regular food items. But when you think about it, they’re more of a chemistry experiment. You start with ingredients in one particular form, and then you mix them, add a bit of heat, and they come out in quite another.
Cake baking is NOT alchemy. It does obey the laws of physics. But it can seem like it sometimes, given how hard it is to get your bakes right each time around.
The good news is that despite the fact you’ve been having problems, it’s nothing that can’t be sorted out with a bit of know-how. In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the dirty world of cake-baking secrets the pros don’t want you to know. Let’s take a look.
Secret #1: Test Your Oven
Your oven would have you believe that the temperature you see displayed on the dial is the actual temperature in the interior. As uncontroversial as this may sound, it’s not always the case. Ovens have a nasty habit of giving you inaccurate temperature information, especially on cheaper models.
Now usually, the precise temperature doesn’t matter a great deal. So long as you’re in the right ballpark, you’re usually okay. But when it comes to baking cakes, the tolerances are lower. You’ve got to get within a few degrees of the target temperature; otherwise, you’re in trouble. The chemical reaction won’t have the right conditions to do its work, and you’ll be left with a dry, burnt, or soggy disaster: not at all what you want!
The good news is that there’s a way around this little conundrum: use your own thermometer. You can use your thermometer to test whether the temperature on your oven’s display matches the temperature in the core of your cake after cooking. The two numbers,
ideally, should line up. If they don’t, then you may need to factor in an adjustment.
Secret #2: Choose Low-Protein Flours
Have you ever wondered why cake is light, fluffy and crumbly, while bread is chewy, even though they’re both made of flour? The difference is the result of varying protein. Cake flours have a lower gluten content than bread, giving them a different texture.
Before baking a cake, check that you’re using the right flour. If you’re using denser flours, your cake might end up a little too chewy for your tastes.
Secret #3: Frost Your Cake Like A Pro
The thing that sets professionals and amateurs apart is the quality of frosting. A mermaid cake to buy looks nothing like one that you might make at home. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try, right?
The first tip is to put a splodge of icing on the centre of the cake plate. This splodge helps to keep the cake in position while you work on it. The next step is to apply layers of icing with an offset spatula. This first layer is the base layer on top of which you’ll create your icing design. The first layer also holds loose crumbs in place, stopping them from falling off and wrecking the entire aesthetic.
Secret #4: Change Your Approach To Baking If You Live At Higher Altitudes
Remember we said that baking was a chemistry experiment? Well nowhere is that more apparent than when trying to bake a cake at altitude. People who live at altitude have a problem. As you move up through the atmosphere, the pressure declines and the boiling point of water falls. Water, therefore, evaporates much more easily when you’re higher up a mountain than when you’re closer to sea level.
People who live higher up, therefore, need to add extra liquid to their mixtures and increase oven temperatures to 375 degrees. About two tablespoons per cup of liquid should do the trick.
Secret #5: Always Choose The Cake Tin Size Called For By The Recipe
If your recipe tells you to use a 9-inch baking tin, but you only have a 7-inch available, what should you do? Go out and by the 9-inch tin. Why? It turns out that cake baking is sensitive to volume. The person who created the recipe knows that the timings will work for the size of the mixture in a 9-inch tin, but that it may be too long or short for a 7-inch.
Tin sizes are important for another reason too: the change in the size of the average cake while it bakes. Your cake could grow by 100 per cent during baking and outgrow a 7-inch tin.