Steps To A Perfect Scratch Cake
The cake that will be your canvas for edible art should be as perfect as you can make it. The good news-baking great cakes is easy to do when you follow some basic time-tested steps. Your reward will be a cake that is beautifully golden brown, smooth and free of crumbs.
Understanding Your Oven
Understanding your oven is the FIRST KEY to your BAKING SUCCESS! If you are confused about CONVENTIONAL vs. CONVECTION you’re not alone.
Many of us have this option on our ovens but don't know how to use it.
Most, if not all, commercial bakery ovens are CONVECTION so I decided to do some research to discover the difference and found that basically CONVENTIONAL uses your heating elements to heat oven to proper temp and CONVECTION uses a fan to circulate hot air to heat oven to proper temp.
CONVECTION COOKS FASTER!!!-This is due to the heated air being circulated around your food so it cooks from all directions. Not just from the top and bottom like your CONVENTIONAL option.
When using CONVENTIONAL OR CONVECTION you must make the following adjustments:
CONVENTIONAL BAKING- you should preheat to exact temperature per recipe directions.
CONVECTION BAKING-you should have 25 degrees less than recipe directions; unless recipe is for convection baking then you preheat per the directions. Keep in mind some newer ovens make this adjustment for you (Example: you set your oven to 350 degrees it will self heat to 325 degrees). If your oven does not make this adjustment automatically you must do it manually.
Make sure to ALWAYS have an OVEN THERMOMETER in the oven before preheating. It is VERY IMPORTANT to have the proper temperature when baking. If your cake has a dark or burnt appearance and is dry and crumbly it could be that your oven was too hot. If your cake sinks in the middle or has an appearance of being underdone your oven could be to cool. The oven thermometer will allow you to achieve the proper temperature per your recipe or box instructions.
PS-you will be surprised how many ovens do not heat accurately!
Heavy gauge-light colored aluminum pans are best. They will yield a light golden brown finish to your cake.
Wilton carries variety of pans that I like/use. I try to buy the Decorator Preferred whenever possible but do have some of the Performance Pans which work well and can be purchased at local retailers. Magic Line is another brand I recommend. This commercial line of cake pans and can be found online.
Non-stick or dark pans will yield a darker finish on your cake. Should you desire these pans you must make the proper oven temperature adjustments to bake in them. (25 degrees less than recipe instructions)
Before prepping pans I use a plastic ruler and an edible food marker to mark inside of pans at 1/2 or 2/3 so they can be filled equally or you can use a scale and weigh the amount of batter added to each pan.
Pan Prep Method
There are many ways to grease/flour a pan for baking and the most common are as follows:
1) The Old Fashion Way: Placing a thin coating of shortening inside bottom and sides of pan then dusting bottom with flour.
2) Spray-In: There are several brands of spray you can use. Just make sure you pick one with flour for better results. Wilton has a product called "Bake Easy" which is the one I prefer to use.
3) Cake Release: Also know as, Pan Release or Pan Goop - is made by mixing equal parts flour, oil and shortening. Using a pastry brush you brush this on the inside of pan making sure no shiny parts are visible.
You should NEVER use butter, margarine or vegetable oil to grease baking pans unless directions indicate to do so, as these will encourage sticking and or burning of you cake.
Do you use parchment or not in the bottom of pans? This is a matter of opinion. 9 out of 10 times your cake will come out perfectly without it. I tend to take extra steps of prevention whenever necessary. If I am doing a cake for someone else I use parchment in the bottom of my pans. If the cake is for me or doing a smaller size cake I do not. Should you decide on parchment you carefully place it in bottom of pan and put your cake batter directly on top of the paper. (Do Not grease on top of paper)
Lay out all your ingredients making sure your cold items have come to ROOM TEMPERATURE. (about 1 hour)
Once your ingredients have come to room temperature you are ready to start weighing or measuring.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO WEIGH OR MEASURE PROPERLY!!! You will find that my recipes use grams or milliliters. Most pastry chefs, including myself, prefer using a scale to weigh ingredients in recipes because it is the most accurate.
If measuring use a liquid measuring cup for liquids and a dry measuring cup/spoon for the dry ingredients (yes-there is a difference).
When measuring liquids; fill only to the appropriate line. Use a measuring cup with lines on the sides to be more accurate. I find looking down can be off a little. (I combine my extract with my other liquid to eliminate a step when putting it all together)
When measuring the dry ingredients; make sure to level at the top to get an accurate measurement. No rounded or heaping spoons here :) Also, DO NOT pack your ingredients into measuring cup/spoon. Allow the ingredient to gently fill then level it off.
When weighing it is important to note that not all ingredients weigh the same. Example: a cup of feathers is going to weigh less than and equal cup of rocks. It is also important to tare your scale between additions to keep weights exact.
Organization or Mise en place
Another KEY to any baking and pastry project is being organized. This will help minimize your frustration when it's time to mix your ingredients.
1. Your ingredients are room temperature
2. Your oven thermometer is in place
3. You have preheated your oven
4. You have prepared your pans
5. You have measured all ingredients ACCURATELY. Now you’re ready to begin mixing your batter.
The following is a basic format for mixing your ingredients; you should follow your recipe for the first time then decide if alterations can or should be made.
I have an aftermarket paddle blade (BeaterBlade) which eliminates the need for me to scrape down sides and bottom of my mixing bowl during the mixing process. If you do not have this you DO need to scrape down your mixing bowl after each addition to ensure everything mixes evenly.
Creaming Butter and Sugar
This step usually starts with creaming the butter and sugar together. Once the butter and sugar have blended at low speed I go ahead and bump up mixer to medium speed and continue mixing about 3-5 minute or until light and fluffy.
After butter and sugar is light and fluffy then you will be adding your eggs. One egg should yield approximately 1/4 cup so you will want to purchase x-large.
In a separate bowl, crack eggs on their side on counter-top or against each other not using the rim of the bowl. This will eliminate any egg shells or other unwanted things from falling into your batter. (You never know???)
ADD EGGS ONE AT THE TIME making sure the yolk has incorporated before adding the next egg. Once you have added all the eggs then bump mixer up to medium speed for about 1-2 minutes.
Adding Flour and Liquid
Once your eggs have reached the fluffy stage you are ready to add your flour mixture and liquid mixture.
You add flour in parts beginning and ending with your flour mixture. It will go like this 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 liquid mixture, 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 liquid mixture then remaining flour mixture.
Once the last of the flour mixture is added and just incorporated STOP THE MIXER! If your batter is over beaten at this point it will cause a tough cake.
Pouring Batter Into Prepared Pans
After gently mixing by hand to make sure the bottom and sides have been mixed in well you are ready to pour batter into your prepared pans filling to the line you placed inside.
Once you have filled your cake pan with batter lightly drop pan on counter top to release any air bubbles in your batter.
Heating cores are recommended with pans 10" or larger. It will help the cake to cook evenly throughout. Simply remove core before turning cake out to cool and then plug hole with cake plug.
Baking Strips (optional)
At this point you have prepared your pan, mixed your cake batter, poured your batter into the pan and lightly dropped your pan onto counter top. Now you’re ready to add your BAKING STRIPS.
Baking strips are cloth like strips placed around the outside of your pan to help you bake even cakes without a crown.
Thoroughly saturate the strips with ice and cold water. Run fingers down strips to remove excess moisture. (Do not wring dry) With aluminized side out, wrap strip around the outside of the cake pan, close to the bottom. Overlap ends and use pins provided to hold strip in place.
I usually put mine in a bowl of ice water while I prepare everything else then they are nice and cold when I reach the point of adding to my cake pans.
Placing Pans Into Oven
After filling and wrapping with the Baking Strips place pan immediately in your oven as near to the center of the oven as possible. Allow at least 1" of space on all sides and between pans.
Avoid opening the oven door during the first 20 minutes of baking.
Testing For Doneness
After the appropriate time has passed then you will test cakes for doneness while they are still in the oven.
To do this you insert a toothpick near the center of the cake. The cake is done if the toothpick comes out clean. You can also press top of cake with one finger lightly and it should bounce back.
Remove cake from oven and cool in pans for 10 minutes on a cooling grid.
10" and larger cakes you will want to wait 20 minutes.
Turning Cake Out
Once cakes have cooled in pan on cooling grids you are ready to turn them out.
To remove cake easily from pan, place waxed paper over the cake. Place a second grid on top of cake and invert the cake while sandwiched between the 2 grids.
Remove the top grid and cake pan and cool completely on remaining grid. The wax paper prevents the wire from breaking the crust or leaving imprints.
Allow your cake to rest in this position until COMPLETELY COOLED.
Now you're ready to LEVEL, TORTE and FILL your layers!!!