The science of baking cakes...

Discussion in 'Pastries & Baking' started by rfarlow, Jun 7, 2010.

  1. rfarlow

    rfarlow

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    I love to bake and I am often being told that I am "an awesome baker" based of some recipes that I have done.  The problem is that none of my recipes have actually been my own from scratch.  I have done a lot of doctoring up box mixes and using other people's recipes I find in cookbooks or online.  So, my latest challenge to myself is to come up with my own vanilla cake recipe from scratch. 

    I have tried two times with very different results.  Attempt one was using baking science ratios that called for high ratio shortening.  Trouble was that I did not have high ration shortening and I substituted Crisco and that did not give me the desired result.  After mixing it seemed as though the crisco just didn't blend properly.  It didn't look like a smooth batter.  The final product I got was a very heavy and wet cake.  It actually tasted really good and reminded me more of a homemade super moist pound cake.  I may use the recipe in a loaf pan next time.

    So, back to the drawing board. I made several adjustments including cutting the amount of sugar in half and eliminating the french vanilla pudding mix I added the first time.  This time closer, but it was lacking in flavor and was still very dense and now dry.  It was almost like a drop biscuit texture on the inside.  Not quite as much of a crust on it though.  Also it took 15 minutes longer to bake at 350 degrees.

    So, now I am trying to formulate attempt 3.  My thought is that I will replace the Crisco shortening with canola oil.  I thought I would also add an additional egg and increase from 1Tb baking powder to 2 Tb.

    Note that I am using cake flour, granulated sugar and milk for the liquid in this recipe.  Maybe I should switch to dry milk with water?

    Any thoughts or recommendations are greatly appreciated!!
     
  2. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    As you note, there is a fair bit of science to baking cakes. It's very dependent on ratio and technique. And I'm certainly no pro but for most home purposes there are two broad categories of cakes: chiffon and butter.  Chiffon uses oil instead of butter. You need to whip air into the batter and oil does this poorly so egg whites are often whipped to give lift beyond leavening. Butter or shortening can be creamed with the sugar to get air into the batter.

    So you can't just swap from Crisco to canola oil. They operate differently in the cake.

    You'd be better served looking into the different cake styles and their ratios, then picking a style to work within for any given scratch cake.
     
  3. siduri

    siduri

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    If you're beginning to bake from scratch, I'd advise you to get some good recipes.  A good cookbook is a good place to start.  The ratios you talk about sound like they;re for professional bakeries, and moreso, for bakeries that use industrial type ingredients, rather than real scratch ingredients (butter! butter! butter!).

    A good cake recipe is every bit as easy as a box cake to make and you avoid all those nasty aftertastes that industrial products carry.  For simple home cooking cakes, and foolproof ones for beginners, I recommend (don;t groan) the old version of the betty crocker cookbook (the one from the 1950s, they have reissued it and sell it - i don;t recommend the newer editions which rely on  boxed ingredients). 

    More ambitious but not hard to follow is Rose Beranbaum's cake bible.  But for a beginner, i find her insistence on precise measures (one and a half cups plus a teaspoon flour) is offputting.  But the cakes come out great even if you are not following so literally to the gram. 

    The reason I like the BC one for beginners is that they made it with a test kitchen, testing each recipe using flour from all over the country and making all the more common mistakes and made sure the cakes came out despite this.  It's hard to miss with these recipes. 

    Once you have some experience baking from scratch, you can apply all the ratios you want - you'll have developed an eye for the texture of the batter, the temperature of the butter, etc, and can alter your recipes as you like. 
     
  4. jellly

    jellly

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    If you would really like to understand some of the guidelines for developing your own cake recipes, I suggest checking out "Bakewise" by Shirley Corriher.  It is popular enough that you should find it at your local library (where I first encountered it before deciding I wanted to have my own copy).

    She has a great section on baking math that gives you basic ranges for ingredients.  Example - The amount of fat in a cake recipe (butter, oil crisco), should be roughly 30-70% of the flour.  Remember that butter is only about 80% fat, where crisco is 100% fat.  The weight of sugar should be about equal to that of flour in many cakes, but if you want to increase the amount of sugar, she explains how to do that by adjusting other ingredients.

    By using these guidelines, you can adjust the amounts of ingredients to get the kind of texture and flavor you want.  Also, her recipe for pound cake is the best I have had.
     
  5. siduri

    siduri

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    Yes, you're right Jelly,she does have all those explanations and would be very useful. I think, though, that you need to begin getting your hand and eye educated with some standard recipes and she doesn't have a lot of cake recipes. 
     
  6. kayakado

    kayakado

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    Rose Levy Bernabaum's Cake Bible was the republished version of her master's thesis.  It has lots of good info in it.  I was also reading Julia Child's chapter on cake baking from her book from Julia Child's Kitchen.  It had some of Julia's interesting experiments using the creaming butter and sugar method versus eggs and sugar.

    Harold McGee's book "On food and cooking" gives the scientific explanations for things
     
  7. cabotvt

    cabotvt

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    YOur answer is GENIOSE, a little whipping yokes, a little heated sugar, little whites and melted butter and wham..cake you can not miss with. Formulas are all over the net. Check out baking science by the man Willie Prejeans best baker still alive. 

    I think I spelled GENIOSE right, if not I just spelled it wrong twice

    Personally I stay far away from any book that was written after 1980. Cakes have been around since BC and flour is flour and so on. The new books just make cake baking to fluffy. If you must make a HR cake ask your local restaurant for some HR shortning its called SweetTex made by Proctor and Gamble same folks that give us baby powder
     
  8. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    génoise [zhayn-WAHZ; zhehn-WAHZ] Food Lover's Companion, 3rd Edition, , page 264, a most helpful reference IMHO.

    As is "Ratio", by Michael Ruhlman
     
     
  9. siduri

    siduri

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    rfarlow, Genoise is a very different kind of cake than what you may be looking for.  If you want a traditional american butter cake, then steer clear of genoise.   Genoise is a cake base - it's made to hold exquisite buttercream or other fillings, and has a different consistency that may not appeal to your palate. It certainly does not appeal to mine.  

    Frankly, for all the fanfare of fancy french stuff, and i do love much of it, in cakes, nobody beats the americans when it comes to the actual cake.  Or nobody beat them till they started using box mixes, artificial fats, and general crap. 

    Oh, and a genoise is not moist.  It gets "moist" by pouring sugar syrup on it, with or without liqueur, and that is just cheating to me, but mainly, it's not the same thing as "moist" in american cake baking.  You don't cut a piece of unadorned genoise and eat it with the same pleasure you would a piece of unfrosted butter cake or fudge cake.  It's a whole nother thing.  You may like it or not, but it's not what an american has in his heart when he says "cake". 
     
  10. titomike

    titomike

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    As I understand it the point of a Genoise is its 'incredible lightness of being'....10 eggs to 100g of flour...

    Its a good test of patience & technique in making the sabayon and in the folding.

    I think its useful to have the full range of densities in your repertoire. For example, as a component of layering weight maybe an issue as in say...a single serve baked alaska.
     
  11. cabotvt

    cabotvt

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    OK so no French stuff how about a liquid shortenings cake like sponge. It is about as moist as one can get with out pouring milk on it. It's very easy to make and you can get the shortenings at your store. I guess you could make a apple sauce cake if you like that pasty stuff use bread flour or a 60/40 mix so it will hold the extra weight.

    NOW TITOMIKE is talking BAKED ALASKA if my old memory serves me the tradition has apricots around the bottom. Imagine if old King Luise has BEN and Jerry ice cream back in the day. Who makes BA these days is so old school.
     
  12. titomike

    titomike

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    Hopefully not me........ever again! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif
     
  13. rfarlow

    rfarlow

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    Thank you for all the advice!!! This is all really good information. What I am looking for is a basic "birthday cake" or "wedding cake" type of recipe. So, I am thinking from what you all have said that oil is not the way to go. Though I add oil to boxed cake mixes, so what is the difference there? Just curious. So, what if I switch from Crisco to butter? What will that do to my texture? I guess I probably don't want to exchange exactly since the texture of my Crisco cake was too dense and an adjustment is needed anyway. So if I sub butter for the Crisco, would I need more or less to help make the cake lighter? Also, What would adding pudding mix do to this? One more thing....I am using milk. Could the cold milk be toughening it up too? I am not using any water- just milk and eggs for the liquid.

    I definitely see your point when you say that I should start with a recipe.  I mean, vanilla cake is vanilla cake generally.  Because you have to have certain ratios there are only so many variations.  My only issue with that is then how do I make it my own?  Or is this just a dumb experiment?  Maybe I should just find one I like and use it and call it my own for the sheer fact that I made it using my tools and my techniques.  It's still a from scratch cake...I guess I just wanted to be able to have my own.  It's not that hard to follow someone else's recipe in my opinion.  It takes more skill to have your own, obviously.
     
  14. siduri

    siduri

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    Oil leaves a greasy feel on the tongue - you may not notice if you;re used to cakes with oil, but once you;re used to butter cakes you will probably find the oil cakes a bit unpleasant.  (You might say, better not to know, right? But you'd be losing something if you don't).  Also butter has a flavor that is wonderful in cakes while oil is tasteless grease, or has a taste that may not be very good in the cake (olive oil, peanut oil, for instance). 

    If you're fiddling around with boxed cakes, why are you reluctant to try an actual recipe?  A box cake is a recipe that;s already been measured out anyway (and using specially treated ingredients and chemicals because they have to stay in powder form in a box!).  Then as you adapt box cakes with your own additions, you can do the same with a recipe cake, but at least instead of the long list of chemical substances you find in boxed cakes you have a much shorter list of good-quality ingredients.  Mainly, THE TASTE IS VERY DIFFERENT AND MUCH BETTER!

    When i was a kid we used to doctor up boxed recipes, mainly bisquik - we'd make pancakes but add more butter and egg and stuff.  But when i came to italy i found i had to make pancakes from a recipe!  I had never done that, much as i did a lot of from scratch baking.  Well, lo and behold, it was hardly any harder than using bisquik - the only advantage bisquik had was i didn;t have to measure the baking powder and salt.  wowee.  big deal.  Now i think how ridiculous i was for making pancakes using bisquik. 

    The reason i suggest using a recipe to start with is you have a good model of a good cake, simple, always works, and you can then work from there.  You can modify a little at a time. 

    So, here goes, i'll give you a simple decent vanilla cake.  From betty crocker's 1950 picture cookbook. 

    can't go wrong with this one.   For all its simplicity and its total lack of snob appeal, it's a very good cake. 

    grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans, or one 13 X 9 cake pan

    heat oven to 350 F

    cream together till fluffy:

    5/8 cup butter

    1-7/8 cup sugar

    beat in one at a time and beat well after each:

    2 eggs
     

    Sift or whisk together in another bowl:

    3 cups cake flour or 2-3/4 cups regular all purpose flour

    2-1/2 tsp baking powder

    1 tsp salt

    Stir this into the butter/sugar/egg mixture alternately with:

    1-1/4 cup milk

    1-1/2 tsp vanilla

    (add half the dry mixture, stir by hand only till barely combined, add 1/2 the liquid mixture and stir till barely combined,

    then half the remaining dry, then the remaining liquid and the remaining dry.  Don't beat it, just stir gently. 

    pour into pan(s) and bake in 350 oven for 30-35 min if you used the round layers, and for 35-40 min if you used the rectangular. 

    This is a very simple, not very rich basic vanilla cake.  Pretend it;s a boxed mix, make it and see how it comes.  Then figure how much more butter you can add, maybe substitute volume for volume egg yolks for whole eggs, or use another liquid mixed with or instead of milk, etc. etc etc. 

    ALTERNATE RECIPE FOR VANILLA CAKE

    This is from the same book, but uses the simpler method later made popular by Rose Beranbaum

    same pans, same temp

    sift or whisk together:

    2 1/4 cup cake flour

    1-1/2 cup sugar

    3 tsp baking powder

    1 tsp salt

    add

    1/2 cup soft (room temperature, not melted) butter

    and pour on top of it a little over half of:

    1 cup milk

    1-1.2 tsp vanilla

    beat two minutes at medium speed

    add remaining milk and

    2 eggs

    beat another two minutes

    pour into cake pans and bake the same time as above. 
     
  15. rfarlow

    rfarlow

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    Ok, so I tried again last night.  It is MUCH closer to the texture I was looking for, but still not perfect.  Let me tell you the adjustments that I made and maybe you can give some advice on next steps?

    The last cake that I made ended up very dry, dense, and flavorless, so I changed a number of things including switching from crisco to butter and reducing the amount, reducing both flour and sugar, and adding a box of french vanilla pudding mix.  I used the pudding in my first go (very wet cake) and really liked the flavor that it added.  I could always buy french vanilla extract instead, but I had the pudding on hand.  This time the cake was very close, but maybe still just a tad too wet.  I am thinking that for try number 3 i will either eliminate the pudding or reduce sugar by 1/4 or 1/2 cup.  I used the same creaming method both times then alternating wet and dry ingredients. Let me know what you think...

    Recipe 1: Dry, dense cake lacking flavor.  This was based on the following percentages  I found online somewhere (based on weight)

    12% fat, 26%sugar, 12% eggs, 26% flour, 24% liquid

    1 cup crisco

    2 1/4 c sugar

    4 eggs

    4 c flour

    1 3/4 c milk

    1 Tbsp baking powder

    1 Tbsp vanilla

    Recipe 2: much more moist cake, but slightly wet and spongey.  I found a recipe posed on here that people were raving about and made some adjustments based on their recipe (siduri- I forgot you had posed a recipe on this thread or else I would have used that)

    1/2 c butter

    1 1/4 cup sugar

    3 eggs

    2 c flour

    1 3/4 c milk

    3 tsp baking powder

    1 Tbsp vanilla

    french vanilla pudding mix

    Based on some things I have read in other threads (posted by sduri coincidentally) about a cake being too dry I have thought I should use the reverse of that advice.  So, I think what I should do is either omit the pudding and add a stronger extract (I used imitation vanilla last time) or reduce the sugar by maybe 1/4 cup to get a fluffier cake.  What do you think??

    I'm going to have buttercream frosting questions, but maybe I'll start a new thread for that one ;)

    Rebecca
     
  16. siduri

    siduri

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    that was a very good recipe  I was going to suggest it actually but then forgot to add it. 
     
  17. rfarlow

    rfarlow

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    i tried again tonight...no luck.  All I did was omit the pudding.  i thought since i was removing a source of sugar it would become lighter and drier, but it didnt work as i suspected.  it actually did the opposite.  it became dense and almost like a fudgey brownie in texture, which is not good for a yellow cake.  also lost a lot of flavor by omitting the french vanilla pudding.  well, back to the drawing board...
     
  18. siduri

    siduri

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    I really think you need to practice with a recipe, make it as it is, and see how it comes out.  Once you;ve perfected it, then try varying one thing. 

    If you start adding puddings and other premade mixes, you are getting out of the area of baking from scratch. 

    After you;ve perfected a cake as it is - and the two recipes i sent and the other you used are good recipes and make good cakes - THEN try to change something.  If you like the pudding thing, make a pudding from scratch and then add the cooled pudding to the cake recipe.  Or put the ingredients of a pudding in it. 

    But MAKE the actual recipe to get the hang of it.  You'll see then what the variation does to the original recipe.  Otherwise you have no idea what the variation you've made has actually done
     
  19. rfarlow

    rfarlow

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    Thanks.  I am going to make the recipe from the other forum in the next few days and use that as a base.  I am just wondering how I make it my own...maybe french vanilla extract instead of regular...i really like that.  i'll let you know how it goes :)
     
  20. lillih

    lillih

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    What I always do is look at a bunch of different recipes for the same cake then i see what they all have in common and where they differ. Certain ingredients will be essential but you'll be able to see where you can get creative. Personally, I don't like cake mix. It always turns out too soft for me, and the taste is sort of generic. Like another poster said, the Betty Crocker cookbook is great for learning how to make scratch cakes and the recipes are basic and straightforward.

    Also, trust me when I say that a lot of times it is just trial and error. I am lactose intolerant and, for awhile I was a vegan. I had to learn to bake all over again because of it and sometimes my substitutions worked, and sometimes they failed miserably. You should research ingredients and what they do for food and how they affect taste, color, texture etc. because then you'll get a feel for what would make a good addition/substitution. Good luck and keep at it!