Cake Baking Tips
Cake baking is pretty straightforward, but perhaps you'll learn something or refresh your memory from reading these tips.
USE THE BEST INGREDIENTS:
If you are going to the trouble to make a "from scratch" cake, begin with top-quality ingredients, resisting temptations to substitute.
Measure ingredients carefully, using spoons and measuring cups made especially for this purpose. All measurements are usually level. We all have memories of Grandma's baking, a handful of this and a shake of that, but remember, she baked everything from scratch and had years of experience.
TO SIFT OR NOT TO SIFT?
All-purpose flour usually doesn't need to be sifted; simply stir it lightly with a spoon before measuring. When sifted flour is called for, the ingredients list will say "1 cup sifted flour." This means sift the flour and then measure. If it says, "1 cup flour, sifted," the flour should be measured and then sifted.
CAKE FLOUR, which has been finely milled, has a tendency to form lumps. It should always be sifted before using.
Make sure you have all the ingredients before you start making the batter.
Use the pan sizes suggested and prepare the baking pans carefully as the recipe states. If you are greasing the pans, solid vegetable shortening is best to use. If the directions call for a lined pan, cut parchment or waxed paper to fit the bottom of the pan, then grease the pan before and after placing the paper inside.
Some recipes call for dusting the pans with flour. This helps the cake develop a thin, crisp crust and prevents the cake from absorbing the fat used to grease the pan. Use about one tablespoon all-purpose flour for dusting each pan, shaking and tilting until the bottom and sides have a fine coating. Then hold the pan upside down over the sink and tap it gently so excess flour falls away.
PREHEATING OVEN, OVEN THERMOMETERS, ETC.
It is important to have your oven preheated so you can immediately put the pans into the hot oven. Invest in an oven thermometer so you'll get accurate temperatures. Cake batter should not sit before baking, because chemical leaveners begin working as soon as they are mixed with liquids and the air in foam batters will begin to dissipate.
WHAT OVEN RACK TO BAKE YOUR CAKE ON:
Place the pan on the oven's center rack. If two or more pans are used, allow at least an inch of space between the pans and two inches between the pans and the walls of the oven for proper heat circulation.
DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN during the first half of the baking time. Cold air will interfere with the cake's rising.
The Wrong Type of Flour
If using unbleached flour for a butter cake in which the butter is used in softened form, as opposed to melted as for a genoise, the cake will dip in the center about 5 minutes after baking. This is because the smooth flour particles of unbleached flour cannot effectively hold the butter is suspension. So use bleached cake flour or bleached all-purpose flour.
Too Weak a Structure
This is usually due to too much leavening. Try dropping the baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon.
The larger the cake, the less amount of baking powder per cup of flour is used. This is because the distance from the sides of the pan to the center are greater so that they batter needs a stronger structure to support itself.