Perfect Sponge Cake
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How to bake a perfect cake & How to Fix Common Cake Baking Mistakes

Is your cake just not doing what you want it to do? Has it not cooked properly? Is it just a little bit too dry? You’ve come to the right place!
From opening the oven door too early to using out-of-date ingredients, there are plenty of reasons why a beautiful cake can become a disappointment.

It’s important to understand what went wrong. When baking a cake, there are a lot of little things you can do to get a perfect finished product.

In this post, I am going to talk about

  1. Rules for baking a perfect cake.
  2. The common mistakes that we make when we bake. ( It Rhymes :P)
  3. Common cake problems and solutions.
  4. And, Finally, What to do with failed cakes.

The most important thing when it comes to baking is that you should know the difference between creaming, beating and folding.

Creaming: Creaming is mixing butter and sugar together until it is pale and fluffy (or as desired by your recipe) and is most effectively done using an electric whisk for a good few minutes. You can also achieve this using a regular whisk but it will take time.

What creaming does is it traps air into the creamed mixture – the more you trap, the finer the texture of your cake.

For an extremely delicate and light sponge cake, try creaming the butter and sugar until the mixture is nearly white.

Beating: Beating refers to the process of adding eggs to the creamed sugar and fat(butter). The best way to do this is to beat all your eggs in a jug first, then pour them into the bowl a little at a time, so the mixture doesn’t curdle.

In this process also you’re trying to incorporate and keep as much air in the batter as you can.

For the cakes which don’t have butter in their recipe, beat the egg whites with sugar first until they are white, fluffy and stop once they reach stiff peaks.

Folding: Folding in flour and dry ingredients preserves all the precious air you’ve created in the cake batter so it rises as high as possible.

Don’t use a wooden spoon or electric whisk to do this,you can use a spatula and try not to be heavy-handed, do it as delicately as possible otherwise, you’ll knock the air out.

If you’re too vigorous, you’ll make the texture of your cake tough, at times it will be cooked unevenly and in some cases of vigorous folding, you’ll end with unrisen, uncooked bits inside the cake. Vigorous beating takes out all the fluffiness from your cake.

Instead, use a spatula in a gentle, slow and deliberate figure-of-eight motion, finish off by scraping around the edge of the bowl. Repeat this action until you can’t see any more flour. Do not be tempted to over mix and do not under mix it.

Rules for baking a perfect cake

  1. Always grease the pan and line with parchment – Baking parchment works really well for lining as it’s non-stick. Softened butter dusted with flour, or oil dusted with flour, are alternatives. Don’t use too much fat though or you’ll fry the sides of the cake.
  2. Allow the oven to fully preheat first – If you put a cake into an oven that’s not hot enough, it will affect the way it rises. Fan ovens can dry a cake slightly so for a longer shelf-life use the conventional setting.
  3. Bake in the center of the oven (unless otherwise specified) – Cakes are generally best placed on the middle shelf to ensure even cooking. Once the cake is in, avoid opening the door until it’s almost cooked. If you allow cold air into the oven the cake is likely to collapse, you need to wait until it’s properly set before taking a peek. Similarly, when you’re putting the cake into the oven, don’t hang about and let all the heat out.
  4. Bake in the size of pan specified – Otherwise, you’re looking at uneven baking, which means an uneven cake.
  5. Don’t try to double the recipe, Be accurate with weights and ingredients – Cake recipes are more complex than that. Source out a recipe for a larger volume instead. Make sure you use the exact measurements and ingredients as stated in the recipe. You can’t just add more baking powder if you want your cake to rise more or substitute self-raising flour for plain. Use measuring spoons rather than tableware to ensure accuracy. Also, avoid mixing imperial and metric measurements, pick one or the other.
  6. Use fresh ingredients – Old ingredients taste bad, and old leaveners (like baking soda) simply don’t work.
  7. No substitutions – With the exception of spices, don’t substitute ingredients. Especially ones that have a structural impact.
  8. Use a good recipe  – For guaranteed results, it’s important to follow baking recipes to the letter so your cake will only ever be as good as the recipe you use. Start with a recipe from a source you trust. And once you find the perfect recipe and your cake turns out to be awesome, write it down for future reference.
  9. Make sure ingredients are the right temperature  – Most recipes require the fat and eggs to be at room temperature. If you take the butter straight from the fridge it doesn’t cream well and cold eggs are liable to curdle the cake mixture.
  10. Get as much air into the cake as you can  – Cream butter and sugar until the mixture lightens in texture and color. This increases the air and volume of the cake, giving you a lighter result.
  11. Once the cake mixture is made put it straight into the oven – The raising agent will start working as soon as it comes into contact with any of the ‘wet’ ingredients so to ensure a good rise your cake mixture should go into the oven straight away.
  12. Cooling cakes  – Recipes will usually give instructions for cooling but as a general rule, most sponge cakes are best left for a few minutes and then turned onto a cooling rack to avoid soggy edges. Rich fruit cakes are better cooled in the tin.

Now let’s take a look at the most common mistake that we make when we bake cake

  1. You’re not measuring your ingredients accurately.
  2. You don’t know the difference between creaming, beating and folding.
  3. Your ingredients aren’t at room temperature.
  4. You’re taking too long to put the cake in the oven.
  5. Your raising agents are out-of-date.
  6. You’re substituting or adding extra ingredients.
  7. You’re not following the method properly.

Common Cake problems and Solutions

1.Problem: My cake has peaked in the middle and is cracked.

Solution: This could be because too much raising agent has been used, the cake tin was too small or the oven temperature was too high.

2.Problem: My cake has spilled over the sides of the tin.

Solution: This happens when the cake tin you’ve used is too small. It’s always best to use the tin size stated in the recipe. If the tin size is not mentioned in the recipe, avoid filling the tin more than three-quarters full and also adjust cooking times accordingly.

3.Problem: My cake is overcooked and thin but the texture is good.

Solution: This happens when the cake tin is too big. So always use appropriate tin size.

4.Problem: My cake didn’t rise.

Solution: Maybe you forgot to add the baking powder or maybe you did not add enough baking powder as required by the recipe. Make sure your baking tin is the right size – if it’s too big the mixture won’t rise enough to fill it. And last but not least, don’t over whisk your mix. Once your ingredients are combined, that’s it – stop whisking and get baking!

5.Problem: My cake is very dense.

Solution: Now this particular problem has many reasons. This could be because the cake mixture didn’t have enough air beaten into it or perhaps eggs were added too quickly and curdled. Another reason could be that there wasn’t enough raising agent. Here you need to identify the mistake you made which resulted in a dense cake and not repeat the mistake. Most of the time the reason is the improper beating of eggs which causes less air to be incorporated into the batter.

6.Problem: My cake is flat and has large air bubbles on the top.

Solution: This could either be because the cake didn’t go into the oven as soon as the mixture was finished or because the oven wasn’t hot enough when the cake went in. Do not wait too long to put the cake into the oven, if you let the batter sit for a long time, it could result in a flat cake with air bubbles. And always make sure the oven is preheated to the required temperature by the time batter is ready.

7.Problem: My cake has a gooey center.

Solution: The cake hasn’t been cooked for long enough.

8.Problem: The edges of the cake are soggy.

Solution: This happens when the cake isn’t turned out onto your cooling rack soon enough and condensation has built up on the inside of the tin.

9.Problem: My cake has sunk in the middle.

Solution: You may have opened the door one too many times while the cake was baking. Doing this results in an uneven temperature in the oven. Or The oven door was opened before the cake had time to set; the cake didn’t go in the oven as soon as the mixture was ready.

10.Problem: I can’t get my cake out of the tin.

Solution: You need to ensure your tin has been well lined. Baking parchment is ideal for this. check out this tutorial on how to line a baking tin perfectly.

11.Problem: The sides of my cake are crunchy or burnt.

Solution: There are quite a few reasons you could end up with this result. It could be that too much fat has been used to grease the tin; the cake tin wasn’t lined sufficiently; the oven was too hot; the cake was left in the oven for too long or fat that is not suitable for baking has been used.

12.Problem: My cake is greasy.

Solution: Be sure to measure out your butter carefully and make sure you whisk the mixture properly. Don’t leave your butter out on the side at room temperature for too long – it will start to sweat and become greasy.

13. Problem: My cake is burnt on top but still isn’t cooked in the center.

Solution: The oven is set at a very high temperature or the cake tin is small.

14. Problem: My cake is dry.

Solution: 1. Using too much flour can cause a cake to become dry. When measuring dry ingredients, gently spoon the flour into a measuring cup for dry ingredients and level off with a flat spatula.

2. Adding too little butter or shortening or liquid can also cause dryness. Measure liquids in a liquid-measuring cup placed on a level surface like your kitchen counter. Read the liquid measurement at eye level while the cup is on the level surface.

3. Be careful not to overmix once the flour is added, as this can cause the cake to be tough. The batter that is improperly mixed or undermixed can cause the cake to be crumbly. Mix carefully to evenly distribute the ingredients throughout the cake batter will give it a uniform consistency. Frequently use a plastic spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and don’t forget to scrape the bottom of the bowl for any pockets of flour or other ingredients.

4. Overbeating the egg whites or using too many of them can lead to a dry cake. Egg whites act as a drying agent, so you could try eliminating one of the whites.

5. Too much sugar can cause a cake to crumble when cut, while too little sugar can make a cake tough. The best cake recipes have a good balance of ingredients.

6. Using a pan that is too big for the amount of batter you have can cause it to overbake and become dry. The pan should be filled from half to three-fourths full.

7. Finally, check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer. If the oven temperature is too high, your cake could be dry. Overbaking could also be a culprit. Check your cake for doneness at the lower end of the baking range.

Frosted cake
Frosted cake

What to do with failed cakes.

  1. Make cake pops – Turn even the messiest cake disaster into sweet, individually wrapped cake pop treats that look impressive and fun.
  2. Make a Trifle – Trifles are irresistible, just layer a bunch of delicious ingredients together in a deep serving dish—think whipped cream, pudding and fresh fruit—and add the pieces of cake throughout as you go.
  3. Pour some sugar syrup and glue it together with frosting – This trick is for dry cakes or the cakes that have broken into 2 or 3 pieces. if it is broken more than that then make cake pops.
  4. Serve it with ice cream – There’s a new ice cream companion in town. Scoop out some of your favorite ice cream flavors and place them on top of a plain piece of cake. Think of it as fancy brownie sundae. Move over, sprinkles and hot fudge!

cake pops
Cake pops

Notes:

  1. If you’re cooking a cake for a long time (rich fruit cake, for example), it’s worth wrapping the outside of the tin too using brown paper and string to stop the edges from burning.

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