DinePH | 7 Tips for Baking Better Cakes | In baking, there will be instances wherein you’ll find yourself crouching down on the kitchen floor, thinking that you have zero talent in the craft upon realizing that you forgot to add sugar or baking powder to the cake after putting it in the oven.
Still, if there’s one way to look at this situation in a more positive light, it is to understand that mistakes help you learn.
Mistakes make one wiser, but they don’t have to be your own for you to get some wisdom from them. In fact, learning from other people’s failures and mishaps could be an effective way of honing your skills as you take a baking course.
Here are seven baking tips that home bakers and professional chefs swear by to help you become more successful at baking great cakes:
Choose a Good Recipe
Recipes serve as a guide in baking. Even if you’re not used to sticking to rules, you have to consider using a recipe to help improve the resulting cakes from your baking endeavors.
A good recipe gives you a higher chance of producing something that’s not just edible but also quite delicious. Although cake decorating does offer artistic license to some extent, baking remains something that requires you to follow instructions.
You see, recipes help you ensure great results every time. The formula they offer – from the ingredients and their measurements to the temperature and cooking time – has already been tried and tested to ensure the quality of your output. Just make sure that you get recipes from trustworthy sources.
Don’t Forget to Preheat the Oven
When baking, make sure that you preheat the oven first. This is because batter placed inside a oven that is not hot enough will result in a dry cake with a slightly shorter shelf life.
Of course, how long you preheat the oven depends on the model you’re using. Some reach the desired temperature in just a few minutes, while others take at least half an hour.
The key is to know your oven.
Want to know a trick? Dangle an oven thermometer over your baking racks. This will show you whether the temperature on the oven dial matches the actual temperature inside it.
Wait for Your Ingredients to Reach the Right Temperature
While you won’t have any problem with most dry ingredients, your eggs and butter may need to reach room temperature before being used.
Melting butter, for one, takes a bit of time when done the traditional way. Letting it sit between 30 to 60 minutes (depending on how cold it was prior) and putting it back in the fridge for another few minutes to firm it up is still the best way to achieve this goal.
If the recipe requires it, be sure to let the ingredients reach the right temperature. The wait will be worth it when that smooth batter transforms into a cake that is moist inside but tender on the outside.
While this sounds like a no-brainer, measuring is actually where most amateur bakers make mistakes that result in subpar cakes. You see, the correct measurement of ingredients could make or break the result of a cake recipe. Even one inaccurately measured tablespoon of sugar could tip the overall balance of the recipe.
In baking, flour is the most common ingredient that is measured inaccurately. To avoid making a mistake, use the spoon-and-level method of measurement:
- Rather than scooping out the flour from the container with the measuring cup, use a spoon and gradually fill the cup with the ingredient.
- Do not tap the measuring cup or pack it down with the spoon as it would cause the flour to settle into the cup. Instead, use a knife or spatula to level the top and remove any excess flour.
Mix the Batter with the Right Amount of Vigor
Overmixing and undermixing batter are two more big no-nos in baking. Even if you get the measurements and ingredients right, your cake won’t come out as planned if you don’t mix it with the right amount of vigor.
The problem with overmixing is that it incorporates too much air and may cause the cake to fall as it cools later on. Of course, you shouldn’t underdo it either, as undermixing may result in unintentional swirls of sugar or flour, blobs of butter, and even raisins and nuts refusing to play well with wet ingredients.
Mixing the batter too little or too much can negatively affect the resulting cake, so you must follow the Goldilocks rule and keep it just right.
Know Your Pans
The pan you use is also an important thing you should pay attention to when baking better cakes.
First, consider what kind of pan you should be using in the first place. Go with light-colored metal pans as dark-colored ones tend to absorb more heat and cause the batter to develop a dark bottom crust very quickly.
Besides that, knowing how to use and properly prep baking pans can also affect the resulting cake, even if you use the same batter over and over. There are plenty of ways to do this, but some swear by the following method:
- Start by making paper liners for the bottom of the pan. You can get the right size by outlining the pan on parchment and cutting the shape out.
- Then, lightly coat the pan’s edges and bottom with nonstick cooking spray before placing the paper liner.
- Finally, spray more nonstick cooking spray on the parchment lightly, and you’re ready to go.
Avoid Opening the Oven Too Frequently
While waiting for the right time to bring out the cake from the oven, you might be tempted to open the oven door and check on your masterpiece every five minutes. Don’t.
When you do, you’re letting out hot air, and the temperature inside the oven will fluctuate. If this happens, you’ll end up with an unevenly cooked cake.
Keep your cool and resist opening the oven until the last few minutes when it is time to check for doneness.
Five minutes before the end of the recommended baking time, poke a wooden toothpick onto the cake. If it comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached to it, your cake is ready. If there is wet batter stuck to it, continue baking.
Can’t find a toothpick? You can use a dry spaghetti noodle instead or do the bounce-back test by pressing down on the cake. If your fingers leave a dent, leave the cake inside. If it bounces back completely, it’s good to go.
Bake Better Cakes
Baking better cakes depends on how well you follow instructions. Of course, you also need to be open-minded about tips and tricks like the ones listed in this article, as they have been tried and tested to be effective.
Shanaaz Raja is the Course Director at International Centre for Culinary Arts – ICCA Dubai.