There’s cake and then there’s the ‘perfect cake’. It’s a statement often repeated that baking is a science. Now, no matter what your grade might have been in that subject when you were in school, baking is a fun and therapeutic activity. A trouble of ‘exactness’ should not hinder you from enjoying it. So we have compiled some handy tips for you to follow while science-ing it out in the kitchen with flour, eggs, milk and sugar to obtain results that taste like heaven and look like a daydream. Here they are as an aid in your quest to become a better baker.
1. Read The Recipe
The first and most obvious thing to begin this list is by telling you to read the recipe. Most times, it is halfway through the recipe that one realises that they don’t have the complete ingredients. You probably have milk instead of buttermilk and there’s a good chance that you are missing important spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. Read the recipe properly in advance, and half of the baking journey is resolved right there.
2. Choose The Right Flour
Every flour provides a distinct quality to the cake. If you want your cake to be light and airy, then all-purpose flour would be the way to go. If you want a denser finished product, choose something like bread flour. If you are looking for gluten free options but want a light and airy result, adding cornstarch to it will get you the desired result. The bottom line is, be aware of the type of flour or ingredients you are using. At the same time, you should be aware of the kind of result you can expect with them versus the kind of result you want.
3. Measure Accurately
There’s a reason why this is one of those most commonly committed crimes by rookie bakers. Unlike regular cooking, with baking it’s really important that the ingredients and recipe is nailed down to the T. Just in case it wasn’t evident yet, that’s why baking is considered an “exact science”. Scoop out the flour with a spoon into the measuring cup and flatten the top layer with a straight surface. Do not try to flatten the floor in the cup by hitting it on the table.
Measure the dry and wet ingredients in their designated cups for accuracy. Ideally, do so with a proper measuring scale instead of letting your intuition guide you.
4. Mix Them Right
This is very important to the kind of result that will come out of your oven. While mixing the wet ingredients, do it like your life depends on it. This incorporates air into the batter, which means that your cake is going to be lighter and fluffier. But when mixing your dry and wet ingredients together, keep a lighter hand. Fold the dry stuff into the wet ingredients in phases and incorporate it slowly. If you beat this mixture vigorously, you run the risk of letting out the previously incorporated air. Just mix it enough that there is a uniform consistency that can be moved to the next stage.
5. Don’t Let The Batter Rest
Once your batter is ready, put it in the oven immediately. Don’t let it sit outside for long, otherwise you run the risk of your cake not rising well. This is actually a very tiny detail that is often overlooked. But following this tip works out in two ways – the first, you already know and the second is that you get to the cake quicker. Why waste any more time when the batter is all ready?
6. Understand Your Oven
Know that your oven will never be uniformly hot throughout. So you might have to change the position of your dish in the middle of the bake. Keep in mind that though you might need to do this, it is not advisable to open the oven door too often.
7. Temperature Check
Whatever the recipe says, the temperature of the ingredients should be, and it almost always says room temperature. In that case, make sure the ingredients are at room temperature, be it the butter, milk, cream or anything else. It can make a huge difference to the texture and consistency of the cake.
8. Use Fresh Ingredients
Your fruits should be fresh and not over ripe. The baking soda and baking powder should be used within six months of manufacture, otherwise they lose their strength. Flour that might have been kept for too long runs the risk of infestation. So, if that is the case, leave it out in the sun for a few hours, just to be safe. These are all factors that affect the overall flavour of the baked goods and should always be kept in mind during the process.
9. Don’t Switch
A new baker’s mistake is that they sometimes tend to use baking soda and baking powder interchangeably. If you were thinking about it, please stop. Baking soda is added when something acidic like lemon and buttermilk is added to the recipe. It is a lot stronger than baking powder so the switch can end up being a massive fail.
While the cornstarch was mentioned before, a very handy tip is that when one cup of regular flour is mixed with 2 tbsp of cornstarch, it gives you cake flour. Expert bakers reach more for cake flour for their bakes than they do for regular flour. You might want to try it the next time you go baking.
Exactness, correctness and patience are what make a good baker. And the tips mentioned above are what will make a pro baker out of you. Honestly, when you look at the larger picture, the crux of a lot of these tips are about being careful and patient. Mastering these is a question of persistence and practice.
So any novice bakers reading this, you are going to be collecting a wealth of experience with the mistakes you may or may not make. And soon enough, you would have your own arsenal of tips and tricks to make those perfect cakes whose recipe you will pass onto your future generations.