There seems to be a lot of lore around cake baking.
Recipes are strict, rules are expected to be followed, measurements are meant to be exact.
But what if that wasn’t always the case? What are the rules that can be broken?
My grandmother was a firm believer that you should always stir the batter in the same direction otherwise you beat the air out of it. I’m yet to have this confirmed by anyone really, but I still do it. She also listened to cakes to check when they were cooked – apparently they just ‘sounded’ like they were cooked – so maybe she wasn’t the best person to have as a cake mentor.
So what are some common cake misconceptions?
You will not ruin your cake by opening the oven door for a bit of a squiz. A quick drop in the temperature will not make much, if any, difference. And towards the end, it is perfectly acceptable to reach in and turn it around if you want an even browning on top.
However, back in school home economics class, one of the girls had quite a knack for the exact moment to jump up and down outside an oven to make a cake collapse. It was quite the skill, I couldn’t even be mad. So maybe don’t do that if you want a nice cake.
Cutting back on sugar will be healthier
I mean, it’s cake, how healthy is it?
Sugar doesn’t just provide sweetness. It also supports several processes that improve flavour and texture. These include making it fluffy when you cream butter and sugar and enhancing flavours.
The latter is a big one. Have you ever tasted vanilla or cocoa without sugar? The word that comes to mind is bleh.
Sugar is also naturally hydrophilic, which sounds nasty, but means it attracts water and helps to keep your cakes moist even after they have been cooked.
By all means, cut back on sugar for health reasons, but your cakes will not be better for it.
Cutting back on salt will be healthier
Once again, yes, but also no, because you will be losing some of the cake’s integrity.
A bit of salt can elevate flavour. Think about salted caramel, so much better than normal caramel. And it’s not a cake, obviously, but porridge without a pinch of salt is an insult to breakfast dishes.
It’s also vital for properly rising yeast-based baking. Salt slows down the yeast production, which allows enough time for gluten to form. The yeast in dough without salt will munch up all the sugar, causing the cake to rise too fast and collapse in the oven.
Salt will also improve the crust colour in baked yeast goods.
Some recipes state strict tin sizes and seem quite firm about sticking to that. That is okay if it’s a common size, but a massive pain in the rear if you need to buy a new one and never use it again.
However, if it’s close enough it’s good enough. A centimetre or two either side of the recommended size will not be the end of the world.
I have even divided a whole cake recipe up into patties for cupcakes or individual desserts. Just keep a closer eye on them while they are in the oven and you should be good to go.
The only caveat would be highly sensitive recipes such as souffles. But no-one wants to cook them anyway, and if they say they do, they’re lying.
If you do find you need a weird cake tin, check in your area for a tin library. They are becoming more popular with libraries and councils around the country.
Baking powder lasts forever
I learnt this one the hard way. I happily ignore best-before dates all over the place, but you need to pay attention to the baking powder expiry date. Baking powder is generally only good for a year. After that expect sad looking cakes and personal disappointment.
The culprit for tired baking powder is all around us. Moisture and humidity affect the active ingredients. To keep fresh for longer, try to keep it in a dry, warm environment. If you are unsure if it’s still useful, pour a teaspoon into hot water. It should immediately start bubbling and foaming.
Do you have cake tips of your own? Why not share them in the comments section below?
Also read: Chocolate Truffle Cake recipe