Monday, May 09, 2005

The Mysteries of Baking

When I ran into repeated problems baking even the smallest 6-inch cake, I went back to the pictures of my last tiered cake to convince myself that these recipes indeed worked. The above picture was taken 4 years ago, and shows Zeynep decorating the cake made for the graduating class of 2001 of her school. Zooming back to yesterday, thanks to my newly acquired oven thermometer, I was able to confirm that my oven temperature is precise. I also realized that I have been using more leavening than necessary in my baking, which might partially explain why I have experienced slightly fallen centers in Wendy's Secret Banana Cake and the Gateau Chocolat Pistache, not to mention the more recent disaster of the Yellow Butter Cake. However, in the latter case, decreasing the baking powder did not eliminate the fallen centers. What finally brought relief was a careless mistake (or was it?). When I saw that I was running out of eggs, I decided to try the White Butter Cake because I had many leftover egg whites from my unsuccesful attempts of the Yellow Butter Cake. While I was preparing the batter, I accidentally used double the amount of egg whites--which I did not know at the time--and to my surprise, the cake rose beautifully, leveled and stayed there! Using the altered recipe, I was able to bake 2 6-inch layers and 2 8-inch layers without any problems. I really do not know why these recipes worked for me 4 years ago and why they won't work without a modification today, but I am too tired tonight to even wonder. I am just very grateful for the help I received in such an unexpected way.

Here is the base recipe for white butter cakes from the Cake Bible:

1 1/2 large egg whites (I used 3 large egg whites, instead)
1/3 c milk
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 c sifted cake flour
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder (The increase in the amount of leavening is not linear for larger size cake pans; Rose has a lookup table for that)
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbs softened unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350F. To prepare the pan, generously grease the bottom and the sides, place a precut-to-size parchment circle at the bottom, grease the parchment circle, and finally sprinkle the whole inside with flour. In a medium bowl, lightly combine the egg whites, 1/4 of the milk and vanilla. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute to blend. Add the butter and the remaining milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Beat at high speed for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides.

Gradually beat in the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strenghten the structure. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan (6-inch in this case), smooth with a spatula. Bake for 25-35 minutes for a 6-inch pan or until a test skewer inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.