Baking is a science and once you understand the basics can be tremendously rewarding. At Wickedfood Cooking School our students in our baking classes have learned a few tricks over the years on how to bake with confidence. Below are a few tips that should increase your confidence in the kitchen when baking.
- All-purpose flour isn’t really made for every purpose. For the best results when baking a cake, you need to use cake flour, a finely milled and typically bleached variety of flour made from soft winter wheat. With a lower content of gluten-producing proteins than in all-purpose flour, around 7% versus 10% to 12%, cake flour yields baked goods with a fine, soft texture. The bleaching process also raises the acidity of the batter, which allows the starch in the flour to absorb more moisture, further enhancing the cake’s tenderness. Although cake flour is readily available at grocery stores, in a pinch, you can substitute 3/4cup of all-purpose flour mixed with 2T of cornstarch for each cup of cake flour called for in the recipe.
- The key to a smooth batter is making sure the milk, butter, and eggs are all at room temperature when you mix them into a cake batter. Chilled eggs and milk can harden softened butter when they’re mixed in, resulting in a curdled appearance. Whereas butter and milk can be microwaved to soften (a shortcut that works but is not ideal due to the risk of overheating) you can’t microwave the eggs without cooking them. Ideally, you should leave the eggs out overnight so that they can come to room temperature naturally. But if you are pressed for time, you can quickly warm up refrigerated eggs by placing them in a bowl of warm tap water. The cold eggs will cool the water right away, so drain the bowl and refill it with more warm tap water. Let the eggs sit in the water for about five minutes so that they reach the proper temperature before adding to the batter.
- When it comes time to mixing the ingredients, beat the cake batter for a short period to help smooth and aerate it. (Bakers are often told not to beat their batter to prevent the formation of gluten, which leads to a tougher crumb. This may be a concern when using all-purpose flour, but cake flour is less prone to gluten production.) Once the batter is just mixed, beat it on high speed for five seconds. You will notice that it immediately transforms into a smooth emulsion, ensuring that the ingredients are evenly dispersed.
- Finally, most bakers dread the random air bubble that wreaks havoc on a sliced cake’s appearance. But this type of aesthetic imperfection can be avoided by dropping the pan on a countertop to burst any air bubbles. Once you pour your batter into the pan, smooth its top with a rubber spatula. Next, drop the pan from the height of about a 20cm onto countertop. The impact of the fall will force large air bubbles out and settle the batter into the pan, producing a more even shape. Only do this for cakes leavened with baking soda or baking powder. Egg foam cakes, like genoise, need their air bubbles in order to rise.
Click here for more baking tips from Wickedfood.
For some great layer cakes recipes click here.
Wickedfood Cooking School runs cooking classes throughout the year at its purpose-built Johannesburg cooking studio. Cookery classes are run in the mornings and evenings 7 days a week (subject to a minimum of 12 people). The venue is also popular for corporate events and private functions – teambuilding cooking classes, birthdays, kitchen teas, and dinner parties with a difference. Our cooking lessons are hands-on, where every person gets to participate in the preparation of the dishes. They are also a lot of fun where you not only learn new skills, but get to meet people with similar interests. For corporate groups and team building cooking classes these events are a novel way of creating staff interaction or entertaining clients.