Thursday, November 11, 2010

What went wrong with my cake!?

Every so often I get frantic phone calls from students trying recipes at home. Invariably something’s gone wrong and they don’t know how to rectify it. I talk them through the recipes and try to see where they could have gone wrong, but it’s hard to do this over the phone!
Baking is a science, till you’re not completely sure of what you’re doing, it’s advisable to stick to the recipe. A little more here and a little less there can completely change the baking formula. My bible, when it comes to creating new recipes and testing formulas is Bakewise : The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking by Shirley O. Corriher.
I like to read this book before I sleep and have been marking certain tips to share with you for a while now. Maybe it will help you understand what really went wrong with your cake!

Baking Tips adapted from Bakewise

  • Don’t keep opening the oven door! – opening the oven door for even a mere 30 seconds can cause a drop in temperature of near 60 degrees C. 
  • Balance your recipe: For a successful cake, the core ingredients (flour, butter, sugar and eggs) have to be in balance. Corriher says that flour and eggs are drying agents and if used in excess you could end up with a dry cake, where as sugar and butter add moisture but over use them and the cake won’t set
  • Adding flavors to the fat intensifies and distributes it better. So if the recipe calls for vanilla, it’s best to add it in with the butter.
  • If your cake falls or does not rise well, it might not be because you didn’t use enough baking powder or soda but just the opposite. Using too much makes the air bubbles large, collide in to one another and then poof! The cake will be heavy or fall completely.
  • Roasting enhances the flavor of nuts
  • Use a clean bowl to beat your egg whites as any dirt or grease will wreck the egg white foam.
  • Wrapping your tart/pastry dough in plastic wrap and refrigerating it for at least 2 hours or overnight allows the moisture to distribute evenly.
  • Whisk flour and baking powder together for even distribution, it is more effective than sifting.
  • Temperature is the major factor in getting cream to whip. Everything must be cold – cold cream, cold bowl, cold beaters and a cold room. To ensure that the cream is cold, you can add 2 tablespoons of finely crushed ice to the cream just before whipping.
  • Make sure your cake is completely cool before slicing it.
  • Store your baking powder or baking soda in an airtight container in a dry place to keep them potent.
  • Other than making a cake sweet sugar plays a very important role in baking. It holds moisture, contributes to texture, controls microbial activity and adds bulk to the cake, so think before leaving it out!
  • Chocolate needs lots of love and has to be stored correctly! If chocolate is kept at above 20 degrees C for a prolonged period of time, it blooms i.e. tiny amounts of fat and cocoa butter float to the top.
  • Stir chocolate constantly while melting to keep temperature even and to prevent separation.
  • Soak raisins in a sugar syrup one hour prior to using them. This limits the moisture they will absorb from the dough.
  • Do not wait for cookies to brown; instead remove from the oven once the sides start to brown.                                          
My basic tips for any home baker are:
  • Always read the recipe thoroughly and make sure you have all the ingredients measured  infront of you before you start.
  • It takes a while, but once you get used to baking do try to innovate and create new flavors and textures.
  • While making cupcakes I like to substitute 2 tablespoons of flour with almond powder or hazelnut powder. It gives a nice texture and keeps the cakes moist.
  • If the recipe calls for castor sugar, icing sugar will not work. It won't be able to hold the cake and you might end up with a sinking cake.
  • Lastly, have fun! There's nothing more exciting than playing around with ingredients and recipes to create something that's your own :)


  1. thanks for the are a good teacher

  2. Thanks for the tips! I love the almond powder tip for cupcakes.Surely must try!!


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