Cakes – The mere word itself will bring a lot of brightness in kids and adults. Once I used to be like that. I used to be super excited if some one talked about making cakes and if I pass a bakery, I used to love that heavenly smell and for that I would stand at that spot for 5-10 minutes. I never thought I would bake cakes in my life and surprisingly I have baked a lot of cakes in the past four years.
I have gone through lots of experiments, 60% failures and 40% success stories. But still I love to try new recipes and see how they turn out. Any failure in life is supposed to be a step toward success. If you succeed the first time, you will never know what to do when a recipe fails and will never understand the reason behind it. But if you succeed after some failures, each failure teaches you a lesson which you will never repeat again. I wanted to share all my failures with you along with the reasons so that you don’t have to go through that failure at all.
First let us see what are the do’s and don’ts while baking a cake:
Always preheat oven to the suggested degree. Make sure of the unit used for the temperature. Mostly Indian ovens have Celsius markings whereas US ovens have Fahrenheit. So most of the online recipes will give you Fahrenheit temperatures. Make sure to convert it into Celsius and then set it in your oven. Oven temperatures vary from oven to oven and it would be wise to invest in an oven thermometer. Switch on the oven and let it heat for 10-15 minutes. This is called preheating. Once the inside temperature of the oven comes to the suggested temperature, you can place your prepared batter in the oven.
Make sure to measure all the ingredients as per the recipe. While baking a cake accuracy is much needed. If the recipe says 1/2 cup of milk, add only 1/2 cup and not more than that. If it asks you to add one teaspoon of baking powder, then add one teaspoon, not less and not more. Baking a cake is not like cooking. In cooking we just add ingredients as per our taste, but for a cake the measuring should be accurate.
Invest in a weighing scale, measuring cups and spoons. This will make baking easier.
Always sift your dry ingredients twice or thrice.
If the recipe asks you to cream butter and sugar for five minutes, set a timer and beat for five minutes. This is the base for a spongy cake.
Make sure to use the perfect sized tin for the cake. If it is too small, you will end up with overflowed batter and if too large, then you will end up with a thin cake.
The batter should fill 2/3 rd of the cake tin, so that there is enough room to rise with out over flowing.
Always grease and line a cake tin. I prefer greasing with butter (I hate to grease the tin with oil) and dusting with flour or you can use goop/ pan release ( click on link for homemade version). Lining a tin is very important. Even though you grease the tin, your cake may stick in the base of the tin which will result in broken cakes. If you line the base with a butter paper, the cake slides out of the tin with out any problem. SO never feel lazy to grease and line a tin to avoid wastage.
Baking is the next important step in the cake preparation. Place the cake tin in the middle rack unless specified.
Do not open the oven door for the first 20 minutes. Any variation in the temperature because of open door will cause your cake to collapse.
If after 30 minutes, the cakes starts to brown too fast, place a piece of aluminium foil on the tin (this is called as tenting) and close the oven. This will prevent the top from turning black.
Once the suggested time is over, open oven and insert a sharp knife or a skewer stick in the centre of the cake. Insert it straight and not at any angle. Pull it out. If the stick is clean, then your cake is done. If there are crumbs or batter sticking to it, then you need to bake the cake for another 5 minutes before testing it again.
Once it comes clean, transfer the tin from the oven to a wire rack. Do not flip it immediately. The cake which is fresh out of oven is very soft and if you flip it immediately, it will collapse (many of you might have gone through this)
Let the tin sit on the wire rack for 5 minutes. You will see the cake shrinking and pulling away from the sides. It will also firm up a little which is enough to hold the shape without crumbling.
Run a knife along the sides of the cake. Any portion of the cake sticking to the sides need to be loosened so that it comes out of the tin in a single piece. Do this gently.
Place a towel on the counter and place the tin on the towel. Now place the wire rack upside down on the cake tin. Now holding the towel along with the tin and rack, flip the whole set up and place on the counter. Do it gently and cautious. If you somehow come in contact with the hot tin, there is 90% chance of the tin slipping away to the floor (it has happened to me so many times)
Give a gentle tap on the base of the tin and remove the tin. Remove the butter paper carefully. Allow the cake to cool completely before handling it.
Once cool, wrap the cake in two or three layers of cling wrap and store in refrigerator until firm. Now you cake is ready for frosting.
So if a cake has problems, you need to adjust the recipe the next time. The baked cake can never be troubleshooted. If the cake is edible but has loosen shape, you can use it to make pops or trifle. But if it is inedible then just throw it away and start fresh. Now let us look at some problems and solutions to those problems:
Cake rises to peak in oven but after sometime falls back:
This problem happens to me often whenever I try making an eggless cake with a recipe which uses eggs.
There is too much liquid or leavening agent in the batter. Make sure to reduce the liquid or leavening agent next time.
Too less flour can also cause this problem. Try to add some extra flour.
See if you have measured all the ingredients according to the recipe if following one.
The Top of Cake Cracks Too Much:
This may be due to thick batter or very little liquid.
If there is too much leavening agent then it will cause the cracks.
Try adding a little liquid to the batter and lessen the amount of baking powder/ baking soda.
Very Thin, Soft and Crumbly Cake:
If the butter or oil content is more than necessary, the resulting cake will be too soft to handle and will not rise at all.
Reduce the fat content and try again.
The Cake Sinks in the centre:
This may be due to opening of oven door within the first 20 minutes.
If the oven temperature is too low it may cause the cake to fall in the centre.
If you have accidentally bumped your cake during baking. Some times the cake will look perfectly baked and you may insert a toothpick or skewer to check for doneness. If at that time, it is under-baked, the pricking will cause the cake to fall.
Very Dry Cake:
You have over-baked the cake. Try to reduce the baking time the next time. To salvage the dry cake, try brushing/ sprinkling the cake with sugar syrup. Allow the cake to absorb the syrup which will make it soft and moist.
Uneven Cake Top:
The batter was not spread evenly. Next time use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly in the tin.
Though domed cake looks great if served as it is, there will be a lot of wastage is you are frosting it. To avoid wastage, use a cake strip. You don’t have to invest in costly cake strips. Cut a strip of turkey towel so that it fits neatly around the pan. Soak it in cold water and remove any extra water form the towel. It should be moist and not dripping wet. Once the batter is inside the tin, wrap the moist towel strip around the pan and secure with a pin. Now bake the cake and you will be amazed at the perfect level cake.
Lumps of Flour in a Cake:
This is mainly because of under mixing the batter. Any lumps of flour which doesn’t get mixed to the batter will stay raw even after you bake the cake. And the result is not at all pleasing. Make sure to fold in the flour with a spatula evenly into the butter mixture.
This is because of high sugar content in the batter. Next time try to reduce the amount of sugar.
IF you wrap the cake when still warm, it will develop a sticky crust. So wait until it is fully cool before wrapping.
Some times the cake will have a crispy crust which is due to the sugar accumulating on the top. If you are trying to make batter for two cakes at a time and you can accomodate only one pan in the oven, the other pan needs to wait outside until the first cake is done. By this waiting period, the sugar in the batter will start accumulating on the top and this cake will end with a crispy crust. To avoid this, you fill one pan at a time and leave the rest of the batter in the mixing bowl. Cover with cling. When it is time to bake the second cake, fold the batter with a spatula to evenly distribute the sugar and then pour it into the tin. Now bake and it will be good.
Dark Crusted Cake:
If the pan used it too small for the amount of batter used, then the top will be exposed to more heat and will darken quickly. Use an aluminum foil to tent the cake while baking to avoid burning on top.
If the cake tin is too large for the batter used, then there will not be enough heat in the pan which will in-turn result in a paler cake. Try using the correct sized tin for the batter.
So I think I will stop here. I have been writing this post for quite a few days thinking of each and every point. I might have missed a few but if you have any, then do post it in comments. I will be glad to add it to the post. Hope this post is useful for you if you are a beginner in cake baking. Happy Baking!!!