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03 February 2009

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Shuna I have only recently started to read your blogs and have become somewhat inspired by them. Thank you for this post in particular. I am an avid home cake baker and this has given me an understanding of the process that I really didn't have before.

WOW! I wish you had been my instructor when I was at pastry school.

Thank you.

thank you so so much for this thorough detailed foray into all things cake. i've often wondered about some of the things you mention.
in the flat we're in at present i'm absolutely plagued by less than room temp butter. can't seem to get it warm enough to work with. i considered using the pilot light in the oven and sticking it in there, or even microwave but think that might just melt it.
any advice?
i'm also interested in what you think about these silicone baking vessels. have you had to adjust cooking times for them? do you still use parchment to line them?
i made a carrot cake for ms. k's photo class and had to DOUBLE the time in the oven. after the first hour it was still molten.
also is the reason no-flour cakes, like chocolate hazlenut work because of the egg whites?

*Takes notes*

You take Stages?

Thank you

Roberto, Yes. Stagieres welcome-- if you're serious, I'll give you an address to send a CV. ~ Shuna

Odd. Very odd. Elise at Simply Recipes sent me here because, well, I am known as a "Meat and Fish Guy" and not a baker. But I do make a Guinness and molasses beer bread for breakfast every now and again. Mine has never (famous last words) ever fallen, and I DEFINITELY lack the exactitude of a serious baker. I use an old tin loaf pan, cold beer, self-rising flour, molasses and sugar. Bake at 350 for an hour (or so), and it's done. Top with butter while it's still hot. I add a dash of baking powder if the flour is real old.

Reading your post, this sounds like a recipe for falling cakes, yet it never happens. Is there something in my ignorance that is protecting me?

What a fantastic and riveting post! Having just seen my last two attempts sink, I will put this knowledge to good use for the next one. Thanks hugely!

Who knew a lesson in food chemistry could include a whiff of poetry? Beautiful post.

For those fragile cakes that need as much warm surface to grow against there is always the option of increasing the surface area the cake batter can hug--use a pan with a central cone like an angle food pan but not that high--what they call a rice ring here. Or use a glass or porcelein cup which you place in the middle of the pan. I've never seen a fallen gingerbread. I use baking soda with cakes with yoghurt or buttermilk or sour milk with great success. There are also excellent cakes with no butter in them at all.
Check your egg sizes when baking since certain recipes from the 1940's and 50's in the US use medium eggs while more modern books often use large eggs.
Don't forget altitude. There are official adjustments for levening agents if one is baking in Salt Lake (high altitude)or in the Netherlands (below sea level). I used to read the conversions on packaged mixes and adjust my home recipes as instructed by the professionals.
Did win prizes with my cakes so guess they qualify as ok. Have enjoyed making forms to bake typewriter cakes, computer program cakes, dragons and dinos and whatever a heart could wish for.
You can get your butter to room temp by "defrosting"it for 30 sec at a time in a microwave oven. You can warm cold eggs is a cup of warm water for a few minutes. Make certain by seperating your eggs that there is no yolk in the whites.

Do you have only one good mixer and a broken arm like I do now then beat your eggwhites in the grease free bowl then move them into another bowl and beat the butter etc.
Try baking your recipe in a friend's oven where cakes seem to work and see if it is your oven that is causing the failures. A badly adjusted oven can produse chard baked goods which are runny on the inside.
Read the list in older cookbooks about why cakes fail to rise etc.
Preheat your oven. Just do it. It wastes less energy than that spent shopping and mixing and having the cake fail after all that work.

Double acting baking powder works twice: once in the bowl when the ingredients get wet and a second time in the oven when the batter responds to heat. Mix it and bake it.

For bread/cakes like banana bread where the crust is so devine, you can bake the batter in buttered muffin tins and have lots more crust. Then you bake for about 35 minutes instead of 55 minutes.

If a recipe like muffins indicates that it can be over mixed, they mean it. With a fork for max 25 stirs does not mean get in the electric mixer and try for smooth batter. Don't do it.

The texture of bread and cake are not supposed to be the same but I am living in the Netherlands where cake is what I call pound cake and much of the rest is called koek (like cook of cookie). Often it has more the texture of bread.

Holly Troubetzkoy, March 21, 2009

Sugar has a great deal of influence on the quality of the finished product. Here in Europe the most common sugar is crystal sugar which is quite coarse. Here fine sugar is not called granulated or castor sugar but is bastard sugar. White or brown. It is much finer. There is of course also powdered sugar which usually contains some starch. Fine sugar creams much better than course sugar. IT is possible to make your sugar finer in the blender. Doing this in a plastic container can scratch the plastic (like a mini sand storm).

The logic of baking soda with chocolate and yoghurt and buttermilk and sour milk and molasses is that the soda is basic and the acidic ingredients are the acid that makes the reaction take place which releases the gas bubbles which make you baked good rise.

Baking powder has soda and an acid combined in the powder. When it becomes moist it begins to release the gas.

Yeast is a small plant and when it is moistened and fed it gives of CO2 like a tree-- that gas is what makes levened bread levened. Yeast grows best in a warm environmnet.

If you think that honey can be substituted into all recipes you may be facing a great deal of dark crusted attempts. Honey can be used instead of other sweet syrups like cane syrup and molasses. The character of the flavor will be different. There are some good honey cook books which have tested recipes which work well with honey.[no honey for small babies ]

If you have a cake or bread recipe which has a too light crust (my sour dough bread) adding a bit of honey will help it brown better. Honey provides fructose. If you bake or boil honey you will kill the enzymes (say I the bee keeper). Keep your honey pots covered because honey attracts moisture our of the air.

Holly Troubetzkoy

Ok...I feel empowered!
Yellow cake here I come!
Thank you....

Cake sounds like a tender and sweet but temperamental best friend. This entry gives me the courage to try my hand at baking a cake.

I am a professional but untrained (self taught) baker. I make nearly 100 cakes a week from home and until recently had little or no problems. Now, my victoria sponges are all sinking in the middle HELP! chocolate etc are fine. I haven't changed a thing. Any ideas?

hello Jenny, If you're using self-raising flour, sometimes the leaveners in them 'die,' or get very weak. There are a number of reasons your cakes are sinking though. Maybe your oven is unwell. Or the pan size is too small/batter is too tight/much? Sometimes, cakes, like us, go through phases, like moods. But usually it's an outside factor like the pan, the oven, the flour/leavener.

If you can give me any more specifics I might be able to guess more specifically... ~ Shuna

Hi Shuna, when i bake cupcakes it looks beautiful while it is in the oven. after it is done I take it out of the oven and let it cool, it flops. And the top is wet or too moist. Why is it? i cream butter and sugar until smooth then add dry alternately with liquid. start with dry and end with dry. where did i go wrong?

Hello Elke, I don't know the recipe you're using and so I can't say whether you have too much of one thing or not enough of another, but it sounds like there's a lot of air in your batter and maybe not a high enough oven temperature. Have you ever taken this same batter and baked a full cake with it? Do you still have the same issues?

I know it's not comforting to hear, but every recipe, every ingredient, every oven, every cake, has a different something it can be. One day the cream is thin, the next day it's thick. One day your oven runs true, the next week it's cold. See what I mean?

Line up your recipe next to others and see the difference. A moist top comes from a lot of fat &/or sugar and/or eggs in the recipe. If you want to send me more information I might be able to make better educated guesses. Good luck! ~ Shuna

Hi Shuna,

I made a chocolate cake yesterday using a recipe that I have used many times before and has previously worked perfectly. Unfortunately it turned out rather disappointing and I was wondering if you could figure out why. The cake rose well in the oven although it started cracking towards the end, and then it sank after taking it out of the oven. There is a dense layer just above the bottom crust. I made the cake in the same way I have always made it but as I have moved overseas, I have a new oven and baking tin. Can you help?

Hello Su, Baking in another country poses many a challenge. What country do you hail from and what country are you in now? Are you at high elevation or close to sea level? What country is your wheat grown in? Where is your butter produced? Answer these and it will begin to help me suss out your main issues. Great question! ~ Shuna

Hi Shuna,

I moved from Perth, Australia to Dubai, UAE. The wheat and eggs are local and the butter is Lurpak which is what I use back home. I'm starting to doubt my skills now as I have just baked a Lumberjack cake (also another recipe that has always worked in the past) and the same has happened - aah!

Hello Su, This is a really hard one, for me, because I am unfamiliar with UAE. It sounds like you have really different flour-- not as strong = not as much gluten as you're used to. Go into a bakery you trust (aren't there some Baker & Spice's there?) and show the recipes to a baker inside and see what they say. Or just look for recipes from Dubai that are similar and start from there. Or contact the company that mills or grows or distributes the flour there and ask them for as much information as you can, and then compare it to what the flour people in Australia tell you.

I wrote a little something about the flour in Britain... which might help, or at least arm you with new questions to ask.

Lastly I would make sure your oven is as hot as it should be. Sometimes when cakes don't get enough heat at the beginning of their baking time they don't have the push that's needed to help them rise, and stay risen. I really hope all this helps. I so know the frustration with which you speak and I wish I could be there to help you get a cake you love. Nothing welcomes you home more than baked goods you know and love. :} ~ Shuna

Betty Novack
The angst this causes time after time has got to stop.
Please look at this recipe for Honey Cake (traditional) and tell me what I can change without changing the resulting cake.
This recipe bakes and rises beautifully. But about 10 minutes before it should be finished it sinks to the bottom.Could it be the ingredients, I measure precisely, and everything is fresh, eggs are room temp. I so would appreciate an answer.
3 1/2 c. sifted all purp. flour
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 c. sugar
4 med. eggs
2 c. buckwheat honey
4 t. corn oil
1/4 c. brewed coffee
1/c chopped walnuts
1/2 t. cinnamon
ingredients put together as usual
dry sifted tog. eggs beaten, add sugar beat etill light. Add honey & oil, Mix in flour. bake 300 deg.
1 hour in 2 loaf pans.
Thanks for any help

Hello Betty, My own experience with honey cakes is limited but I do know that they come with a myriad of issues! They sink. They need to be in the oven far longer than you think or than most cakes need to. They look a little funny when they're done.

The first thing I would change in the recipe is I would take out at least 1 cup, maybe more, of that honey and replace the oil with butter. There are not enough 'solids' in your recipe to support the liquids. When a cake batter is liquid = pourable, it needs to find structure somewhere-- eggs or flour. Also, different sugars have different amounts of acid in them, which keep batters soft & cakes moist, but the more acid a batter has in it, the less likely it is to 'set up' strong & solid in the oven.

In this recipe you have honey, which is high in acid, and coffee, which is high too. Honey also has enzymes which stay active before, during & after baking. It doesn't seem possible, but it's true. I once tried & tried to make a honey pot de creme and every time it liquified after baking & setting! Honey is wild. Even when it's not.

So I would expect some trouble when it comes to a recipe like this. Not that you should give up, but that you should change your expectations. Best of luck--- thanks for reading & commenting & questioning on eggbeater! ~ Shuna

Hi,
I am having difficulty with this Devils Food Cake recipe. I use room temperature eggs, sift the dry, scrape the bowl, and still they do not poof! I am at my wits end! Can you help?? I have never made a cake recipe where you combine the butter with the dry, and then add the liquid..

1 1/4c cake flour
1c 2T. sugar
1/3c cocoa powder
3/4t. baking soda
1/4t. salt
3 oz butter - room temp

3/4c 2T. buttermilk
1 egg
1 yolk
1t. vanilla

We refrigerate it overnight, before using it. Help! Thank you so much!

Hi,
I am having difficulty with this Devils Food Cake recipe. I use room temperature eggs, sift the dry, scrape the bowl, and still they do not poof! I am at my wits end! Can you help?? I have never made a cake recipe where you combine the butter with the dry, and then add the liquid..

1 1/4c cake flour
1c 2T. sugar
1/3c cocoa powder
3/4t. baking soda
1/4t. salt
3 oz butter - room temp

3/4c 2T. buttermilk
1 egg
1 yolk
1t. vanilla

We refrigerate it overnight, before using it.
Help! Thank you so much!

Hello Jessica, thank you for your question. I have a number of thoughts--

One: this is not a Devil's Food Cake recipe. DFC {as I like to call it} gets its rise from a hot acidic liquid mixed with baking soda. It is not, generally, a 'creaming method' cake. Some of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible recipes follow the method you're speaking of and, while they work, I agree that because we don't usually do it that way, they can be challenging.

If you need a DFC recipe, here is mine.

It appears that your recipe does not have enough leavener/leavening power for all the liquid & dries it's trying to hold up. You could add more eggs, that might help... But truth be told, sometimes there are recipes that do not work for us & we have to give up on them. I try not to take it personal, but just move on.

Also, when a batter is refrigerated, it gets heavier. I have a banana cake recipe that is a cake on the first day and a bread on its second day. So I hope this helps. My DFC recipe works really well and is very adaptible-- and because the batter is liquid, it can sit for a few hours and still get the same rise. Good luck! ~ Shuna

Hi Shuna,
I tried the Hersheys Black Magic Cake, but they sunk in the middle. Most of the reviews in that and other sites were very good, that's why I ventured into trying it. They specifically say that batter is thin. I have followed the recipe exactly also used the pan size mentioned. Any idea what could have gone wrong.

Hello Shaina, To me it looks like the baking soda & powder have a lot of work to do. Make sure both are as fresh as possible. The make sure your oven is completely preheated and do not move the cakes at all until they are 'set.'

My Devil's Food Cake recipe is very similar and it needs a. a lot of time in the oven un-disturbed, b. batter can not overfill baking vessel & c. likes still ovens over convection ones.

I hope this helps-- thanks for reading & asking a question! ~ Shuna

Hello Shuna,
I have a problem with cakes sinking uniformly (more like cake compressing uniformly all around) when I bake in glass pyrex pans. It happened when I baked this olive oil cake.


I did beat the oil and sugar till well incorporated (about 4 minutes till light) I poured the batter into 8.5 *4.5 loaf pyrex glass pan till half full and baked it. It looked like it rose well in the pan not enough, just ok.

i rotated the loaf pan halfway through. after it was done, I removed the loaf pan to a cooling rack and watched the cake sink uniformly all around. It looked like it was compressing to half of its original size. I could see a thick layer of fat (butter or oil) in the bottom of the cake when I sliced it.
Could you please advise:
1) why do my cakes compress when i cool them (after baking in glass ware)?
2)when it compresses why does a thick layer of fat/oil/butter appear at the bottom?

thanks for all your help.

Jayne, your question, and recipe link, is a complicated affair. First of all I might question the recipe--- there's a lot of liquids there and not much to keep them afloat, ie eggs or leaveners.

Secondly I'm wondering why you want to bake this unruly mixture in glass. I'm guessing you have a harder time getting this cake out of glass than you would a traditional baking tin... Yes?

The first thing I would do is get attached to a recipe sight you love & trust. My three favorites have never steered me wrong. I go to Simply Recipes, 101 Cookbooks & Smitten Kitchen for all my American ingredient recipes and The British Larder and Dan Lepard for British & European ingredients based recipes.

My point being that unless you trust the person, the recipe & the source you are taking a chance every time you bake.

But to the questions at hand: your cake rose & fell because it did not have enough structure to keep itself up once out of the oven. Think of baking like this: the mixing & the oven blow up a balloon together, but if the balloon is made of paper or soap, rather than wood or glue, it will collapse once it is out of the oven. Also baking a recipe that makes a liquid batter in a baking vessel made out of something like glass, which is a poor heat conductor, does not help matters any.

If I were to to make one change in this recipe I would start with room temp eggs, whisk them well, add my sugar until I get 'ribbon' stage & then, on high speed, a little at a time, get in all my oil-- hoping beyond hope for an emulsion, and then go dry, wet, dry, wet, dry with my dry ingredients & the juice. Then I would put my baking tin on a baking sheet and I would not move it at all while it baked, but I would watch it closely. Good Luck next time! ~ Shuna

Shuna, I learn something new every time I read this post. Thank you for sharing your talent and knowledge in such delightful prose. My current home has a never-still oven, even on the still setting, but it's a happy oven and so far everything is rising beautifully, especially the sourdough. Sure makes me miss the wood stove on my farm, though -- I liked the non-electric, quiet, fan-free form of heat.

We're all on diets lately so I've been having fun baking unsweetened corn-based cakes for the local birds, incorporating refried beans and yogurt to increase the nutrition value. It is interesting to push a traditionally sweet cake in a savory direction.

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