Monday, June 16, 2008

Bake Easy – Secrets To Making Mouthwatering Cakes

If you have felt inspired to try baking on your own, even if you are novice, let me share a little secret with you. Baking is not difficult. Now repeat that after me. It is so easy even a caveman could do it. So I thought I should do a post and share some baking tips with you that I have learned from baking pros to some (very inedible) experiments from my own kitchen. Nothing comes close to the smell of freshly baked bread or muffins or cake wafting through your home and nothing tastes better than freshly baked anything.

You don’t need a recipe
If you don’t want to look up recipes every now and then to bake a simple butter cake (also called Madeira or Pound cake), invest in a reliable pair of kitchen scales and remember this rule.

Weight of eggs = Weights of Butter = Weight of Sugar = Weight of Flour.

Weigh, mix and bake, and you got cake. A large egg weighs about 60-65 grams. 3 eggs would be ~180 gms. So our recipe can be something like this-

Simple Butter Cake
3 eggs
¾ cup butter (1.5 sticks, ~180gms)
¾ cup castor sugar (~180 gms)
1.5 cup Flour (~180 gms)
1.5 tsp baking powder (rule : 1 tsp per cup of flour and for this cake, it is optional.)
¼ cup milk (optional. This is our insurance. Butter varies widely in its water content, so you might just need some milk to thin the batter. Want to see if your butter has high water content? Let is sit on the counter for some time. If it sweats you have butter with high water content, so you won’t need as much liquid)
2 tsp vanilla (for butter cake), almond (for pound cake) or lemon (for Madeira cake). Remember to use good quality extracts, not essences – it makes a world of difference.
1 tsp salt.

Grease your pan with butter and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Butter cakes are cream cakes. Meaning, you cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Hand mixer or stand mixer work well. Add eggs one at a time and mix until just mixed. Whisk (or even sift, if the four is too compacted) together with salt and (optional) baking powder. Add the flour in small batches and mix lightly (called folding in baker-ese). Add milk in tablespoon increments if required. Do not over mix. Over mixing will encourage formation of gluten strings that will make the cake chewy, not soft. That’s not nice.

Bake times vary by the pan you are using. Smaller pans will reduce bake time. So if you pour the batter into cupcake moulds, delicious cupcakes will be ready in about 25 minutes. A 9” round will take about 35 mins. A dark pan will take more time, a light-colored pan (such as aluminum) will take less time. So bake times are only a suggestion. Change your pan and you have to adjust for that. If you are just starting out down the baking road, and don’t want to invest in professional grade pans –and I will always tell you to buy professional grade pans, please don’t buy cheap, thin pans - use glass pans like Pyrex or Corning everyone has at home. A glass pie dish works rather nicely. But, reduce your oven temperature to 325F. If you don’t have muffin pans, use steel katories. They work nicely too. But adjust baking times.

The above recipe will make about 4.5 - 5 cups of batter. Enough for a 9 inch round pan or a 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. So there you have it. A versatile butter cake that will taste and smell like real cake. Not faceless versions you make out of a box.

Add chopped nuts, or other spices like all spice or ginger and you have made yourself a tasty variation.

Now on to what I think is everybody’s favorite cake. Chocolate. Again, I am not just going to give out a recipe. But will make changes to the formula above.

Weight of eggs = Weights of Butter = Weight of Sugar = Weight of Flour + Cocoa.

Point to remember. Natural Cocoa is acidic. You can buy (alkalized) Dutch Processed Cocoa which is less acidic, darker and mellower and a lot of European cocoa makers like Valhrona and Droste (my favorite) only make alkalized cocoa and is popular in European baking. But we’ll just stick to regular cocoa for now (Hersheys and Ghirardellis). Cocoa will also dry out cakes, so some extra liquid is needed. Also the full flavor of cocoa can be better released by boiling it in water and this tastes a lot better than just adding cocoa to the flour. So, we will modify our formula above to make a chocolate cake. Baking powder which was optional before is no longer optional since we need an alkali (baking powder is baking soda + cream of tartar) to neutralize the acidic cocoa.

Simple Chocolate Cake
3 eggs
¾ cup butter (1.5 sticks, ~180gms)
¾ cup castor sugar (~180 gms)
¾ cup Flour (~90 gms)
¾ cup Cocoa (~90 gms)
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 cup boiling water (You can mix cocoa in milk for a mellower cake or in strong brewed coffee for a mocha version)
2 tsp vanilla extract.
1 tsp salt.

Follow directions for butter cake. Except in the end, mix cocoa with boiling water and mix it in with the batter. The batter will be thinner than butter cake batter, but chocolate cake batter need to be thinner since cocoa is a drying agent. Also don’t over bake chocolate cakes. If the cake leaves the side of pans, it is too well done and will come out dry.

So gather your aprons and mitts and give these cakes a try. I guarantee, once you have tasted a real cake made with natural ingredients, you will never look at Betty Crocker again. And if you all are further interested, we can visit making allergen free cakes and sponges next time. Or even pies and scones and muffins and yeast breads – which again is a different chemistry.

I looked at my post counter while posting this and saw this is the 150th post. So the sweet treat is a fitting one :)


Suki said...

Thank you Dottie, thank you thank you! I think you just inspired me to get back to baking.

So... mixing in the butter and sugar together is what does the trick. I think I used to overmix which is why the cake didn't rise as well! (Somewhere down the line I just.. got it right. And then lost touch again)

K 3 said...

Swwwweeet!!! Congrats on 150, heres to many more and what a way to celebrate.

You sure do have some great talent. Can you post about the cake decorations too? I think that's one thing that puts me off to baking. Not sure if I have the talent (like yours truly) ;)

rayshma said...

congratsss!!! :)
what purrfect timing, eh?! ;)
now off i go to experiment... shall update thee tomorrow... ur fellow bull should be completely surprised! :D

ddmom said...

Thanks for sharing. Any tips on the icing? Is there a magic formula just like the measurement of eggs, butter and flour to get the picture perfect design?? Tell me yes, please!

K 3 said...


Preethi said...

aah.. I use the cake mix!! thats as far as my culinary skills go.. but you are inspiring me.. esp when you say "so easy..."
I will try.. next time I go to the store, I am going ballistic!! And congrats on 150 posts... make it a 200 soon :)

Vinita said...

Congratulations on 150. The chocolate icing on your cake looks so delicious and so do the leaves and the animals. what did you use for those. I am not very fond of icing but your chocolate covering looks so delicious.


Mira's mom said...


I started baking very recently - excited about your chocolate cake. Will surely give it a shot!

Random Vignettes said...

Oh man...this is inspiring..bring on some more D..

I love Lucy said...

Though I bake often,I wasn't aware of these simple proportions!
Thank you,Dots!!That was a real nice thing you did :)

DotThoughts said...

suki: am soo gladd suki, let me know how they turn out!

k3: thanks.. just posted on cake decoration.

rayshma: I hope you oth enjoy the cake!

ddmom: icing is easy.. just posted recipes.

preethi: It is very very easy. I guarantee you will never go back to those mixes again.

Vinita: I used Marshmallow Fondant. Just posted recipe and tips

mira's mom: and do let me know how you like it! Happy Baking.

RV: go get some baking sone, woman :)

I love lucy: I am glad you found them useful. This was one of the first things I learnt while learning to bake.

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

I'm truly inspired now! I have the same recipe as yours (equal proportions), minus the salt (and I use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract for each egg). Gosh, I can't believe I still remember that off of the top of my head!
Will prolly make an attempt sometime (or maybe I'll come running to you)

Poppins said...

Thanks Dottie, that is so so nice of you. Am off to bake a chocolate cake right now. Will let you know how it goes..

DotThoughts said...

gnd: don't skip the salt. It gives a nice balance to te cake. brings out the sweetness.

poppy: lemme know how it goes :)