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Cake Ingredient Science

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Linda Larsen
Cake batters are precise combinations of ingredients; in fact, a scratch cake recipe can be considered a scientific formula. The ingredients are combined in a certain way to form the structure of the cake. Scratch cakes formulas include shortened cakes (including pound cake), foam cakes, and a one-bowl method, which uses either solid shortening or oil. Cakes made with mixes can be just as good as scratch cakes, especially if ingredients like finely chopped chocolate or sour cream are added to the mix.

Some cake recipes call for cake or pastry flour. This is a flour that is grown especially to have a low protein content. Remember, that low-protein equals low gluten content equals more tenderness. If you can't find cake flour, or want to bake a cake but don't have any on hand, you can make your own. Put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in a 1 cup measure, then add enough flour to fill the cup. Level off the top. Sift this mixture together, then measure it again to use in the recipe.

Preparing the pan is crucial. You can grease the pan with solid shortening or UNsalted butter and dust with flour, or you can make your own pan coating mix by beating together 1 cup solid shortening (not butter flavored, NOT butter or margarine) with 1/2 cup flour. Store this in the fridge and use it to grease your pans. If you use salted butter or margarine to grease a pan, the cake will stick, guaranteed. I've recently become enamored of the nonstick sprays that contain flour; they work really well.

Shortened Cakes

These cakes are based on a combination of fat and sugar, combined by creaming. The sugar crystals create tiny holes in the shortening, which will be filled by carbon dioxide and steam when the cake is baked. This is called aerating the fat. Flour and eggs provide structure with proteins and starches, which coagulate in heat, setting the structure in tiny bubbles around the CO2 and steam. This is the basic method for making traditional shortened cakes:

  • Cream together the butter or other fat and sugar.
  • Add eggs and liquid flavorings; beat well.
  • Sift flour with leavening ingredients, salt, and dry flavorings.
  • Alternately add the flour and liquid to the fat/sugar/egg mixture, making sure the ingredients are combined before adding the next ingredient. The dry ingredients are usually divided into fourths; the liquid into thirds. So if a cake calls for 2 cups of flour and 1 cup of liquid, you would add 1/4 cup of flour, then beat the mixture so the flour disappears. Then add 1/3 cup of liquid, and beat the mixture until the liquid disappears. Continue in this matter, making sure you begin and end with dry ingredients.

Go to the next page to learn about foam cakes, chiffon cakes, and one bowl cakes.

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