Recently a young friend, Aiswarya Prasad, followed one of my recipes to bake a cake. This was her first attempt at baking and I am honored that she followed a recipe from my blog. She messaged me asking some questions about it. I had written the usual recipe with beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy and I also told her not to beat it too much. She asked me how would she know when is the right time to stop. That got me thinking. When I started baking, I made many mistakes, including forgetting to add the butter (as I had left it in the microwave to soften), whipped the butter too much that it had curdled and had to start over.
Have you seen the episode on Schitts Creek about folding in the cheese? If you have not, you should watch it. It cracks me up every time. Below, I have explained how to ‘fold it in’.
So here are some tips for new bakers like Aiswarya. Keep baking!
1. Ingredients should be at room temperature
This is an important step which is never in a recipe. When you decide to bake, leave eggs, butter, milk or yogurt out for an hour or so to bring it to room temperature. If you forget to leave the butter out, you can put it in the microwave till softened, not melted. This is important.
2. Follow the recipe
When you are starting to bake follow the recipe. I still follow most recipes to a T. I may change and add some different spices, add some chocolate chips or coffee instead of water. But I follow the measurements exactly. Get a set of measuring cups. I still have some from 20 years ago.
3. Measure Properly
When measuring flour, spoon the flour into the measuring cup and using the back of a table knife level it off. Do not scoop flour directly as it will compact the flour.
4. Sift flour
Use a huge sieve or get a fancy sifter. I had a sifter but never used it. I prefer a large sieve. It not only removes any impurities, it breaks lumps and also aerates the flour.
5. Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy
What does this mean? How do you know when to stop? Here is a link which explains how to cream butter and sugar. Not only does it tell you how much but also why the butter should be at room temperature.
6. Do not over mix or under-mix
Make sure dry ingredients are incorporated with the wet ingredients. Do not over mix. Cakes are all about the air in the batter.
7. What does folding mean?
Folding means combining a lighter mixture to a heavier mixture and gently mix retaining the air in the dough. The technique is to use a spoon to lift both the mixtures and turning them to combine. Here is an explanation from Cooks Illustrated. Here is a website with pictures on how to fold.
8. Butter your pans well
Butter your pans well so the cake does not stick. You could use parchment paper at the bottom so you are sure it will not stick.
8. Taking sticky ingredients out of measuring cups
If a recipe calls for honey, maple syrup or peanut butter for instance; make sure you oil your measuring cup first. If the recipe calls for oil or regular butter, I first measure oil in my measuring cup and then measure the sticky ingredient, the honey will flow out of the measuring cup with ease.
9. Once you put the cake in, do not open the oven door till the very end.
If you open the oven door, it lets in cool air, the oven temperature changes and this causes your cake to deflate.
10. Toothpick test
Before taking it out of the oven, use a toothpick or a skewer and check if it done. Stick a toothpick or skewer at the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean, it is done. You can also tap lightly at the centre of the cake, it should be firm to your touch and have a slight spring.
11. Cool the cake before you slice
This is the hard part. Most of the time, my kids are out when I take the cake out, ready for a piece. Sometimes I can’t wait either.
12. Do not follow the above for brownies and muffins
If you read recipes for brownies and muffins they specifically say mix till combined. Muffins recipes say combine or fold gently; overmixing ruins the texture. Brownies are supposed to be dense and therefore do not overmix.