Isn't it frustrating when the cake you're baking for a special occasion majorly flops because one of the following cake scenarios turn up:
• Sunk in the middle
• Overly dry
• Unevenly cooked
• Borderline burnt on top yet raw in the middle
• Too dense
• Potholes run through it like it's a crumpet
• Flat as a pancake yet the texture is just right
Then you think, do I still have time to run to Whole Foods, Costco or a nearby bakery to redeem myself for being the sole cake provider, who is currently without an edible cake?
Before running to the store, let's explore why your cake tastes like sh*t.
1) You didn't respect the order.
Recipes are always written in the order that they should be mixed in.
When a recipe tells you to mix the wet and dry ingredients in two separate bowls before combining, there's a reason. The alternating wet and dry method creates air bubbles in your batter. Gradually adding the dry ingredients to the wet keeps those bubbles from popping, while the dump n' stir method does the exact opposite.
While we're on the topic, you should also respect the comma.
For example, if the recipe reads "one cup flour, sifted" that means the flour should be sifted AFTER measuring. However, if it reads "one cup sifted flour" that mean the flour should be sifted BEFORE measuring.
2) You rushed the process.
As cliché as it may sound it's true that if you rush the baking process you can taste it in the final product. If you take your time, you can taste that too, it's called deliciousness.
If you have an hour to bake, yet it'll probably take you closer to an hour and a half, then do it when you have that extra half hour.
Baking sometimes requires adding ingredients one at a time or a little at a time, (eggs or egg replacer for example), or mixing for a solid few minutes, or using only room temperature ingredients -- all these steps make a difference. So relax, have a cup of coffee or a drink, play that new Tribe Called Quest album (because it's amazing) and use this baking time as 'me' time. And no one likes to rush 'me' time.
3) You took shortcuts.
There's a rule to this, adding a handful of nuts, chocolate chips or toasted spices to your batter is perfectly fine. Switching out white sugar for agave syrup is not. Substitutes are exactly what they sound like-substitutions for the preferred ingredient, so don't expect the same taste or texture as the original recipe. I would avoid this, unless you know the science behind baking or you have the time to experiment.
Don't let your experimental substitution cake be the one you present at a friend's get together, hoping to score points. I'll school you on substitutions in another post.
4) You're not measuring your ingredients.
Baking is delicate and not forgiving. Adding too much flour makes your cake taste dry, while too much liquid makes your cake taste dense. Messing up your measurements is a sure fire way to end up with a face that expresses something is so off in this cake.
Stop with the guesswork and just measure sh*t out properly with measuring cups and spoons.
5) You don't know the difference between beating/ folding/ creaming/ whipping.
Here's your quick and dirty glossary:
Beating: The goal is to add air into the mixture until it's smooth, by stirring very fast.
If you go the manual route, you're looking at beating eggs with a whisk for 15-30 minutes, followed by a sore arm as a result. Using an electric hand mixer or a standing mixer just makes things easier.
Folding: You're trying to gently combine the delicate mixture without deflating it, by using a spatula to fold from the bottom of the bowl and up and over the top, repeating this process until combined. This is always done by hand.
Creaming: The point is to create a light, creamy, fluffy texture by mixing staples like butter and sugar together.
Whipping: You want to create soft peaks by incorporating air into the mix, think light eggs or whipped cream.
Mixing: If the recipe says "mix batter until combined" you should stop mixing as soon as you can't see the raw ingredients anymore.
What happens if you overbeat/ fold/ cream/ whip?
Beat: Dense, chewy, tough
Fold: Deflate peaks
Cream: Stiff and grainy
Whip: Liquid separated from the fat
6. You opened the oven door during baking.
You're not a child, there's a window and a light that shows you how your cake is baking, so there's no excuse for opening the oven. By opening the oven door, you're letting heat escape and dramatically dropping the temperature. Now, you've distracted the oven and it has to refocus and redistribute heat evenly which takes time. The bottom line is you're confusing the oven. So don't!
7) You didn't adjust your oven racks, pre-baking.
Basic rule: bake in the center of the oven unless otherwise specified in the recipe you're following.
8. You didn't let your cake fully cool before cutting.
When you pull your cake out of the oven, it's still fragile and still cooking. So let it fully cool before diving into it, you impatient f*cker!
9) You're using expired ingredients and you don't know it.
It's true, your baking soda and baking powder have a shelf life. Here's an easy way to test them both:
Baking soda: Pour a little vinegar into a bowl with a little bit of baking soda. If the mixture bubbles immediately, your soda is still good to go. If it makes a paste but no bubbles, it's time to replace it.
Baking powder: Mix a little baking powder with hot water. If it's fresh it'll create bubbles. Cold water doesn't work for this test.
I've never seen butter go bad in all my years of baking.
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