Before You Start
As with most things -- especially things that happen in the kitchen -- preparation can mean the difference between success and failure. Follow these tips to ensure a delicious outcome:
Make sure you have a clean workspace where you can spread out your ingredients, utensils, bowls and pans.
Collect the utensils, bowls, and pans you'll be using, including measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixer beaters, and spatulas.
Use the exact size of pan called for in the recipe. If your recipe directs you to bake your cake in an 8" x 8" pan, search the cupboards (or neighborhood) until you find it -- don't try to substitute an oval casserole dish that may be "close" in size. Some cakes, such as angel food or bundt, will require a special pan designed specifically for baking those cakes.
When using dark-colored non-stick or glass baking pans, you may want to reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees (or at least keep a very close eye on your cake while it's baking), as these types of pans absorb more heat and may cause your cake to bake more quickly.
Avoid using aluminum disposable baking pans -- even if you plan to give your cake away. They don't regulate heat well, and often bake unevenly.
Read the recipe and gather all the ingredients in advance. There's nothing worse (for you or the cake) than discovering halfway through that you're out of something. Make sure your ingredients are fresh and of the highest quality.
Use the ingredients called for by the recipe! If your cake recipe says butter or margarine, don't substitute whipped or lowfat margarines, as the results will be altered. If it calls for milk, use whole or 2%, not skim or 1%.
Baking is a science that relies on emulsions and chemical reactions between ingredients for a successful outcome. To make sure the science works the way it should, all ingredients, including butter and eggs, should be at room temperature or above before you start combining them. Let eggs sit out for 20 to 30 minutes before you use them. Other ingredients can sit out for up to an hour. If you think it really shouldn't matter, you may end up with a cake that's grainy, dry, flavorless, or sunken.
If you're new to baking, some terms in your recipe may require an explanation:
Mix/Blend/Combine: These terms can be used interchangeably because they all mean basically the same thing -- to mix ingredients with a spoon, wire whisk, spatula or beater (depending on whether you're blending dry or wet ingredients) until they're combined.
Fold: "Folding" involves gently combining ingredients while simultaneously trying to prevent loss of air. Slide a rubber spatula or a large wooden spoon across the bottom of the mixture and up the side of the bowl, turning the mixture over gently -- similar to back-flipping a pancake. Rotate the bowl one-quarter turn and repeat the process, continuing with one-quarter turns until the ingredients are combined.
Beat: This is a more vigorous process of blending ingredients, and involves the use of a fork, whisk, hand beater, or electric mixer to combine ingredients until they're smooth. Follow directions for beating carefully -- it's often an important element of success. (Another term that is similar to "beating" is "creaming," which typically involves beating butter, eggs and sugar together .)
Whip: Use a whisk, hand beater, or electric mixer and beat ingredients to add air and increase volume. Continue until ingredients are light and fluffy -- typically longer than regular beating action. Ingredients that might call for whipping include whipping cream and egg whites.
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» Introduction & History of Cake
» The Importance of Ingredients
» Baking Preparation is Key
» Baking Terminology
» Tips for Perfect Baking Results
» Finishing Touches - Frosting & More
» Our Favorite Cake Recipes