Most traditional cakes call for a standard mix of ingredients: sugar, butter, leavening, and gluten (flour). Keeping a few basic ingredients on hand, and using them correctly, will ensure that your cakes are perfect every time!
Sugar is essential in cakes as it’s what makes them taste sweet. When you mix up a cake batter and beat sugar into fat or eggs the sugar crystals cut into the mixture, creating thousands of tiny air bubbles that lighten the batter.
While baking, these bubbles expand and lift the batter, causing it to rise in the pan.
Altering the sugar in a recipe can have a dramatic effect. When a white cake turns out moist and tender the sugar ratio is good. But if you try changing the recipe by using more or less sugar than the recipe calls for, the result may be a dense, flat or tough cake.
The most common sugar for cakes is granulated.
The function of fat in cakes is an interesting one! There are two general methods for utilizing fats in cake baking; the creaming method and the all-in-one method. Fats are used differently in each case.
✅ Creaming Method
The creaming method produces a soft, yet sturdy cake. The cake is usually great for stacking in layers as well for bundt cakes.
Simply put, it is mixing sugar into butter (fat) to help produce air bubbles that will expand during baking due to vaporization.
This helps make the final product rise. Sugar and butter will also lighten in color and expand in volume during creaming. Eggs are beaten into the batter one at a time. Typically, the additional liquids and dry ingredients are then added alternately.
When using the creaming method, all ingredients should be at room temperature. The creaming method is best utilized with a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, as it can take anywhere from 3-8 minutes. The best speed for combining sugar and butter is medium to low as a high speed could heat up the fats too quickly.
✅ All in One Method
If you have ever seen a recipe that says “one bowl” or “pour batter into the pan” it is probably an all-in-one method cake. They tend to be very moist and use oil instead of butter. (Such as Carrot Cake, etc)
The all-in-one method is the easiest of all the cake baking methods. These cakes tend to have more liquid than others.
Eggs play an important roll in cakes. They add structure, color, and flavor to our cakes and cookies.
There are two main components to an egg, the whites, and the yolks. For instance, a whipped egg white can help and Angel Food Cake rise. An egg yolk can transform a white cake into a beautiful yellow cake. Most recipes call for a whole egg.
It is important to use eggs at room temperature and to make sure you have the right size. I prefer large to extra large eggs in my cakes and will often specify for you. “brightercook” The difference between the two is usually 1-2 teaspoons in volume and while interchanging them won’t destroy a recipe, using the right size can help to create the perfect cake.
In cake recipes, the two most common leaveners are baking soda and baking powder.
Baking soda is bicarbonate of soda. It neutralizes the acidity of certain ingredients in the batter, allowing the cakes to turn golden brown in the oven.
Baking powder is a combination of bicarbonate of soda plus cream of tartar, an acidic ingredient. Baking powder alone can give cakes a lighter texture.
The main difference in flours found in the grocery store is the amount of protein they contain. A cake recipe should have the specific flour listed that is uses, but if it doesn’t, you can usually assume they mean all-purpose.
All-purpose flour, or plain flour, is an all-around good flour to use for baking. All-purpose has a protein content of 10-13% and it consistently performs well.
Cake flour is best for cakes and bakes very tender layers. It has 8-9% protein, one of the lowest in protein content.
Bleached and unbleached flours are basically interchangeable in cake recipes.
Without a doubt, this is one ingredient I use in all my baking. Salt enhances flavor and without it, the cake could just taste like a sugar overload. Without this flavor enhancer, the secondary flavors in a cake fall flat as the sweetness takes over. Salt can also act as a protein strengthener, helping to achieve the perfect cake.
Once you have all the basics covered, creating the perfect cake is easy no matter what the recipe.