Monday, January 10, 2005
Cathy’s Secrets to Modestly Successful Cake Baking
I have a bad history with layer cakes. I can’t count how many times they’ve fallen or broken up on me. Then, of course, there were the ones that were just plain bad. I’m also not so good at achieving a polished look to my cakes – they look homemade. But I can’t complain about that ... I have bigger problems.
The really bad thing about this weakness of mine is that generally the only time I make a layer cake is for someone’s birthday. And seeing as how I’m always doing things at the last minute, there is seldom time to go out and buy a replacement, let alone bake a replacement.
I have not yet completely conquered my cake-baking ineptitude, but I do seem to have zeroed in on a few rules that have blessedly reduced the number of disasters. I know there are at least five or six more rules I haven’t figured out yet, but the three I have worked out have served me well.
1. Start with a good recipe. How do you know if you have a good recipe? Based on past experience – preferably your own. If you don’t want to make the same cake over and over (like me), then turn to a book or an author that you’ve come to trust. I have a book that has provided several recipes that have been successful, including the recipe for my most recent cake. It is The Wooden Spoon Dessert Book by Marilyn M. Moore. With this last cake, I think this book will now be where I turn first when I’m looking for a cake recipe (although I’m sure there is at least one disaster laying in wait between its covers).
2. Line the bottom of your pans with parchment. There’s just no excuse not to – it takes a few minutes, but it virtually guarantees that your cake layers will come cleanly out of the pans. Trace around the pans onto the parchment with a pencil and cut the pieces out, cutting just within the trace line. Grease the bottom of the pan, fit the piece of parchment into the pan and smooth it out, then grease and flour the parchment and the sides of the pan.
3. After you put your cake in the oven, grab the timer and evacuate the area. I go upstairs, but you could go for a walk or whatever. I used to start right in on the dishes as soon as I put the cake in the oven. I don’t know for a fact that this is what caused my cakes to fall, but it won’t be the thing that causes them to fall anymore.
Happily, the cake I made this weekend for my sister’s birthday didn’t fall or break and was really delicious. It was even reasonably attractive. It was a Toasted-Butter-Pecan Cake from the Wooden Spoon Dessert Book. The kids at the party were afraid of it because of the nuts, but the adults seemed to enjoy it very much. It’s a fairly small cake since it is made in 8-inch pans, but it is very rich and we had more than enough for 10. This was my first time making an 8-inch layer cake. I think I like this size – it looks nice and there are fewer leftovers!