Solutions to Common Baking Problems at Home, Part 1: Cake Calamities
Any professional chef will tell you that baking is very different than stove-top cooking. Baking is a science, relying on precise measurements and proper adjustments to account for difference in oven temperature, altitude and other factors that could affect the outcome of the recipe. If you bake in your home, and you find that your cakes never rise properly or need advice for icing your cakes, browse the following tips for a better baking experience next time around.
Temperature DiscrepanciesSometimes, the problem can be over-baking. Make sure you set a timer to adhere to the recipe’s instructions. You may also want to make sure your oven’s temperature gauge is correct, especially if it is an older oven. Place a thermometer inside the oven during preheating. If the temperatures do not match up, you may need to have a service provider recalibrate your oven thermostat so the gauge reads correctly. »Learn more
Problem: Cake falls or does not rise well. If your homemade cake falls, or sinks in the center, it could be a variety of problems. Too much chemical leavener like baking soda or baking powder may be the culprit—this causes air bubbles to get too big, then run into one another and rise, causing the cake to fall and become very heavy and flat. An excessively flat cake may be the result of a pan that is too large. A pan that is too small for the amount of batter you have may make the batter too deep, making it difficult to fully rise.
Solution: Reduce the amount of leavener you use in the recipe, use the correct pan size, and finally be sure not to over-bake the cake.
Problem: Cake has bubbles or tunnels within. If you cut into your homemade cake only to find bubbles or tunnels of air inside that adversely affect the texture, this may also be the result of too much leavener in the batter.
Solution: Try reducing the amount of leavener in your cake batter, only 1/8 of a teaspoon at first, so the cake does not rise as quickly and fewer air bubbles form. It may help to check your recipe's proportions against those of similar recipes. You may also need to more deliberately mix your dry and wet ingredients, so that all dry ingredients are fully moistened but not overworked. If the recipe calls for mixing ingredients "just until blended," then do just that.
Problem: Cake is lumpy. If your cake is coming out lumpy, the butter and sugar may not have been beaten together long enough.
Solution: Beat ingredients fully, and use a round-bottom mixing bowl. If you read the words “beat until light and fluffy,” or “cream together butter and sugar,” you should plan to beat these ingredients for three or four minutes at least. Use a round-bottom mixing bowl with sloping sides, and periodically scrape the sides with a spatula to get all the batter fully mixed together.
A Word on High Altitude Baking
Some bakers will use extra large eggs in place of large ones. The protein helps strengthen the structure of the cake and retain the needed moisture. Others will reduce the sugar, add a tablespoon of flour, or increase the cooking temperature. Some bakers try all of these techniques.
Sometimes bakers also reduce the amount of leavener. The suggested reduction is debated, but experts recommend reducing the baking powder by 15-25% at 5,000 feet, and 25% or more at 7,000 feet or higher. » Learn More
Problem: Cake is too dry. A dry cake may be the result of using too much flour, or too much leavening agent. Additionally, the cake may have been over-baked.
Solution: Try reducing the amount of flour, baking soda or baking powder, or adding a bit more shortening. Make sure the oven is the correct temperature and that you are not baking the cake for too long.
Problem: Icing looks crumby. A hallmark of professional cakes is a smooth sheet of frosting. A common problem with homemade cakes is that the icing looks rough and full of cake crumbs.
Solution: To get the smooth, professional look, smooth on a thin layer of icing to seal in any nooks and crannies in the finished cake. This layer should be no thicker than butter on toast. Then chill for 30 minutes. After chilling, you should be able to apply a second coat of frosting with ease for a smooth, crumb-free and professional-looking finished product.
These tips provide simple solutions to common problems when baking a cake at home. Be sure to account for oven temperature, baking supplies and altitude when trying your hand at baking a homemade cake. Remember, since baking is a science, the desired outcome will likely require experimentation. Practice will make perfect, and soon enough you’ll have the solution for cakes, cupcakes, muffins and more that are sure to wow your family and friends every time.
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- Top Five Basic Baking Ingredients
- Types of Frosting
- All About Bread Yeasts and Bread Starters
- Gluten-Free Baking in Your Home or Bakery Business
- Tips for Baking in Rented Commercial Kitchen Space
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