There is so much that needs to be done in a day, yet once in a while we’d like to make a cake or something sweet and delicious while still being quick and easy. The sort of procedure where we can dump everything in a bowl, mix, pour into a pan then bake.
While there are plenty of cake recipes out there that use this method, you’ll commonly find it when making loaves or muffins, savoury or sweet. An example of a recipe using this method would be the feijoa cake recipe I shared recently.
This procedure is easy to follow, quick to do and done well, can give you a moist tender cake good enough to create fondly remembered food memories—tender fluffy and moist. On the other hand, simple techniques can easily go wrong and this procedure may result to a dense, dry cake. Not the kind we love having is it?
In this two part post, I will describe the pressure points in detail to ensure that the next time you make this quick and easy cake, you’ll get a really good one.
Let’s start off with the ingredients:
This is the protein component of the cake. Flour gives the cake its structure through gluten development. Gluten comes from the two proteins found in wheat (glutenin and gliadin). When the proteins get in contact with water (or any ingredient containing water), they bind together and form stretchy gluten strands. We want lots of these proteins when making bread and just enough stretchiness to trap and hold on to air when making cakes.
The most common leavening agents that can be found in the home are baking powder and baking soda. Since the cake is a straight mix method, the only way we create air is through a chemical reaction. Remember, air = fluffiness so we want lots of them.
Baking soda comes from soda ash and is activated when it gets in contact with anything acidic. It bubbles up just like magic. In baking this includes ingredients like butter, lemon juice, cocoa/chocolate, sour cream, brown sugar and yogurt. That is why buttermilk which contains more acid than milk creates fluffier pancake. Somewhere in the recipe, you would be been asked to put baking soda and the acid from buttermilk activates it and creates lots of bubbles.
Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar (a type of acid). This is best used for recipes that do not contain acidic ingredients such as those mentioned above or those that needs a bit of extra lift. In the market today, most baking powders are double acting. This means that it is activated when it gets in contact with water (or any ingredient that contains water) and again during baking.
Sugar—for sweetness and tenderness
Sugar adds sweetness. Caramelisation which occurs during baking enhances flavour. Sugar also attracts water. The more sugar you have, the more moisture it will hold on to. This keeps your cakes moist for longer. Sugar also cuts through the gluten strand and inhibits it’s formation.
Fat—Inhibits gluten development
Fat of any kind such as butter or oil coats flour particles and cuts through the gluten strand development so it acts as a tenderiser. It contributes to the tenderness of the cake, flavour and general texture.
Eggs—the emulsifying agent
The eggs, particularly the yolks, act as an emulsifier. Oil and water don’t mix well so you need something to bind them. The yolks help to hold the fat and water molecules together creating a strong emulsion. A strong emulsion means our mixture can hold and trap the air that will be created by our leavening agent.
The egg whites are mostly water and 10% protein. The protein in the eggs contributes to the structure allowing it to hold onto the air that is created by the chemical leavening agents.
Liquid—acting as a carrier and creator of steam
Liquid in cakes can either be milk, fruit juices, or moisture that can be found in other ingredients such as eggs and butter. Water turns to steam, and steam expands 1100 times its original volume at the correct temperature. Knowing this, as soon as the cake batter goes into oven, the steam will give you a push creating more air pockets and contributing to fluffiness.
On the other hand, water also activates gluten, so as much as it helps in creating a fluffy cake, it is also the ingredient that helps in creating structure. A good balance of moisture in the recipe is the key to creating that perfect cake texture.
Dry ingredients easily dissolve in liquid, which means that liquid also acts as a carrier of flavour and other chemical components inside the batter.
Add-ons / flavours—the fun part
You can add different flavouring ingredients to the batter. This is what makes your cake unique. Ingredients include fruits, spices, citrus zests and nuts. Spices and dry ingredients such as cocoa powder are best combined with the flour whereas fruits and nuts are added last.
On the next post, I’ll get into the detail of explaining the how’s and the why’s of the dump, mix and bake cake making method. Watch out for it!