Bakers constantly discuss a cake's texture in terms I find confusing. Please help me understand. Pictures are helpful.
What is meant by a cake's "crumb"? Bakers often say a cake has a fine crumb. What exactly does that mean--small crumbs, crumbs that stick together???
Cake density also confuses me. I've seen people refer to the WASC as dense while others called it light and fluffy. Those two terms are polar opposites. As a science teacher, I take the term "density" to mean mass per unit volume (d=m/v). Does cake density refer to something different? I've made cakes that were very heavy for their size (which would be considered dense by definition) but there's no way they could be carved because they break apart too easily -- almost like they are too moist (but they were thoroughly baked).
Do we just use different jargon for the same idea?
A cake with a fine crumb has individual particles of cake (the crumb) that are small and delicate (fine). Almost a velvety texture. I find this more with scratch butter cakes, where the butter content of the cake gives you a "melt in your mouth" sensation when you eat it. A standard boxed cake mix, for example, has a less delicate and larger crumb (although it may be moist and delicious). Much of this is determined by the chemistry of the cake - amount of acid, type of leavening, freshness of batter, type of flour, temperature at which cake was baked, etc. A good resource for learning about the chemistry of cake is "The Cake Bible" by Levy. She has a section in the back devoted to this topic.
As for density, I think your description is right on. When I think of a dense cake, I think of pound cake, carrot cake, etc. - cakes that are heavier for their size. I've never made WASC so I don't have an opinion on that particular recipe. For carving, density isn't the only factor. For instance, a pound cake works well (dense, fine crumb), whereas a carrot cake would not work well (dense, but too moist with a larger crumb).
Does that makes sense? I'd be interested in what others think.
camcat - I agree with you. I have to thank i_heart_pastry for the great explanation...but I have to admit, it doesn't really help me out.
I think I have to find someone to bake samples for me, sit me down and actually have me see and taste them along with the explanation for it ever to make sense. Until then, as long as whatever flavor/crumb type/density tastes good, that's what works for me.
I find the more airholes in your cake, the more 'crumb' or 'crumbly' it is. sifting your cake mix gives it that velvety look that is described above.
Different types of cakes, along with preparation info:
Emulsifier in Baked Goods:
Chemistry of Cakes:
Texture & Mixing Methods:
Edited to replace broken link.
JanH - As always, I appreciate your fabulous links. My favorite little tidbit from all the links was this........ A baked cake has been defined as a cellular structure of air bubbles enveloped in a continuous protein matrix, with swollen starch particles, fat and sugar crystals dispersed randomly as discrete particles throughout the material. Whoa.....That's serious cake talk!
indydebi - Are you referring to the large airholes that create a larger crumb? My more velvety cakes that I would guess have a 'finer crumb' actually have a lot of airholes, just teeny tiny ones.
i_heart_pastry - Your explanation makes perfect sense. My confusion centered around the carving issue. As you said, there are many dense cakes that would not carve well at all. I recently made a cake that was very dense but I thought there was no way I could carve it. I could barely cut nice looking slices.
awolf24 - I think I have a good understanding of cake density now (check out JanH's links, but be warned...some are pretty technical), but I'm a real hands-on type of learner. I agree that a baking/tasting lesson would be very helpful!