Simple Layer Cake

Baking By Divadear60 Updated 24 Aug 2015 , 4:45am by Norcalhiker

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Divadear60 Posted 23 Aug 2015 , 9:49pm
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I can bake a cheesecake or sweet potato pie to die for ( friends and family's words not mine) but can't bake a simple layer cake for anything!! Can't figure out why. I am trying to make them from scratch. They are usually dry and dense or one or the other. To be totally honest the box mixes don't come out great either. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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jgifford Posted 23 Aug 2015 , 10:21pm
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We serve cake at our restaurant (among other items) for dessert.  I took over baking the cakes when we had one particular cook who couldn't bake a cake if her life depended on it.  A simple box cake would end up in a pile of crumbs at the first touch of a knife.  I made suggestions and even watched her make them.  To this day I don't know what she did, but it was always a disaster.  Of course, she was "the best cook we ever had" and didn't need any instruction from me!

The best thing you can do is follow the recipe exactly, make sure your oven temp is dead on and practice, practice, practice.  I would suggest using a mix until you're confident at that, then go to scratch.  Always follow the recipe exactly the first time, then you can tweak it the next time.  Learn the science behind the banking - - how different ingredients will affect the result.

Good luck.

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johnson6ofus Posted 24 Aug 2015 , 4:35am
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MEASURE carefully. That is the first skill.

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Norcalhiker Posted 24 Aug 2015 , 4:45am
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A few things that helped me become a better baker...

Flour: a low protein and low ash content produces a tender cake.  Unfortunately most flour mills don't print their protein and ash content, but a few baking sites post the information.  Do keep in mind that protein and ash will vary in the same brand as environmental growing conditions crop to crop will vary, thus vary the final protein and ash content.

Bleaching alters the characteristics of flour.  It increases acidity and reduces protein content.  

Following are some estimated protein levels:
King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose 11.7%
Pilsbury Bleached 11% (unbleached 12+)
Gold Medal 11%  (unbleached 12+)
Softasilk Bleached cake 7% -8% (sources vary in reporting)
Swans Down Bleached cake 7% -8% (sources vary in reporting)
King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour BLEND 9.4% (note Blend is flour mixed with corn starch)
White Lily Bleached 9%
Unbleached Pastry 8%

I do not use bleached flours; I mix 60% organic unbleached low pastry flour; 40% organic low protein all purpose flour.  When I want a slightly finer crumb, I add some potato starch.

Beating: overbeating will cause a slew of problems: flatten a cake; make a cake dense; crack the crust; toughen the cake; cause shrinking.  In total, I probably beat my batter for 2 mins. But be careful not to under-mix as that causes problems too.

Measuring: bake by weight, not volume.  Volume measurements will vary greatly--a cup of flour may be anywhere from 4 ounces to 6 ounces.  That discrepancy will significantly effect the cake.  I bake in metrics (grams) rather than US units (ounces) as it's more accurate.  But U.S. units will yield a better and consistent result than volume every time. Pastry chefs I know even bake in Celsius--but I can't wrap my brain around that.

Overbaking: unfortunately we've all done it.  In fact I just did it again less than two weeks ago. I don't use a cake tester any more, rather I feel and look for doneness. The outer edges will set first--meaning it will firm up and spring back to a light touch.  When the center springs back with a light touch, and the cake is a lovely light golden brown, I pull it out. Careful not to poke a hole in the cake with your finger...yup, did that once, maybe twice.

Sugar: I'm convinced fine pure cane sugar yields the best texture and color.  I only use C&H bakers sugar in my cakes.

Sifting: even distribution of leavening is very important, so I sift 3 times.  Uneven distribution will cause the cake to be uneven; cause tunnels and holes.

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