A little something about cakes…and an experiment!

A friend of mine, Tima, got married at the courthouse last week.

 

Although she wanted to keep it simple…

 

Every bride needs a wedding cake.

So, I made her a mini wedding cake!

 

I bought these wonderful little pans at my local cake supply store called The Cake Depot

Since we are on the topic of cakes, I wanted to share something with all of you.

 

I am a scientist – a microbiologist to be exact.

 

Yes, I love bacteria and viruses – mostly bacteria!  Fascinating organisms really!

 

As a scientist you might think that I am meticulous at measuring ingredients and pay careful attention to recipes.

 

I am quite the opposite when it comes to baking and cooking.

 

I love to throw things together, see what will happen.

 

This can be done with good results (most of the time) when you know why things work and what can be manipulated in a recipe and what can’t.

 

I have a book on my shelf that all of you should rush out and get if you don’t have it because it is likely the most useful book in the kitchen.

 

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

by Harold McGee.

 

Here is what I learned about cakes from Mr. McGee…

 

Cake structure is built of starch and protein and creating a tender cake is all in the gas bubbles.

 

Gas bubbles?

 

Yes, gas (air) bubbles give cake its texture and it’s all in the flour, eggs, sugar and fat as to how the cake structure turns out!

 

Flour – low protein is key, such as cake flour.  A high protein flour enhances gluten development resulting in a tough cake.

 

Eggs – Protein is necessary to create a great cake but you don’t want it coming from flour.  Eggs provide the protein.

 

Sugar – Sugar is how gas bubbles get into the cake and the finer the sugar the more gas bubbles are incorporated into the cake batter which is why Superfine sugar is called for in some recipes.

 

Fat – Fat retains the air bubbles in the batter so it not only moistens the batter but aerates with the sugar crystals.

 

Here are how some of the different types of cakes compare in these four ingredients by volume (approximately);

 

Pound cake           Genoise            Angel Food          Chiffon

Flour              2 c.                         2 c.                        2 c.                   2 c.

Eggs               5 eggs                  8-10 eggs         12-15 whites       10 eggs

Fat                  2 1/4 c.                 1/2 c.                    none                 2/3 c.

Sugar              1 1/2 c.                 1 1/2 c.               3 3/4 c.                2 c.

 

Print these ratios

 

Another important component of cake structure is how the gas bubbles are created once you have the proper ingredient ratios!

 

These air bubbles can be created in two main ways with the cakes listed above.

 

Either by fat-sugar aeration or egg-sugar aeration.

 

Fat-sugar aeration – The sugar is beaten into the butter or shortening and then the remaining ingredients are added.

 

Egg-sugar aeration – The sugar is beaten with the either the whole eggs or the egg whites and then the remaining ingredients are added.

 

Experiment Time

 

Being in the mood for a good experiment I decided to make a chiffon cake using the ingredient proportions above (that’s right, no recipe – do not panic).

Chiffon Cake

 

1 c. cake flour

5 eggs separated

1/3 c. vegetable oil (looking at other chiffon recipes this seems to be the preferred fat)

1 c. sugar

pinch of salt

 

I beat the egg yolks and 3/4 c. sugar together and then lightly whipped in the oil.

I beat the egg whites and remaining 1/4 c. sugar together.

I aerated the flour and salt in the bowl of my stand mixer using the paddle attachment.

 

To the flour I added the egg yolk mixture and beat on high speed for a minute or so.

 

I then added the egg white mixture and beat it into the flour/egg yolk mixture instead of folding it in as is recommended with egg whites.

 

I wanted to see if it made a difference.

 

I think the cake might have had a lighter texture if I had folded in the egg whites but all in all it was a very good cake.

 

I baked the cakes in my KAF pan that has little pop out bottoms.

I baked these cakes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.

 

Get out your ingredients and try your own experiment.

 

Happy Baking!

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