Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cake (Any cake, but with emphasis on lemon and chocolate)

I have long chased after soft cakes, my holy grail, so to speak, in baking. Because though I have been baking for a couple years now, my cakes have refused to be airy or crumbly. They insisted on being dense and stodgy. Only their flavors (chocolates) icing (again, chocolate) or extra ingredients (chocolate chips) could salvage them. Ordinary flavors like carrots just drowned in my incompetency.

So, when I finally got it right (with advice from a couple quarters), i.e. came up with two deliciously crumbly cakes in a row, I decided to put down the formula here, so that I can refer to it any time I get confused, and not have to go around looking for cake formulas in hundreds of different sites.

After long experience, I found that (others may have different views, but) in cake making, the first step is the most important one. All recipes will tell you to "cream" butter and sugar first. Do not listen to them. They are WRONG. The most important thing is to have well beaten eggs. That's what makes the difference between fluffy cakes and stodgy lumps.
Take four eggs and beat them for ten minutes. Or, like me, beat them until you finish listening to two songs. You don't have to strain your wrists by beating it too hard, but do beat gently until the white and yellows are indistinguishable, and then some more.

Butter and Sugar
I have developed my own formula for the major ingredients of cakes, and this works for most general cakes unless otherwise specified. 1 part butter : 1.5 parts sugar : 2 parts works perfectly, and delivers a cake that is not very sweet at all. For fours eggs, 1 cup butter, 1.5 cups sugar and 2 cups of flour is perfect. Adjust accordingly for other proportions. Again, beat for five more minutes, or until you finish one song.
Note to self: Add some sugar for chocolate cake, since chocolate makes it bitter, and decrease some sugar for things like lemon cakes, where syrup is added later on.

Vanilla (or any other) essence
All recipes will tell you to mix the wet ingredients first. That has worked out pretty well for me. Add two cap fulls of vanilla essence at this stage and stir.

Flour, Salt, Soda
The recipes will also tell you to mix all the dry ingredients together. Accordingly, mix 2 cups of flour (or 2 measure of whatever you are using to measure) with half a small spoon of soda and half a spoon of salt. Pour into the eggs mixture, and beat thoroughly until it is smooth, or one song's worth.

Few recipes will suggest milk, but I always feel it adds smoothness to cakes. Especially, add milk if the batter has become too thick and does not drop off the spoon. Add half a cup to one cup, until batter flows  smoothly like pakoda batter. Beat, beat, beat the batter for five minutes or one song's worth.
Note to self: When adding milk, always add it hot (in winter), or at least lukewarm in summer. Milk straight from the fridge freezes the butter, turning a smooth batter instantly ugly and grainy.

This is the time to add any extra ingredients. Chocolate chips for chocolate cake, carrots for carrot cake, walnuts, apples, etc etc. Just fold them in gently, no beating required at this stage.

The oven should be preheated at 350F or approximately 175C. Pour in a 9*11 inch pan, or any other pan you have around, or into several muffin cups, and set to bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is sufficiently browned.
Test by inserting a toothpick into the cake. If it comes out clean, cake is made.

Lemon cake
Today I added the juice of 3 lemons, and it was not enough. I had half a cup of sugar, and it was too much. So for now, I will recommend quarter cup of sugar and juice of four lemons (Some day if I come up with better proportions, I will put it up here). Mix all this with more than half a cup of water, put in a pan, and cook until sugar dissolves.
After cake is done, pierce it deeply with forks. All over the place. Gently spoon the lemon water mixture all over the cake. Let it seep in for an hour or so before serving.
Note to self: It's always good to have something crunchy in a lemon cake, which otherwise has a plain texture. Last time I tried black sesame. It was good. But this time I tried silam, I don't even know what it is called in English, but it was divine. So silam it is!!! Just add a fistful of it, or sesame, or any other tiny edible grains, to the mixture at the end, just before baking, and stir thoroughly.

Chocolate cake
Add little less than half a cup of cocoa powder to the aforesaid flour mixture. And maybe add a spoon of sugar before.
For syrup, take four spoons of cocoa and five spoons of sugar. Add one spoon of butter and mix them together. Add more butter if the mixture is still dry. Pour lukewarm milk, approximately half a cup, until the mixture is runny. Puncture chocolate cake with a fork and pour the mixture evenly. The cake is good served hot, but tastes best when the syrup has settled down for a few hours. 

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