The mixing and baking of cake requires more care and judgment than any other branch of cookery; notwithstanding, it seems the one most frequently attempted by the inexperienced. Two kinds of cake mixtures are considered:— I. Without butter. Example: Sponge Cakes. II. With butter. Examples: Cup and Pound Cakes. In cake making (1) the best ingredients are essential; (2) great care must be taken in measuring and combining ingredients; (3) pans must be properly prepared; (4) oven heat must be regulated, and cake watched during baking. Best tub butter, fine granulated sugar, fresh eggs, and pastry flour are essentials for good cake. Coarse granulated sugar, bought by so many, if used in cake making, gives a coarse texture and hard crust. Pastry flour contains more starch and less gluten than bread flour, therefore makes a lighter, more tender cake. If bread flour must be used, allow two tablespoons less for each cup than the recipe calls for. Flours differ greatly in thickening properties; for this reason it is always well when using from a new bag to try a small cake, as the amount of flour given may not make the perfect loaf. In winter, cake may be made of less flour than in summer. Before attempting to mix cake, study How to Measure and How to Combine Ingredients. Look at the fire, and replenish by sprinkling on a small quantity of coal if there is not sufficient heat to effect the baking.
Separate yolks from whites of eggs. Beat yolks until thick and lemon colored, using an egg beater; add sugar gradually, and continue beating; then add flavoring. Beat whites until stiff and dry,—when they will fly from the beater,—and add to the first mixture. Mix and sift flour with salt, and cut and fold in at the last. If mixture is beaten after the addition of flour, much of the work already done of enclosing a large amount of air will be undone by breaking air bubbles. These rules apply to a mixture where baking powder is not employed.
An earthen bowl should always be used for mixing cake, and a wooden cake-spoon with slits lightens the labor. Measure dry ingredients, and mix and sift baking powder and spices, if used, with flour. Count out number of eggs required, breaking each separately that there may be no loss should a stale egg chance to be found in the number, separating yolks from whites if rule so specifies. Measure butter, then liquid. Having everything in readiness, the mixing may be quickly accomplished. If butter is very hard, by allowing it to stand a short time in a warm room it is measured and creamed much easier. If time cannot be allowed for this to be done, warm bowl by pouring in some hot water, letting stand one minute, then emptying and wiping dry. Avoid overheating bowl, as butter will become oily rather than creamy. Put butter in bowl, and cream by working with a wooden spoon until soft and of a creamy consistency; then add sugar gradually, and continue beating. Add yolks of eggs or whole eggs beaten until light, liquid, and flour mixed and sifted with baking powder; or liquid and flour may be added alternately. When yolks and whites of eggs are beaten separately, whites are usually added at the last, as is the case when whites of eggs alone are used. A cake can be made fine grained only by long beating, although light and delicate with a small amount of beating. Never stir cake after the final beating, remembering that beating motion should always be the last used. Fruit, when added to cake, is usually floured to prevent its settling to the bottom. This is not necessary if it is added directly after the sugar, which is desirable in all dark cakes. If a light fruit cake is made, fruit added in this way discolors the loaf. Citron is first cut in thin slices, then in strips, floured, and put in between layers of cake mixtures. Raisins are seeded and cut, rather than chopped. To seed raisins, wet tips of fingers in a cup of warm water. Then break skins with fingers, or cut with a vegetable knife; remove seeds, and put in cup of water. This is better than covering raisins with warm water; if this be done, water clings to fruit, and when dredged with flour a pasty mass is formed on the outside. Washed currants, put up in packages, are quite free from stems and foreign substances, and need only picking over and rolling in flour. Currants bought in bulk need thorough cleaning. First roll in flour, which helps to start dirt; wash in cold water, drain, and spread to dry; then roll again in flour before using.
Grease pans with melted fat, applying the same with a butter brush. If butter is used, put in a small saucepan and place on back of range; when melted, salt will settle to the bottom; butter is then called clarified. Just before putting in mixture, dredge pans thoroughly with flour, invert, and shake pan to remove all superflous flour, leaving only a thin coating which adheres to butter. This gives to cake a smooth under surface, which is especially desirable if cake is to be frosted. Pans may be lined with paper. If this is done, paper should just cover bottom of pan and project over sides. Then ends of pan and paper are buttered. In filling pans, have the mixture come well to the corners and sides of pans, leaving a slight depression in the centre, and when baked the cake will be perfectly flat on top. Cake pans should be filled nearly two-thirds full if cake is expected to rise to top of pan.
The baking of cake is more critical than the mixing. Many a well-mixed cake has been spoiled in the baking. No oven thermometer has yet proved practical, and although many teachers of cookery have given oven tests, experience alone has proved the most reliable teacher. In baking cake, divide the time required into quarters. During the first quarter the mixture should begin to rise; second quarter, continue rising and begin to brown; third quarter, continue browning; fourth quarter, finish baking and shrink from pan. If oven is too hot, open check and raise back covers, or leave oven door ajar. It is sometimes necessary to cover cake with brown paper; there is, however, danger of cake adhering to paper. Cake should be often looked at during baking, and providing oven door is opened and closed carefully, there is no danger of this causing cake to fall. Cake should not be moved in oven until it has risen its full height; after this time it is usually desirable to move it that it may be evenly browned. Cake when done shrinks from the pan, and in most cases this is a sufficient test; however, in pound cakes this rule does not apply. Pound and rich fruit cakes are tested by pressing surface with tip of finger. If cake feels firm to touch and follows finger back into place, it is safe to remove it from the oven. When baking cake arrange to have nothing else in the oven, and place loaf or loaves as near the centre of oven as possible. If placed close to fire box, one side of loaf is apt to become burned before sufficiently risen to turn. If cake is put in too slow an oven, it often rises over sides of pan and is of very coarse texture; if put in too hot an oven, it browns on top before sufficiently risen, and in its attempt to rise breaks through the crust, thus making an unsightly loaf. Cake will also crack on top if too much flour has been used. The oven should be kept at as nearly uniform temperature as possible. Small and layer cakes require a hotter oven than loaf cakes.
Remove cake from pans as soon as it comes from the oven, by inverting pan on a wire cake cooler, or on a board covered with a piece of old linen. If cake is inclined to stick, do not hurry it from pan, but loosen with knife around edges, and rest pan on its four sides successively, thus by its own weight cake may be helped out.
Where cooked frostings are used, it makes but little difference whether they are spread on hot or cold cake. Where uncooked frostings are used, it is best to have the cake slightly warm, with the exception of Confectioners' Frosting, where boiling water is employed.