Introduction to cakes

I’m really excited to start this part of my curriculum because I’m a massive cake fan. I’ve been baking them for years, but always followed a recipe without much thought about what I was doing.

I wanted to take things back to basics and look at the different types of cakes. I’m then going to test out recipes over the course of the next few months.

So, the majority of cakes fall into one of two categories – fat-based or egg foam-based.

Fat-based cakes

These cakes are generally firmer and denser than foam cakes, and as the name suggests they are based around a fat such as butter, shortening or even oil. Most start out with the creaming method where butter and sugar are mixed together until they create a ribbon texture before dry ingredients are added. The other distinguishing feature is the inclusion of a leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda.

Fat-based cakes include American-style cakes such as pound cakes, tea cakes and layer cakes. They are often paired with a rich icing such as buttercream or fondant.

Egg foam-based cakes

These cakes are always based on the foam of whipped whole eggs, yolks, whites or a combination. Sometimes the eggs are heated before whipping to increase their volume. Dry ingredients are then folded in gently with great care taken not to knock the air out of the whipped eggs. Leavening agents are not required because the egg creates height in the cake, but can mean that the batter is more fragile and can collapse easily.

Foam-based cakes include genoise, biscuit jaconde, chiffon and angel food cake.

Other cakes

  • Flourless cakes – these can be baked, such as with rich chocolate torte using almond meal instead of flour, or unbaked like a chocolate mousse cake.
  • Cheesecakes – again, these can be baked or unbaked depending on the texture and type of cake you’re after.

Baking tips and considerations

  • Pan preparation – before you start your cake batter, ensure your pans are prepared and ready for the oven. High-fat cake pans should be sprayed with non-stick spray and the bottoms should be lined with baking paper. Foam-based cakes must not be sprayed, but should still have a layer of baking paper across the base.
  • Mixing – if using butter for a fat-based cake, ensure it is softened to room temperature to help with the mixing. Also, ensure you scrape down the bowl as you mix for an even batter. For foam-based cakes, make sure your bowl has no traces of oil when whipping the eggs and fold dry ingredients in gently.
  • Temperature – make sure you pre-heat the oven and bake the cake at the correct temperature for the size and type of cake. As a general rule, smaller cakes require higher baking temperatures and shorter baking minutes.
  • Baking – don’t open the oven door too soon, or your cake may fall because the proteins and the starches haven’t gelatinised. Make sure you have sufficient space around your cake to promote circulation of air and even baking.
  • Doneness – it’s important to do this before the cake is removed from the oven. Fat-based cakes should shrink slightly away from the sides of the tin and have a springy texture when pressed lightly with your finger. Ensure the colour is appropriate and even, and also check that the centre of the cake is cooked through by inserting a tooth pick or knife into the centre of the cake.
  • Cooling – don’t let the cake cool in the pan because it will sweat and absorb excess water. Fat-based cakes should be turned out of their pans 10-15 minutes after coming out of the oven. Always invert onto a wire rack or a cool, clean surface.
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