Monday, December 1, 2008

Tips for Successful Layer Cakes


Always add eggs one at a time so they emulsify before adding the next, and I almost always use large eggs, even when the recipe doesn’t specify. Size does matter in the dryness of a cake.

For more even cake layers, use a measuring cup to evenly distribute the batter among the pans, especially when use three or more cake pans. Lift and drop the pans on the counter several times to encourage air bubbles to surface from the batter.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven and just a bit past the midway point, rearrange them pans, exchanging the ones in the front for the ones in the back.

Use a layer of parchment paper inside the cake pans. Invert the pan on top of a square of parchment, drawing a circle around the pan, and using a pair of scissors to cut out the circle. Butter or spray the bottom and insides of the cake pans and insert the parchment paper, pressing down evenly all around. Spray or butter the paper.

If you do not have parchment paper, generously butter or spray the pans well with non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle some flour in each pan and work it evenly around and tapping it out evenly, discarding the extra flour. This method may not completely release the cake, but generally there will only be a slight tearing. Parchment rounds are much more reliable. If you are making a chocolate cake, you can coat with cocoa powder instead of the flour.

After the cake has cooled briefly in the pan, run a knife around the outside of the pan, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pans and lay a towel across the top of both and carefully flip over turning cakes out of the pan onto the cooling rack, peel away the parchment and discard. Allow cake to fully cool on the racks before frosting.

Size out the length of a couple of wooden skewers, cut them to size and place several around the center of the cake to help support the cake. These skewers will help keep the cake from sliding and will stay in the cake.

To protect your cake plate or stand during frosting, lay strips of waxed paper or parchment paper around the outside edges of the cake plate. This will catch any drips and misses and help to keep your cake plate clean. Once you have frosted the cake, you will carefully pull those strips out and discard them.

When frosting, if you have the time, do a crumb coat. If you aren’t too concerned about being perfect with your frosting you can skip this step but a crumb coat will help to contain the crumbs and will keep your top layer of frosting smooth and crumb free.

To do a crumb coat, spread a very thin layer of the frosting all over the top and sides of the cake, and smooth it out with your spatula, taking care not to let the spatula touch the cake itself, but instead use it to push the frosting across the cake. Then do the same with the sides of the cake. Don't worry about being perfect or if it doesn't completely cover, because you'll be doing a second layer of frosting. Place the cake into the refrigerator for about an hour, or more if you have time. This will set the under-layer of frosting and make a much easier job of finishing your cake, keeping the crumbs and filling out of your frosting. When ready, spread the rest of the frosting over the crumb coat.

If you end up with a crumbly cake that is dry, it is often a sign of over-baking, often due to an incorrect oven temperature. I always use an oven thermometer in my oven and have often found the oven thermostat to be widely inaccurate - either too cool or too hot, but I do have an older oven. If you love to bake, and even if your oven is newer, an oven thermometer is so inexpensive that I highly recommend using one as a backup anyway. Always check and test cakes with a toothpick at the center at the earliest time in a stated recipe or even 5 minutes earlier, then continue checking at 5 minute increments. Be sure you are not using old flour, especially when using cake flour.

If you end up with a moist cake that is crumbly, it is often a sign of over-beating. Cake batters do benefit from a hand mixer I’ve learned – a bit too easy to over-mix with a powerful stand mixer, less risk of that with a hand mixer.
Some tips shared by a reader, chubbybunny:

"I'm a professional Pastry Chef and teach classes in Cake Decorating. I would like to offer a few suggestions -

Recently, in WalMart, I noticed a new product they have that is a spray, and "supposedly" secures the crumbs, preventing the need for a crumb coating. Don't know if it works, and I haven't tried it. After about 45 years of cake baking, I can frost a cake without any crumbs coming to the surface.

I read that your pineapple filling was seeping into your layer of frosting. When I have a soft filling, like a raspberry, or a strawberry, I pipe a dam of frosting around the outer edge of the cake, right on the top edge. I use the same pastry bag of frosting that I will use to decorate the cake, without the tip - just using the coupler. This will prevent your filling from oozing out into the frosting.

A couple of other tips I teach in my classes:

1. Never bake a cake any hotter than 300 degrees. This gives the sides more time to bake upwards, making the center to not bake as high, and crowning in the middle. You will end up with a flatter cake. Wilton also makes cake wraps which further slow down how fast the edges bake.

2. If time permits, bake your cakes a day ahead of time, and most importantly wrap them tightly in saran wrap, BEFORE they are completely cooled. Place the saran wrap on top of the cake pan, flip over, and pull off the cake pan. Pull the saran wrap up and over the sides, to the middle, rather tightly - but not so tightly that you flatten the sides of the cake. The cakes will "season up" (not sure where I got that term from), and seem even moister the next day.

When I became the Pastry Chef at the Thousand Islands Club and Golf Course, on Wellesley Island, in the Thousand Islands, I wanted to use a timer. Everyone laughed at me, and I haven't used a timer since.

3. When I can smell a cake baking, it's almost done. I test it, and then keep an eye on it, so it doesn't over bake.

4. If your cake is overbaked, and dry, make a simple syrup. I use a small squirt bottle to squirt the syrup around the top of the cake. It will soak in and re-moisten the cake.

Happy Baking!"


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