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Cake Making – Art, Science or Passion? Part 2
Let’s return to ‘our’ cake. After selecting the very best ingredients, we are now ready to make the cake. For this classic Victoria sponge cake we will use the traditional method. The important thing to remember is that as the ingredients mix, they need to have plenty of air mixed in, that’s to make the cake light and cause it to rise. The ‘science of the cake’ is as simple as that!
A re-cap on ingredients, just in case….
200grams self-raising flour, preferably Homepride.
200grams of butter.
4 large eggs preferably free range.
200grams of sugar preferably caster sugar.
2 tablespoons of milk.
2 teaspoons of vanilla essence or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.
2 x 20cm round cake tins.
The oven must be switched on before you start, as it needs to be at an even temperature. It also helps if you ‘know’ your oven, although they are getting better with newer technology. Some ovens are still deemed ‘faster’ than others, which simply means that they run at a slightly higher temperature than it says on the dial. Which means it’s best to use your oven a few times, cooking something you’re very familiar with, so you ‘know’ your oven before baking a recipe that is new to you.
Start by switching on the oven to pre-heat while you get all the other bits together: 170c or 190c if fan assisted, or gas mark 5.
Preparation and right tools
The first step is to prepare the cakes tins. If you intend to make many cakes then I strongly recommend buying good quality tins. It’s also worth investing in some non-stick cake liners; they are not expensive and are available from Lakeland in the UK (Lakeland deliver here too). The cake liners are so easy to use and can be used over and over again, allowing the cake to perfectly slide out of the tin every time. If you don’t have cake liners, then carefully grease the inside of the cake tins and either dust them with flour or better still, line them with greased grease-proof paper.
Gather ready the utensil’s that are needed. For the classic Victoria sponge you will need:
A large mixing bowl.
An electric whisk.
Good kitchen scales.
3 or 4 smaller bowls for putting in measured ingredients.
A teaspoon, a tablespoon, a large metal spoon, and a spatula.
Next the Ingredients: Remember, ALL the ingredients need to be at room temperature, including, and especially the eggs. This is probably one of the most common reasons for baking failures. For cooking a good cake we certainly have the butter warm, as otherwise we cannot mix it in properly. The flour comes out of a cupboard and so does the sugar, but the eggs…… We reach into the fridge… Aaarh! (interesting that the supermarkets or shops don’t chill them) So ALL ingredients must be at room temperature; warm the eggs in water if needs be.
Now, carefully weigh all your ingredients into separate bowls. Break up and lightly whisk the eggs.
Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and mix together (preferably with an electric whisk) until it has turned very very pale and creamy. It should be ‘fluffy’, so make sure you spend a little time here as this is what puts lots of air in the mixture. Then, slowly slowly, add the eggs, whisking completely with the electric mixer between each addition, add as little as a teaspoonful at a time. Adding the eggs too fast may cause the mixture to start to curdle! If it does, don’t panic, just add a spoonful or so of the flour and this will bind it together again. Best try not to let this happen though as it loses the air we have already painstakingly added. Continue adding the eggs and a little more flour if necessary. When we have a nice fluffy mixture with plenty of ‘air’ we need to add the flour. Sieve about 1/3 of the flour into the mix holding the sieve as high as possible above the bowl so as the flour falls into the bowl and takes air as it falls then using a large metal (not wooden) spoon gently ‘fold’ the flour into the mix taking care not to beat out the air. Repeat until all the flour has been added do not over mix. Finally we need to add the milk and flavouring. A very important tip here: warm the milk slightly, either in a saucepan or 30 seconds in the microwave then gently fold it into your mixture, again using the metal spoon. Finally stir in the flavouring and make sure this is mixed well, but do not beat – remember you want to keep the air in that mixture. Voila! The mixture is now ready and already ‘working’.
Immediately the mixture is fully mixed, divide it as evenly as possible into the two prepared tins. Put them in the oven without delay, placing them as near the centre of the oven as possible. Cook for 20-25 minutes until light golden brown. To test if they are done press lightly on the top of the cake – if it springs back then it’s ready. Another method of checking is to insert a skewer, if the skewer comes out clean then the cake is ready, if it’s not ready leave another 5 minutes and try again. Never open the oven before the cooking time is complete, if you do, the cold air entering the oven will immediately take out the ‘hot air’ that is circulating within the cake and cause it to ‘sink’.
When the cakes are ready, remove from the oven and leave them in the tin to rest and cool for about 10 minutes, This is important for sponge cakes as they do ‘shrink back’ and this rest helps to keep the shape.
When the cakes are cool, turn them out of the tins, preferably on to a wire rack. Wait until they are completely cold before ‘sandwiching’, and adding layers of the filling of your choice. A good quality strawberry jam is probably the most traditional, but do try others – marmalade for a zesty orange sponge-cake. If it is to be served the same day, and you feel indulgent, add some whipped fresh double cream. Finally, lightly dust the top of the cake with icing sugar, pop it on to a plate and serve. I’ll bet it doesn’t last long!