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Our goal

February 9, 2010

“A Touch of Class Cakes” is enthusiastic about making cakes that not only look great but taste even better.  Over the years, many people have commented to us that they have eaten cakes that looked pretty but the taste was disappointing.  We believe that the flavor of a cake should never be compromised for the sake of aesthetics.  We use only the freshest, purest, and best ingredients that we can buy.  We have also painstakingly researched and taste-tested each of the recipes that we use in our cakes, and are always on the hunt for more.  (Our significant others and teaching colleagues love us for this because they are our guinea pigs!) 

We plan to use this blog to share our findings with the world.  Here you will find tips on baking as well as recipes, links to baking and cake decorating resources, and pictures of our creations.  We’ve decided to start with a series on essential cake baking “rules”.  Each segment in this series will be about the little things that can make the difference between an “okay” cake and a cake creation that will have your guests coming back for seconds! 

Part 1:  Ingredients 

Cake baking is really very easy but it is also a science, so when you set out to bake a cake, you must remember that the right ingredients are essential to success.  Many a would-be baker has experienced the flat or misshapen cake, the overcooked or underdone cake, or worst of all, the terrible-tasting cake.  Some of these horrors can be chalked up to a missed step or ingredient or a mediocre recipe, but more often than not the fault lies with the ingredients. We have learned that “chintzing out” on ingredients or substituting an essential ingredient is the culprit to a bad cake. 

Before we get to the importance of some key ingredients, though, let us take a moment to talk about the all-important recipe.  All bakers begin their foray in the kitchen with a recipe that caught their eye.  But where did that recipe come from?  

We are hopeful that it came from a time-honored family recipe that has been passed down for generations or from a legitimate source such as a treasured cookbook.  However, with the development of the Internet, that is no longer always the case.  Please understand that we are certainly not out to malign any of the wonderful resources that can be found online, but bakers should be wary:  not all cake recipes are made alike! 

Websites like “Allrecipes.com” and “Cooks.com” are wonderful cyber communities that offer a free resource for thousands of recipes  “Allrecipes.com” even claims that “all recipes are great recipes” but we have found that is not always true.  These websites both permit users to submit recipes in a variety of ways. 

“Allrecipes.com” features three types of recipes:  (1) Kitchen-Approved recipes (from members that have passed through their editorial process, meaning that they have been put into their format and database and their nutrition information has been calculated by their cooking experts); (2) Personal Recipes (recipes from members which have not gone through the “Allrecipes.com” editorial process); and (3) Custom Recipes (customized versions of Kitchen-Approved recipes, which have been altered and saved by a Supporting Member of “Allrecipes.com”). 

“Cooks.com” does not have these same levels of recipe submissions.  On that website, users simply add a recipe by supplying the name, category, ingredients, and preparation instructions.  The recipe is then listed on the “Cooks.com” recipe database for anyone to use.  We have discovered many a recipe on this site that has an error in ingredient amounts, is missing essential steps, or is written so haphazardly that it is hard to follow.  Thankfully, we know how to weed out the good from the bad recipes from our years of experience baking, but that is not always the case with many users.  Therefore, we suggest exercising extreme caution when using sites such as these, and when in doubt, stick to a tried-and-true cookbook.  (See our list of suggested cookbooks under our page “Recommended” that we both own and have used with great success.) 

Now that we have the recipe issue settled, let’s talk about ingredients! 

Since we are discussing cakes, there are three essential ingredients that all cakes have and that you must never compromise on: 

1) Flour -Most cake recipes call for either all-purpose flour or cake flour.  Contrary to what some people believe, there IS a difference!  According to Rose Levy Beranbaum (author of Heavenly Cakes and The Cake Bible), “bleached cake flour and all-purpose bleached flour can be used interchangably when either is indicated as long as the weight used is the same.”  Mrs. Beranbaum goes on to say that cake flour produces a more “tender crumb” than all-purpose flour, so keep this in mind if you want to achieve the same level of tenderness as the recipe claims to produce.  She also suggests that when you want to substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour that you use the following formula:  for 1 cup of cake flour use 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch.  Something else to keep in mind is that flour can go rancid, so unless you are able to store it in an air-tight container, you might want to get into the habit of keeping your flour in a plastic freezer bag and store it in the freezer.  We at “A Touch of Class Cakes” use unbleached flour because we prefer our flour to be processed as little as possible.  There is not much of a difference between bleached and unbleached, so it really is a matter of personal preference.  A final note:  do NOT substitute cake flour in recipes that call for all-purpose flour because your end result will be too tender and fragile! 

2) Eggs – Most cake recipes call for large eggs.  We suggest using USDA-grade large eggs.  Do NOT substitute a different size egg because doing so will effect the volume and texture of the cake.  However, there is a loophole in this rule.  A really good recipe will give the values for the eggs required in both weight and volume.  If this is the case, then you can weigh the whole egg – yolks and whites – to find out how much of the type of egg you have to use with your recipe.  Believe it or not, even eggs in the same grade and size class can vary in weight, so this is good thing to get into the habit of doing.  Sometimes a recipe can call for four eggs but depending in their weight, you might have to use more or less to achieve the correct weight.  Finally, always use eggs at room temperature.  We generally gather our ingredients for a cake and set them out on the counter for about a half hour before we begin the recipe (this is called mise en place, a French culinary term for “everything in its place”).  If you forget to do this, you can always put the eggs (in their unbroken shell) in hot (not boiling!) water for five minutes to get them to “room temperature”. 

3) Butter – All butter has a standard fat content, so be sure that you are using a high-quality unsalted butter.  Why unsalted?  Because this allows you to control the salt content in your recipe and it has a fresher flavor than salted butter.  We at “A Touch of Class Cakes” generally use Land O’Lakes butter because it is a high-quality but not too expensive option.  (Tip: Whenever it is on sale at the local supermarket, we stock up and freeze it until we are ready to use it!)  Like the eggs, your butter should be at cool room temperature (between 65-75 degrees Farenheit).  This is hard to do when the temperature outside is very warm, so you need to plan ahead before you bake so that the butter is just right! 

We hope that these tips will come in handy for your future baking endeavors.  If you have any further questions, we would be glad to try and answer them for you. Come back for Part 2 in our “Kitchen Rules” series: Bakeware and other handy supplies

Happy baking! 
Christina and Meghan 

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