With the holidays just around the corner, experienced bakers and first-timers in the holiday cooking trenches are preparing to bake up some tasty treats. Here are a few tips to make holiday cakes a huge hit.
- The best advice for cooking any meal, but especially with baking cakes, is to use the freshest possible ingredients. It is tempting to buy ingredients for Thanksgiving baking in November and continue to use the same ingredients — coconut, pecans, evaporated milk, flour and butter especially — until December 31 because they keep very well when properly stored. However, using dated ingredients will lose some richness in the cake’s flavor.
- Allow cold ingredients (eggs, milk, butter, etc.) to warm to room temperature before mixing, for a light, moist and creamy cake batter that requires fewer strokes to mix.
- It is important to follow the order of ingredients to the letter. When the recipe was created, many hours of trial and error went into testing the ingredients and preparation instructions, so it is wise to stick to what has worked in the past. Choose a less pressure-filled time to try out a new direction.
- World class cake baker and famed author of “Country Cakes” Bevelyn Blair advises to mix your cake batter in as few strokes as possible to maintain a light, fluffy and moist texture. When using an electric mixer use a burnished, flat beater on the lowest setting for optimal cake batter.
- Never use imitation extracts. Imitation almond extract for example does not taste as natural and intense as real almond extract.
- Always sift dry ingredients such as flour and sugar three times before mixing; this will help to create a light and fluffy cake.
Helpful ingredient hints
Measuring flour – Sift flour once before measuring, avoid tapping or banging the measuring cup as it will pack the flour and result in using too much flour. Pour the flour into a measuring cup, and then gently level off the top with a knife’s straight edge.
Measuring sugar – Pour white sugar into a measuring cup, gently level off the top with a knife’s straight edge.
Measuring liquids – Do not dip a spoon or measuring cup into liquids. Liquids should be poured into a measuring cup or spoon that is placed on a level surface, not held in the hand.
Cutting dried fruits – While cutting dried fruit, occasionally dip kitchen scissors in warm water and use them to cut dried fruits such as apricots, dates, prunes and raisins.
Choosing the right flour – Cake flour produces a lighter cake, but if using an all-purpose flour reduce the amount of flour by two tablespoons per cup and take care not to over mix the batter.
Working with eggs – Allow eggs to spend three or more hours out of the refrigerator before using, to obtain the greatest volume when beaten. Remember that moisture prevents the whites from whipping to stiff foam, therefore be sure to begin with a completely dry mixing bowl. When separating egg whites from egg yolks take extra care to avoid getting even the smallest amount of yolk into the egg whites.
Helpful measuring hints
Whipping cream – One cup of liquid yields two cups when whipped.
Chocolate – You can substitute one square of chocolate for three tablespoons of cocoa and one tablespoon of butter.
Eggs – Two large eggs are the equivalent of three small eggs.
Pinch – Less than ¼ teaspoon