Thread: cake
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Old 01-06-2011, 04:19 PM   #15
Sleep deprived
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Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 1,154
Re: cake

I love epicurious.com. Their recipes generally work, even if they are sometimes needlessly complicated. Also, their review system is quite helpful.

As an ex-pastry chef, I am going to guess your most likely mistake was over-mixing the batter after adding the flour. God knows that is what my husband always does, anyway.

TL: DR explanation, a little wandering, from my culinary school days:

Flour's protein component, gluten, when combined with a liquid and agitated, forms a ropy, connected structure on the minute level.

For bread dough, you want a lot of activated gluten, to give you a sturdy texture. The strong internal structure you build will support all that air that your yeast is going to make. Think of gluten as making "balloons" that hold in the expanding air as the yeast's carbon dioxide pushes to get out. The yeast makes gas slowly at room temperature, so if it takes a while for those "balloons" to relax into their filled state, so much the better. Thus, for bread, you use a high-gluten flour (bread), knead it a lot, and then wait a long time for it to rise.

For a cake, you want a delicate crumb. You don't want gluten to be the major component of your structure. Cake leavening expands rapidly, in the oven. Gluten, which flexes at room temp, hardens too quickly in the oven, and can actually keep your rapidly expanding gases in, and your cake flat. Thus you use a low gluten flour (cake) and try not to overmix.

(Further, if you are using a recipe that gets its gas from whipped eggs, over-mixing will knock out the air from your recipe.)

Note that this varies from recipe to recipe - a few recipes, and most box-mixes, will want you to whip up the completed batter for several minutes. It all comes down to proportions, in the end. In my experience, though, the tendency of box mixes to require strenuous whipping of the completed batter gives people the wrong idea about most cake baking.

Anyway - hope this is somewhat useful, or at least interesting!
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