There must be quite a lucky few out there that have the smell of cake baking in the oven as a sweet (pun intended) childhood memory. And the most impressive thing was, those decadent fluffy treats were presented to us in a magic like way – literally no muss no fuss. Which gave us later the courage to attempt reproducing our object of desire, only to end up in another all-too familiar childhood image :
They say to not point fingers without them being clean and mine are not, so I felt like taking the time to pinpoint some crucial tips in order to become master of the above disaster :
- The temperature of baking the cake is around 170-180C (370F) for a batch of roughly half a kilo. Most oven pans fit this measurements. At all costs avoid the preprogrammed ovens, even the professional ones are not to be trusted sometimes. It is much easier to just set a temperature and be done with it.
- WARM UP THE OVEN. Yes, in caps. The cake will never succeed otherwise. Start warming it up midway through the recipe, and place the cake in immediately after it is done so it does not have time to cool down.
- Follow the recipe. Unlike your culinary experiments of combining baking soda and a steak and hoping for the best, confectionery needs precision in measurements. Granted, some recipes mention cups and not grams, so in this case use the same cup and fill it to the same level each time with extra attention to those halves and two thirds.
- Do not follow the recipe. I do realize I am contradicting myself but nothing wrong ever came with a little improvising. As a rule of thumb, extras in the cake like a handful of nuts, coconut flakes or raisins are always safe to add, as they do not affect the consistency of the batter. Next to that is chocolate (cause who adds raisins? Me, that’s who) and spices, to be used with moderation as they can affect the consistency.
- At the end of the mixing, the batter has to be paste like and when you lift your spoon to be falling down in clumps, not runny. If you use different types/brands of an ingredient every time it can make a difference, eg in milk, eggs (size), yogurt and the type of fat. It is okay to add a little more liquid or less flour if you see the consistency is off – bear in mind this will not make a perfect cake, but at least it will save it.
- Do NOT open the oven when it is baking! Keep a timer and stick to it. Normally around 55 min to 1 hour is long enough, and you can check the browning through the glass. The cake is ready when you stick a knife in and the blade comes back oily but without traces of batter on it. If you open the door earlier than the 50 minute mark the cake will not rise, which means it will still bebtasty but not fluffy, more like sponge cake.
- Do not overwhisk. 3 minutes is the maximum time that you should bother your batter, especially if you are using a mixer. Speaking from experience, the best cakes I did I used a fork for the whisking. The trick to that is to shift the flour and the other powder ingredients before adding the liquids so you do not have clumps. An egg beater is the best of both worlds but still important to not overdo it.
- For bread one should do exactly the opposite, whisk and knead as much as possible for better results.
- Do not be lazy while shopping. I’ve never heard anyone say “You know what I really miss man? That amazing choco cake from the supermarket!” Easy to bake mixes are all over the place, but except of having added sugar and preservatives, mostly they are just low quality flour. Personally I even avoid self rising flour, as I believe regular flour with baking powder produces better results.
- Leave the eggs, milk, yogurt and any other fridge ingredients in room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you add them, so you do not put the mix through the ice bucket challenge (which will ruin it’s consistency).
- Your most crucial piece of equipment is a silicon spatula. Not only you will be able to use every last drop of your batter, it also minimizes the cleaning up time as it leaves next to no sticky coating to the bowl.
- Always grease the pan, even a teflon one, olive oil is better than butter in this case. For baking cakes do not sprinkle with flour, this is a technique only for bread baking. You can line the bottom with parchment paper if you want to make sure it is not going to get stuck.
- When it is done baking let it cool for at least 10 minutes, then take it out of the pan and let it cool completely before wrapping.
- Syruping : the key is not let it sit. After you leave it in the syrup for 2-3 hours, cover completely with saran wrap, flip upside down and let it sit like this for the night. That way the top will get moist too and not only the bottom.
As an added bonus, below you will find my favorite recipe for an extremely tasty cake, with zero sugar added. You will not believe it till you tried it but you honestly cannot tell from the taste, and as I avoid sugar but still crave sweets from time to time, I found (and tweaked) this recipe. Also brought it to the office with very satisfactory feedback.
You will need a large bowl, a fork for the whisking, a shift for the flour, a cup, a grater, a plate to grate the zest on, a tablespoon, a teaspoon and a silicon spatula. Plus the pan of course.
Let us begin.
Lemon honey almond cake
2 1/2 cups Greek style full fat yogurt
2/3 cups olive oil
1 cup honey
Vanilla to taste
2 tablespoons full of lemon zest finely grated (from 2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 tablespoon salt
100 grams bio raw unsalted almonds, crushed
Start by preparing your ingredients. Take the yogurt and the eggs out of the fridge. Grate the zest from the lemons and set aside. Crush the almonds in their bag with something heavy if you do not have a mortar (who does?) Have the rest of tools and ingredients on the counter.
Whisk the eggs in the bowl with the fork until mixed. Add yogurt and stir. Next comes the oil, honey, vanilla, lemon zest.
Squeeze one lemon and add the juice in the bowl, minding the seeds.
Put your oven to 180 C to warm up.
Place your shift on top of the bow and add gradually the powders, flour half a cup at a time, and stirring softly until combined each time.
Add the almonds and give it one final stir.
When the oven is ready, grease the pan with oil and add the batter.
Bake at 180C for 55 minutes.
Take out, let cool for 10 minutes and remove from pan by cutting it out piece by piece. At first you will need to run a knife between the edges of the cake and the pan.
Troubleshooting : if the cake does not rise enough or is overbaked, (happened to me the first time), consider making a syrup to save it. Mix half a cup of honey with 1/4 cup hot water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and sprinkle hot over the cold cake.
Aaaaaand that’s that folks. Happy kitchening!!!