The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

June 13, 2012

Cheryle Finley: Better cakes a result of better baking

NEW ORLEANS — Better cakes a result of better baking

I know summer weather sometimes makes us think twice before turning on the oven. But I, for one, can’t pass up a home-baked cake every once in a while, no matter what the temperature is outside. From dailykitchen.com I found the most common baking mistakes and how to avoid them. This article didn’t mention what I think is the first and foremost trick to good baking -- preheating the oven. Make sure the oven is at the correct temperature before you open the door and put the pan in there. If it’s not up to the correct temperature, that open door is just going to add more time before it’s really ready to bake correctly.

Neglecting to grease and flour your pans is another mistake. Are those sprays as good as grease and flour? That’s a personal preference. The sprays contain accelerant that some say are harmful, but they sure are handy. There’s one that has oil and flour combined, which is great for cakes. It’s also easy to keep vegetable oil in a little spray bottle, if you don’t want the canned version. For dense, fudgy cakes, parchment paper will be your best bet for easy removal from the pan.

Sifting the dry ingredients is something that seems to have gone by the wayside, too. It can sometimes make a difference in your from scratch baked goods to make sure it’s free of lumps and that the baking soda or baking powder is evenly distributed. This step can make a big difference.

One fine line for batter preparation is beating. Underbeating means too little air for a light, fluffy cake, and overbeating means too much air, which can result in a fallen cake. Most recipes say to beat the batter for two minutes. I’ve found this to be just the right amount of time, but I didn’t always follow it. Mixing until the batter was combined was usually less than a minute. But I noticed that if I beat for the full two minutes, there’s a big difference in the cake texture.

If you don’t smooth the top of the batter or tap the filled pan before baking, you won’t work out the air cavities, and you will end up with craters inside the cake and large holes on the surface -- not exactly the picture you want on your serving plate.

Lots of recipes say “don’t peek,” and all cake recipes should include that direction. Heat fluctuations can cause your cake to collapse. Fanning your oven door is a surefire way to get a fallen cake.

Another good way to end up with a fallen cake is to remove it too early from the oven. There’s nothing more tried and true for testing cake doneness than sticking a toothpick into the middle of the cake and seeing it come out clean. If you are making fudge brownies, your toothpick won’t come out clean, but it should come out with a few crumbs on it. Don’t worry if the cake has to cook a little longer than the directions list. All ovens are different. Different ingredients in various recipes cause fluctuations in baking time. Ovens vary, too, in regards to overcrowding. You will learn just how far you can go with your individual oven concerning the limits of occupancy while still insuring even cooking.

Haven’t we all had a big mess because we tried to hurry the cooling of a cake and turned the pan upside down too early? Cool the cake slightly, until the top feels firm, then turn it out onto a cooling rack to completely cool before frosting. Putting it in the fridge to cool will usually result in the cake sticking to the pan or collapsing or both. Be patient and happy baking!

My friends, Bonnie Day and Jean Mackey, from Miami, stopped by the other day and gave me a beautiful eggplant. While I like it baked by itself with some tomatoes, my favorite use of eggplant is in ratatouille. I’ve always said I just really like saying ratatouille, so that may have something to do with my fondness for fixing it. Today’s ratatouille recipe comes from allrecipes.com. It gets its name from the movie of the same name and makes turning on the oven worth it. If you saw Disney’s ratatouille, you know how beautiful this dish looked, even in the cartoon version. But it’s even prettier right from your real oven.

You are sure to get rave reviews, too, just like in the movie. Last week, I shared a tip for blanching asparagus, and this week I’m sharing a grilling recipe for asparagus that can also be fixed in the oven. The sauce for this dish is something you don’t want to skip. This recipe is from “Reynolds Cooking with Foil.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. For dessert, the German chocolate cake recipe is from the “Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor.” It would make a great dessert for dear old dad this weekend. You could use regular German chocolate cake frosting, but the rocky road really pushes this cake up a notch. No miniature marshmallows? Use clean kitchen shears and cut large marshmallows into fourths. Happy Father’s Day and happy eating.

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