Cakes are distinguished from breads in that they are usually sweet, with many other ingredients besides flour.
Flour, fat, raising agents, eggs, sugar and fruit are the most common ingredients but other ingredients are limited only by the ingenuity of the baker.
Cakes fall into two basic categories: those made with fat, and the sponge types made without fat. The exception of the sponge type is the Genoese sponge which combines both types.
In fat-type cakes, the fat is either creamed, melted or rubbed in. Rub-in mixtures are generally used for plain, everyday cakes such as Tyrol cake, while creamed cakes are rich and soft with a fairly close, even grain and soft crumb as in a Victoria sandwich.
In melted cakes, for example gingerbread, the fat, often with liquid, sugar, syrup or treacle added, is poured into the dry ingredients to give a batter-like consistency.
The majority of cakes are mixed using an electric mixer, however, mixing by hand, or with a food processor is also acceptable for many methods.
Mixing is a very important aspect of successful cake making. There are several methods and all have the same aims:
- to blend the ingredients into a smooth, even batter
- to beat the maximum amount of air into the batter
- to form a batter that will hold the air until it is baked ie be stable
- to develop a desirable visual texture, volume and mouth-feel texture in the baked product
- Some of the most commonly used mixing methods include 'whisking' or 'whipping', 'creaming', and the 'all in' method.
Overall, for anyone baking cakes, experience is the best teacher. The problem of under or over mixing is always present and understanding mixing is the key to successful cake making.
Some key points to ensure successful cake-making include:
- Always use the correct size tin, or ensure that the cake batter fills the tin to half its depth so that the cake will rise, but not over the top.
- Test the cake frequently near the recommended baking time to see if it is baked.
- Prepare the tin ahead of mixing by lining or greasing with butter and sprinkling with flour.
- Set the oven to the correct temperature before mixing.
- Assemble all the necessary ingredients. Remember that butter, margarine and eggs should be at room temperature (20°C) before use.