Before baking your cake, here is a list of common faults and their causes.
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Cake Fault — Cake Sinking in the Center
1. Too much aeration. This may be caused by:
(a) Too much sugar used in the recipe. This can be detected by excessive crust color and a sticky seam running in the shape of a U.
(b) Too much baking powder. Difficult to detect because it can be confused with (c).
(c) Overbeating of fat/sugar/egg batter prior to adding flour.
2. Undercooked. This can easily be detected by the presence of a wet seam just below the surface of the top crust.
3. Knocking in oven prior to cakes being set. If during cooking when all the ingredients are in a fluid state, a cake gets a knock or disturbance (such as a draught of cold air) some collapse may take place which will result in the center of the cake caving in.
4. Too much liquid. This is easy to detect because, firstly the sides will tend to cave in as well as the top, and if the cake is cut a seam will be discovered immediately above the bottom crust. Cakes containing too much liquid do not show this fault until they are removed from the oven. During baking, the excess moisture is in the form of steam and actually contributes to the aeration of the cake. On cooling, this steam condenses into water which sinks to the bottom of the cake, collapsing the texture by so doing.
Cake Fault - Peaked Tops
1. Flour used was too strong. For cake making, a weak flour with a low gluten (protein) content is required. If a strong flour is used, the cake will be tough, giving rise to a peaked top which looks unsightly.
2. Mixing was toughened. The flour of a cake should be only just mixed in. Over-mixing will cause the batter to become tough as the gluten of flour is being developed. Not only will a tough batter produce peaked tops but also a tough and coarse crumb, detracting from its eating qualities.
3. Too hot an oven with insufficient steam. The ideal baking condition for a cake is to have a quantity of steam present which will delay the formation of a crust until the cake has become fully aerated and set. If an overfull of cakes are baked, there is usually sufficient steam generated from the cakes themselves for this purpose, but for small quantities a tray of water should be inserted to get this required steam. A very hot oven will form a crust on the cake too soon and this will in turn cause the cake to rise in the center only, giving the characteristic peak.
Cake Fault - Small Volume with Bound Appearance
This is caused by insufficient aeration due to:
1. Insufficient beating of the batter.
2. Insufficient sugar used in the recipe.
3. Insufficient baking powder used in the recipe. Such cakes will have a close crumb structure and be tough to eat.
Cake Fault - Fruit Sinking in Fruit Cakes
1. Cake mixing is too soft to carry the weight of fruit. This may be due to:
(a) Cake mixing being too light because of overbeating (fat/sugar/egg).
(b) Excessive sugar used.
(c) Excessive baking powder used.
(d) Insufficient toughening of batter.
(e) Use of too weak a flour. Slight toughening of the batter is sometimes necessary to strengthen the crumb and thus make it possible to support the fruit.
2. Fruit was washed and insufficiently dried before being incorporated into the cake batter.
3. Baking temperature was too low. See following note on Baking.
The general rule is that cakes should be baked as quickly as possible consistent with their being properly cooked through without adverse discoloration of the crust. The following are the factors which affect the baking temperature of cakes.
As previously mentioned a humid atmosphere is essential in order to achieve a flat top on a cake and to ensure that thorough baking is carried out with a pleasing crust color. A pan of water inserted in the oven is usually sufficient for this purpose.
The more sugar a cake contains, the cooler the oven temperature and the longer the cooking time that is required. This is because the richer the cake, the more crust color is formed.
Shape and Size
The overriding consideration to be given here is the penetration of heat into the cake mass. It follows from this that the smaller the cake the shorter the baking time, and then the higher the baking temperature. Conversely, large cakes require a lower baking temperature with a longer baking time. However, it is not always appreciated that shape plays an important part. Since it is the penetration of heat that counts, a thin slab of cake cooks very much more rapidly than the same weight but say, double the thickness. The range of temperatures over which cakes may be baked is very wide, ranging from 350°F (177°C) for wedding cakes to 450°C (232°C) for very small fairy cakes.
Substances like sugar or almonds added to the surface of a cake act as improving the richness of a cake, and baking temperature should be reduced by 10-20°F (5.5-11°C) to compensate.Certain substances like glucose, invert sugar, and honey take on color at a much lower temperature than sugar. If such substances are added (for example, for their cake moistening properties), the baking temperature also needs to be lower.
Preparation of Dried Fruit for Fruit Cakes
The moist eating and keeping qualities of cake containing dried fruit depend to a large extent on the amount of moisture retained by the fruit in the cake. To achieve the maximum retention of moisture by the fruit, proper preparation is essential. The fruit should be sorted, washed, and well-drained before use .
Essences, fruit juices, spirits, etc. may be mixed into the fruit, preferably some time prior to their being used. The fruit is always added last after the flour has been mixed in.
Choice of Ingredients
Always use a soft flour but if this is not possible replace a proportion with corn flour.
Since the aeration of a good quality cake is partly achieved by the trapping of air by the action of beating the fat, one with good creaming qualities is essential. Unfortunately, both butter and normal lard (special processed lards with good creaming qualities are now available) suffer in this respect. In most recipes where butter is used a small quantity of shortening should be incorporated to help overcome this defect.
Sugar Fine grain castor is best so that it will readily dissolve in the batter.