Hi - I'm Pam and I am a Baking Geek (part 1)

I fully admit that I am a science geek when it comes to cooking.  Some ingredients are added purely for flavor but some are necessary for structure, texture or some other key component.  Baking is especially well suited for a science geek like me because each ingredient, as well as the mixing method, play a crucial role in the overall success or failure of the end product.

Ever baked cupcakes with a very high unwanted dome in the center?  What about a cake that didn't rise?  If you know the WHY of a recipe, you can usually pinpoint the problem with something goes wrong.

In cake baking, here are a few general helpful "geeky" things to know:

1.  The kind of flour you use has a huge impact on your finished product.  Just because the package says "all purpose", that doesn't mean it is the best choice for all baking.  All purpose flour might be okay for baking homemade bread, but bread flour is even better.  All purpose might be okay for making cakes, but cake flour is usually better (not always).  If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where
you can get your hands on White Lily all purpose flour, I recommend using it in place of the standard all purpose.  WHY?  Gluten - the higher the protein content in the flour, the more gluten will develop.  Lots of gluten is desirable for bread, not so much in biscuits or cake.  If you want to learn a little more about flour, see my post on

2.  Preheat - it's not just a suggestion.  Preheating can seem like a waste of time and electricity or gas but it is a part of the process.  Some baked goods rely on steam that is only generated by a very hot oven in the first few minutes.  If you don't preheat your oven to the correct temp, your cakes will not rise properly (and your cookies will spread way out).

Illustration by:  Joe Holland SOURCE

3.  Room temperature ingredients - When you are baking a cake, it is very important to have your ingredients at room temperature.  That means eggs, milk, and butter.  Well - not exactly.  Butter should be around 65 degrees (F).  When you press your thumb against the wrapper, it should leave a slight indentation.
"Does it really matter?", you ask.  Yes...Room temp ingredients combine better AND also are better able to have more air whipped into them for better rise.

4.  Check the expiration date on your baking powder and/or soda.  If you leaving agent is past its prime, your baked product will fall flat :(

5.  No peeking!   I know you are curious as to how your yummy concoction is looking, but when you open that over door before the cake is set, it will look like a meteor crater in the middle.  The cold air that rushes in will upset the rising process and the structure will collapse in the middle.  Don't open that door until about

5-7 minutes before the cake is supposed to be done.

*For a more detailed explanation about the purpose of each key cake ingredient, see PART 2.

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