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How to bake a cake: Tips & checklists from the cake-baking masters of the ’50s

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A cake, more than any other creation of the culinary art, truly expresses the spirit of festivity. And the magic of a cake extends beyond the festive occasion, into the cozy family world of everyday. The cake that Mother whips up for a family dinner gives something of a party air to the most modest meal.

A delicious cake (or its first cousin, a torte) is a real work of art. Obey that creative impulse. Bake that cake, that luscious torte. Give to that family meal, that party, picnic, or celebration, the air of festivity which only a cake can give!

And don’t stop when you have produced one of the cakes and covered it with your favorite frosting, or with the one the recipe recommends.

From that same recipe, the next time you use it, you can make an entirely different cake — by using a different frosting; by adding a filling between the layers; by splitting two layers to make four, filling them all, and perhaps frosting the whole with whipped cream; by transforming the cake into a cake dessert.

1956 Chocolate cake

How to bake a cake: 1950s checklist for successful cakes

BE CAREFUL AND ACCURATE: It’s smart to be careful — there’s no substitute for accuracy. Read recipe carefully. Assemble all ingredients and utensils. Select pans of proper kind and size; Measure inside, from rim to rim.

Use standard measuring cups and spoons. Use liquid measuring cups (rim above 1-cup line) for liquids. Use nested or dry measuring cups (1-cup line even with top) for dry ingredients. Check liquid measurements at eye level. Sift all flour, except whole-grain types, before measuring. Spoon lightly into measuring cup. Do not jar cup. Level dry measurements with straight-edged knife or spatula.

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PLACE OVEN RACK so top of product will be almost at center of oven. Stagger pans so no pan is directly over another, and they do not touch each other or walls of oven. Place single pan so that center of product is as near center of oven as possible.

PREHEAT OVEN 12 to 20 minutes at required temperature.

PREPARE PAN — For cakes with shortening and for cake rolls, grease bottom of pan only; line with waxed paper cut to fit bottom; grease the waxed paper. For cakes without shortening (sponge type) and chiffon cakes, do not grease or line pan. If recipe directs “Set out pan,” do not grease or line pan.

White coconut layer cake

HAVE ALL INGREDIENTS at room temperature unless recipe specifies otherwise.

SIFT ALL FLOUR, except whole-grain types, before measuring. Spoon lightly into measuring cup. Do not jar cup. Level with straight-edged knife or spatula.

CREAM SHORTENING (alone or with flavorings) by stirring, rubbing or beating with spoon or electric mixer until softened. Add sugar in small amounts; cream after each addition until all graininess disappears and mixture is light and fluffy. Thorough creaming helps to ensure a fine-grained cake.

BEAT WHOLE EGGS until thick and piled softly when recipe calls for well-beaten eggs.

BEAT EGG WHITES as follows: Frothy — entire mass forms bubbles; Rounded peaks — peaks turn over slightly when beater is slowly lifted upright; Stiff peaks — peaks remain standing when beater is slowly lifted upright.

BEAT EGG YOLKS until thick and lemon-colored when recipe calls for well-beaten yolks.

WHEN DRY and LIQUID INGREDIENTS are added alternately to batters, begin and end with dry. Add dry ingredients in fourths, liquid in thirds. After each addition, beat only until smooth. Finally, beat only until batter is smooth (do not overheat). Scrape spoon or beater and bottom and sides of bowl during mixing. If using an electric mixer, beat mixture at low speed when alternately adding dry and liquid ingredients.

LIFE Nov 12, 1956 Walnut cake

FILL CAKE PANS one-half to two-thirds full.

TAP BOTTOM of CAKE PAN sharply with hand to release air bubbles before placing in oven.

APPLY BAKING TESTS when minimum baking time is up. For cake or torte, touch lightly at center; if it springs back, cake is done. Or insert a cake tester or wooden pick in center; if it comes out clean, cake is done.

COOL BUTTER-TYPE CAKES 10 minutes, tortes 15 minutes, in pan on cooling rack after removing from oven.

REMOVE BUTTER-TYPE CAKES or TARTS from pan after cooling. Run a spatula gently around sides of pan. Cover with cooling rack. Invert and remove pan. Turn right side up immediately after peeling off waxed paper. When using pans with removable bottoms, loosen edges with spatula and carefully cut layers away from bottoms of pans; cool right side up. Cool cake or torte completely before frosting.

COOL SPONGE-TYPE CAKES — After removing tubed cake from oven, immediately invert pan on tubed end and let hang in pan until completely cooled. If cake is higher than tube, invert between two cooling racks so top of cake does not touch any surface. Invert non-tubed cake pan so opposite edges of pan rest on edges of two cooling racks; let cake hang in pan until completely cooled.

REMOVE SPONGE-TYPE CAKES from pan when completely cooled. Cut around tube with paring knife to loosen cake. Loosen sides with spatula and gently remove cake.

FILL LAYER CAKES or TORTES — Spread filling or frosting over top of bottom layer. Cover with the second layer. Repeat procedure if more layers are used. If necessary, hold layers in position with wooden picks; remove when filling is set.

FROST FILLED LAYER CAKES or TORTES — Frost sides first, working rapidly. See that frosting touches plate all around bottom, leaving no gaps. Pile remaining frosting on top of cake and spread lightly.


How to bake a cake from scratch: Top tips from the cake-baking masters of the ’50s, plus 4 recipes

A cake, more than any other creation of the culinary art, truly expresses the spirit of festivity. And the magic of a cake extends beyond the festive occasion, into the cozy family world of everyday. The cake that Mother whips up for a family dinner gives something of a party air to the most modest meal.

A delicious cake (or its first cousin, a torte) is a real work of art. Obey that creative impulse. Bake that cake, that luscious torte. Give to that family meal, that party, picnic, or celebration, the air of festivity which only a cake can give!

And don’t stop when you have produced one of the cakes and covered it with your favorite frosting, or with the one the recipe recommends.

From that same recipe, the next time you use it, you can make an entirely different cake — by using a different frosting; by adding a filling between the layers; by splitting two layers to make four, filling them all, and perhaps frosting the whole with whipped cream; by transforming the cake into a cake dessert.

Vintage cake on a cake stand from 1955


Nothing like a good old-fashioned vanilla birthday cake

From the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama) December 2, 1955

It is sometimes fun to be old-fashioned. Good, old-fashioned flavors, the fragrance of old-fashioned cakes cooling on the pantry shelf, really good, old-fashioned frostings, these are some of the pleasant things of grandma’s day that can stand some re-creating today.

When grandma used to enter her cakes at the State Fair, she was downright fussy about the ingredients she used. The best of butter, country fresh eggs, good rich milk and, of course. only pure flavorings, would win her blue ribbons.

In flavoring, she knew that only the true, pure vanilla extract would give a cake the delicate flavor and freshly baked fragrance that would make her a prize-winner. There could be nothing stale about her cake — neither in texture, taste, nor aroma.

When grandma entertained, she always served cake. White cake, chocolate cake or caramel, it always stood in a place of honor. Now that the cool weather is here, her modern granddaughter, when she plans fall entertaining, might do well to take a leaf from grandma’s recipe book and feature a fresh, homemade cake.

Teenagers, after the game, would love a slice of cake with its creamy, rich frosting. At a harvest festival, given by a club or church group, a dark brown, moist, chocolate cake would be greeted with cheers. And what is a birthday party without a high white cake with its crown of candles?

Let’s revive grandma’s cake baking art. It’s the season for it!

Old-fashioned vanilla birthday cake recipe
© Lana Langlois | Dreamstime.com
OLD-FASHIONED VANILLA BIRTHDAY CAKE

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
3/4 cup shortening
1-3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, unbeaten
1-1/4 cups milk

Sift the first 3 ingredients together. (Set aside for later use). Cream shortening, sugar and pure vanilla extract together until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add flour mixture alternately with milk. Beat batter 1/2 minute.

Turn into 3 well-greased, lightly floured 9-inch, round cake pans. Bake in a preheated moderate oven (375 degrees F.) 25 minutes or until done, Cool. Turn out onto cooling rack.

When cold, spread Fluffy Vanilla Frosting between layers and over top and around sides of cakes.

YIELD: 12 to 16 servings

FLUFFY VANILLA FROSTING

2 unbeaten egg whites
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon white corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1-1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine first 5 ingredients in the top of a double boiler. Place over boiling water. Beat with an electric or rotary beater until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Remove from water and cool completely. (This is important.)

In the meantime, combine the remaining ingredients. Beat until fluffy and fold into the egg white mixture. Spread over tops and sides of three 8 or 9-inch layer cakes.

YIELD: Sufficient frosting for three 8 or 9-inch round layers.

HARVEST FESTIVAL CAKE

2/3 cup shortening
1-1/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sour milk

Cream the first 5 ingredients together until fluffy melt chocolate over hot water and stir into the creamed mixture. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add flour alternately with sour milk. Beat batter 1/2 minute.

Pour batter into 2 well-greased, lightly floured. round 8-inch layer cake pans. Bake in a preheated slow oven (350 degrees F.) 40 minutes or until done.

Let stand in pan 10 minutes. Turn out on a wire rack to cool. Frost with Mocha Frosting.

YIELD: 12 servings

MOCHA FROSTING

1-1/3 cups butter or margarine
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
4 to 5 tablespoons light cream or evaporated milk
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 square unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Brown butter or margarine in a saucepan large enough for mixing frosting. Add confectioners’ sugar alternately with light cream or evaporated milk.

Stir in coffee, chocolate, melted over not water, honey and pure vanilla extract. Spread over tops and sides of two 8-inch layer cakes.

If desired, make a yellow chrysanthemum out of yellow confectioners’ sugar and butter frosting put through a pastry tube. Make leaves with frosting colored green.

Vintage chocolate cake

 


Homemade German chocolate cake with caramel coconut frosting

Secrets of the perfect cake: Baking tips (1953)

A woman never gets too old, or too experienced, to be thrilled when she sees her own handiwork emerge as a breathtakingly beautiful cake.

But delicious cakes don’t “just happen.” They come from tested recipes, accurate measuring, careful blending and fine quality ingredients.

SECRETS OF THE PERFECT CAKE

1. The use of a well-tested recipe, followed exactly. Recipes have been checked to the last detail and written in such a way that they may be easily followed.

2. The use of good quality ingredients as specified in the recipe. When making plain 2-egg, 3-egg, sponge or angel cakes, use fresh eggs. All butter or all vegetable shortening may be used in cakes unless butter is specially indicated. The use of some butter is recommended as it adds flavor and richness.

3. Proceed as directed in the recipes. This prevents confusion and hastens the preparation of the cake batter. For example, if the oven is preheated and the tins are prepared in advance, no time will be lost in getting the batter into the oven.

Before starting to make the cake, get out all utensils and ingredients required and line them up ready to use. Have flour and ingredients at warm room temperature (75F or over).

If pans are warped, unevenly darkened, or too deep for the amount of food placed in them, you will have uneven baking and browning.

Chocolate layer cake with frosting

4. Measure ingredients accurately. Sift the flour twice before measuring, then spoon the sifted flour back into the cup until it comes up to the 1 cup mark or other specified measurement. Smooth off the top of the flour with the edge of a knife but do not pack down.

When shortening is measured by tablespoons, be sure it is soft. Pack it into the spoon or use water displacement method, then level off with the edge of a knife.

Water displacement method: For 3/4 cup of shortening, fill a measuring cup with 1/4 cup cold water. Add shortening in pieces, pressing them under the water until the water level reaches the 1-cup mark. Pour off the water and use the 3/4 cup of shortening. This method may be used to measure any fraction of a cup.

Use standard measuring spoons for baking powder, salt, soda and spices and level off for accurate measurements. To measure baking powder, fill spoon, then level with knife. Use same method for baking soda, sugar, salt and spices.

5. When mixing cake, cream shortening and sugar thoroughly and beat well after the egg yolks or whole eggs are added. After dry ingredients are added use light folding motion (see directions on next page). Beating will make the cake tough and uneven in texture.

Vintage chocolate cake

PREPARATION OF CAKE PANS

Unless otherwise specified, grease and lightly flour the cake tins.

Use unsalted shortening or salad oil for greasing. Sift one to two teaspoons flour over bottom of cake tin. Shake around in the tin until bottom and sides are thoroughly coated. Shake out excess flour.

For rich fruit cakes which require long slow baking, always line the cake tins with two to four thicknesses of waxed paper or two layers of brown paper, greased. Grease tins with unsalted shortening first, then line the tins, using four thicknesses of paper for fruit cakes requiring over 2 hours for baking. Then grease again.

SIFTING FLOUR

For cakes, sift flour onto piece of waxed paper, through double sifter, or sift through single sifter twice before measuring. This makes the flour light and a finer texture, which qualities produce better-textured cakes.

FOLDING IN

To fold in, lightly lift batter with spoon from bottom of bowl up over dry ingredients or beaten eggs, then cut down through center with spoon. Continue this motion steadily just until ingredients have been blended, turning bowl one-quarter of a turn after each folding operation.

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BAKING CAKES

Be sure to have the oven preheated before putting in cakes. Always bake cakes in the middle of the oven on center rack. When two pans are in the oven at once, as for layer cakes, be sure they are separated. It is a good idea to put them in diagonally — that is, in opposite corners of the oven.

HOW TO TELL WHEN CAKE IS BAKED

When baked, the cake is slightly shrunken from the sides of the pan. If the correct oven temperature is maintained, leave cake in oven for the minimum time given in recipe. Do not open oven door during the baking, as this may lower the oven temperature.

Test at the end of the minimum time by touching top of cake lightly with finger. If the impression of finger is left, keep cake in oven until maximum time is up, then test again. If cake is baked in deeper pan than that suggested in recipe, give it a little longer baking.

Check during the last few minutes of baking by thrusting a thin straw or cake tester into center. When it comes out clean the cake is done.

TO FROST CAKES

Be sure cake is cool before frosting it.

For one-layer cakes, set cake on waxed paper or plate. Brush off loose crumbs. Spread sides with frosting using broad spatula. Then pile the remaining frosting on top and spread it over the surface lightly, making swirls or peaks. Never spread a fluffy frosting smoothly.

For two-layer cakes, place one layer rounded side down on cake plate. Spread with filling or frosting. If filling is not firm, let it stand for a few minutes or until it will stay in place. Then put on second layer with flat side down. Brush off loose crumbs. Cover sides of cake with frosting then pile frosting on top spreading in swirls.

If chopped nuts, coconut or other garnishes are to go on frosting, put them on while frosting is still soft.

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