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.
A checklist for successful baking
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.
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.
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.
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.