TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL BAKING RESULTS
INCORRECT PAN SIZE -
Where possible use the pan size recommended in the recipe. Otherwise select a pan that has approximately the same volume size (by measuring with water) as the one recommended. But be aware that the baking time may be effected (an oblong cake will cook faster than a round one).
Ideally, cake batter should not come up further than half way up the sides of the pan (2/3 at most) – rich fruit cakes are the exception and can come up to the 3/4 mark.
PAN PREPARATION -
Always spray, grease with soft, not melted margarine, or oil cooking pans (even if they are non-stick ones). I line cake pans with either baking parchment or a Teflon liner for easy removal after cooking. There are a few exceptions but they are usually stated in the recipe.
BAKING GOES INTO A PRE-HEATED OVEN –
Remember to turn on the oven as you begin your baking session. Cakes sitting around waiting for the oven to heat up may activate the raising agent too soon causing the cake to sink.
GET TO KNOW YOUR OVEN -
No two ovens are the same and only experience will teach you whether you have a fast one (hotter than normal) or a slow one (cooler than normal). If you find you are constantly burning things lower the recommended oven temperature by 20 – 30 degrees. On the other hand, if it takes much longer than the recommended time to bake things, raise the temperature 10 degrees at a time until your baking cooks within the recommended time. Make a note besides the recipe of the changes for next time.
When using the fan function on your oven lower the temperature by 20 degrees as your baking will cook faster. Using the fan function means you can also bake more than one item at a time so that is a money saving tip.
WHERE TO PLACE BAKING IN AN OVEN –
The centre or middle rack of the oven is the best position. But that is not so critical when using a fan oven – unless you are after prize-winning looks in a bake-off.
HOW TO TELL IF A CAKE IS COOKED –
Take a cake pin or toothpick and prick the centre of the cake after the suggested cooking time then check to see whether it comes out cleanly or still has uncooked batter clinging to it. If the cake is still "raw" put it back in the oven and cook for another 5 minutes, then check again, repeating until the cake pin comes out cleanly.
Another clue is the sides of the cake shrink away a little from the sides of the pan, the cake top springs back when lightly pressed with the fingertips, and there is a strong cooked cake smell pervading the kitchen.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO COOL BAKING AFTER COOKING -
Always cool baking completely on a wire cake rack after removing from the oven so the air can circulate freely underneath. Stand cakes or loaves for 5 – 10 minutes before attempting to remove them from the pan. Loosen the edges with a knife, turn out cake and remove the pan liner (if one is used). Allow the cake to cool completely before attempting to frost or ice it.
Cookies (biscuits) can be removed to a wire cake rack with the aid of a spatular immediately they come out of the oven unless the recipe specifically stated otherwise. Always cool completely before storing them in an air-tight container.
ICING (FROSTING) CAKES –
Make sure the cake, muffins, cup cakes,etc, are completely cool before attempting to ice them (it will slide off otherwise).
And remember to allow time for the icing to set properly before storing them in a container.
STORING BAKING –
Baking should always be completely cool before any attempt is made to place them in a container.
Cakes frosted with cream cheese, lots of butter/ margarine or whipped cream need to be stored in the refridgerator.
Cookies or biscuits need to be stored in a completely airtight container to retain their crispness. With cakes it's not quite so important and a large up-turned bowl over it will suffice.
BAKING FAULTS 101
A HEAVY CAKE -
Too little raising agent was used.
Too much flour.
The margarine and sugar weren't creamed (if the recipe called for it) for long enough.
The cake batter was over-mixed.
A DRY CAKE -
The cake was over-baked – either by the oven temperature being too high or the cake was left in for too long.
A BADLY CRACKED CAKE -
Was the oven temperature too hot so the top crust cooked before the rest of the batter did? This will cause the crust to crack when rest of the cake batter expands as it cooks.
Cake cracking can happen when the volume of the batter is too much for the size of the cake pan. Try a larger pan next time.
Some cracking may be impossible to avoid in EggFree cakes and can be successfully hidden with icing/ frosting.
A SUNKEN (FALLEN CENTRE) CAKE -
The cake may have been under-cooked.
The liquid ingredients may have been over-measured.
The cake pan may have been too small for the amount of batter.
Moving or jarring the the cake can cause it to fall (my mother always warning us not to stomp around the kitchen when she was baking).
The baking powder or raising agents may be past their use by dates.
LESS THAN EXPECTED (FLAT) CAKE VOLUME -
Too large a pan was used for the amount of cake batter.
FRUIT SUNK TO THE BOTTOM OF CAKE -
The fruit may not have been properly dried after washing to remove dirt and grit. It's best to prepare the dried fruit for a rich fruit cake one to two days before required to allow sufficient time for the fruit to air dry in a warm kitchen (stir them every time you think of it to redistribute the fruit on the surface).
The cake batter may have been too thin allowing the fruit to sink.
The dried fruit was added before the flour when making up the cake.
To prevent nuts and fruit sinking to the cake bottom, heat them in the oven first.
CRUST STICKY AND MOIST -
The cake was stored away in a container before it had time to cool completely.
The cake needed a longer baking time.
Too much sugar was used in the recipe.
BADLY SHRUNKEN SIDES TO CAKE -
The cake was over-cooked (either at too high a temperature or for too long a time).
There was too little cake batter in the pan (use a smaller size pan next time).
The cake batter was over-mixed.
BURNT CAKE OR COOKIES -
Too hot an oven setting. Lower temperature by 10 – 20 degrees next time (especially if using a fan oven).
Too long a cooking time. Shorten the cooking time next time.
The cake batter may have been over-beaten.
The oven temperature may have been too high.
UNEVEN COLOURING -
More of an ascetic thing. The cake pans were set too close to the sides of the oven or the oven was crowded with too much baking at the same time (you can get away with it when using a fan oven especially if the cake is going to be iced).
UNEVEN TOP TO CAKE -
Did you spread the cake batter to the edge of the pan, evenly all round?
Was the oven shelf set at an angle? Orr the pan set too close to the oven wall?
CAKE HAS A PEAKED CENTRE -
The oven temperature may have been too hot.
The batter could have been over-mixed.
CAKE HAS A SANDY APPEARANCE TO TOP -
The margarine/butter and sugar may not have been beaten sufficiently.
CAKE IS SOGGY -
The cake was under-cooked (the oven temperature was too low or the baking time was too short).
The raising agents were past their use by dates.