Yah! It’s the best time of year to make cake.
If you live in the southern hemisphere, now is the time to make cake. Truly. Well, particularly those made on the creaming method. This is the tricky one, the one cake-making method that many cooks avoid because it has got DISASTER written all over it. BUT if you make it on a warm day, or when your kitchen is nice and cosy, you’ll have more success than if you tried to make it on a cold day in a frigid kitchen. Here’s why:
In this method butter and sugar are whipped together until they are like a thick fluffy cream, eggs are beaten in, then the dry ingredients are folded in. The top of the cooked cake is slightly moist, and can be a little sticky. It’s generally smooth and flat; athough small cakes, such as cup cakes, are often raised. The crumb is even-textured, soft and tender. The method makes a richer cake than the whisking method does. It is used for classic cakes such as Victoria sandwich (a split cake sandwiched together with jam, named after Queen Victoria). Butter improves the keeping quality of cakes made with the creaming method; the higher the proportion of butter in the recipe, the longer the cake will keep. Most will keep well for 2-3 days in a cake tin.
The creaming method causes cooks more problems than any other cake-making methods, but with a little knowledge success can be achieved.
It is essential that the butter be at room temperature (18-20°C/70°F), as cold butter cannot be creamed sufficiently, and that the other ingredients are also at room temperature to ensure air can be trapped during mixing. On a cold day, the butter can be gently microwaved in bursts of 5-10 seconds on high until it is pliable. Alternatively, the butter can be put in a bowl and the bowl put somewhere warm for a few minutes, but the butter MUST NOT MELT. Melted butter will not cream properly, because it cannot hold air, and it will make the cake heavy.
The best bowl to use is a deepish mixing bowl which is wider at the top than at the bottom. This confines the ingredients to be creamed, making it faster to cream them, and the wide top allows room to fold in the dry ingredients. In a wide-bottomed bowl you end up chasing the ingredients around the bowl (if using a hand-held electric beater, for instance, the beaters flick the mixture to one side of the bowl; you move the beater there only to find once it gathers up the mixture it flicks it to another side of the bowl.
Beat the butter to loosen it first, then gradually beat in the caster sugar, and continue beating until the butter and sugar are paler in colour, thick and fluffy and nicely soft. Thorough beating is required to break down the sugar crystals and produce a light fine-textured cake. Failure to do this sufficiently is the main cause of curdling, (the mixture separating), once eggs are added. Make sure all sugar is mixed in, because if any crystals are left around the sides of the mixture they will cause speckling on top of the cake. Use caster sugar (superfine granulated sugar), not granulated heavy), because it will break down more easily.
Use fresh eggs, because egg white thins down as the egg ages and the wateriness of older eggs can be difficult for the fat and sugar to absorb. Have the eggs at room temperature, like the butter and sugar, to help the ingredients mix together. If the eggs are taken straight from the fridge, immerse them in a bowl of hottish water for a few minutes, then leave them at room temperature for 10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe. Alternatively, break the eggs into a warmed china bowl, beat lightly, then leave bowl immersed in warm water for 5-10 minutes. If using only egg yolks, ensure the chalazae (cord of the egg) are nipped off with a piece of eggshell, and that they go with the egg whites, not the yolks.
Beat eggs together with a fork to break them up, then gradually beat them into the creamed butter and sugar. If the eggs are added too fast, and without thorough beating between additions, the mixture can separate. If the added weight of butter and sugar in the recipe is over 225g (8 ounces), the eggs may be added whole, one at a time, beating well after adding each egg. Adding a small amount of the flour called for in the recipe during beating in the eggs – generally, 1 tablespoon per egg – will help stabilise the creamed mixture and help prevent curdling.
If the mixture curdles due to cold ingredients, all may not be lost. Stand the bowl in a sink of warm water and beat vigorously –you may rescue it. If despite your hard work, the mixture stays curdled, carry on with the recipe because it would be wasteful to throw out butter, sugar an eggs. The cake will not be as light and the texture will be denser, but it will still be perfectly edible and hopefully you will have learnt some lessons to help towards success next time.
The next step is to add the dry ingredients, and any liquid called for, without deflating the mixture. Sift flour with a pinch of salt to aerate it, then sift it over the top of the creamed mixture. Use a large metal spoon to fold in flour along with any other dry ingredients. A wooden spoon is not as effective as a large metal spoon, as it doesn’t scoop the mixture off the sides of the bowl as cleanly as the metal spoon. Do not beat, as beating will make the cake tough. Any milk or liquid called for in the recipe should also be at room temperature to prevent curdling. As a precaution, when adding liquids or fats such as sour cream, add the flour in three lots, and the milk, liquids or fats, in two or three lots, one after each addition of flour. This helps gently combine everything. The cake will not find its own level during baking, so pile it into the tin and spread it with a knife until smooth.
When a creamed cake is cooked, it should be an even golden colour, and should spring back when gently pressed with the finger. It should also be shrinking slightly from the sides of the cake tin. It can be checked in the centre with a fine skewer – but use a bamboo skewer, not a shiny metal one, because uncooked mixture simply slips off metal but will cling to bamboo. The skewer should come out clean.
Cool cake in tin very briefly, to avoid it sweating, (unless directed otherwise – generally when there is a heavy fruit component which could cause the cake to split if it is turned out while still hot). Then go round between the cake and the tin with a flat-bladed knife to loosen the cake from the tin. Invert onto a cooling rack lined with a piece of baking (parchment) paper and peel off the paper from the bottom of the cake if it is still attached (sometime it remains in the tin). If directed, cover cake with a second cooling rack also lined with baking paper (or use a plate) and flip cake back over top uppermost, then lift off cooling rack or plate (this depends on whether the bottom of the cake is to be presented as the top – desirable when a flat, smooth surface is required for ising). Cool cake away from draughts.
See recipe Almond Cake with Stone Fruit