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Types of Cakes

Cakes fall into two major groups: Foam Cakes (little or no fat) and Shortened (butter) Cakes.

Cakes that contain little or no fat, such as Sponge, Angel Food and Chiffon Cakes, are often referred to as Foam cakes. These have a larger proportion of egg than butter cakes.

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Butter or Shortened Cakes

Butter cakes, also called shortened cakes or creamed cakes, contain butter, margarine or vegetable shortening, which contribute to a finely textured, tender and moist cake.

Both Foam and Butter Cakes lend themselves to limitless variations, depending on the flavorings added to the basic ingredients, the shapes of the pans used in baking, and fillings, icings and decorations used.

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Foam Cakes

Strictly speaking, a foam cake contains no leavening or fat other than provided by the eggs; baking powder and baking soda are not necessary in these recipes. As a result, it is important to preheat the oven and have the baking pans ready in advance. These cakes need to be baked as soon as they are ready or the egg whites will deflate; they will do so after about 5 minutes of sitting on the countertop. Because Foam Cakes are so light and airy, they should be cut with a serrated knife in a sawing motion to cut. An electric knife is helpful, too. There are some similarities and differences within Foam Cakes.

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Flourless Chocolate Cakes

Another variation of the foam cake is the Flourless Chocolate Cake, a very rich cake leavened with eggs. Its richness comes from chocolate, egg yolks and some type of fat, usually butter.

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Sponge Cake Types

A light cake whose leavening comes only from beaten egg whites (no baking powder or soda), and has little or no butter and thus have very little fat content. As a result, a Sponge Cake takes well to being soaked with flavored syrups and such. There are essentially two varieties of sponge cakes:

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Biscuit Sponge

The Biscuit is where the eggs are separated and the yolks whipped with sugar until pale yellow while the whites are whisked with a little sugar until voluminous. Then the two are folded together with a bit of flour to bind them and, if desired, melted butter and or a flavoring like vanilla are added last.

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Genoise Sponge Cakes

In a Genoise the eggs are beaten whole, never separated with the sugar, until they are mousse-like and very pale yellow. Last, the flour is folded in as well as vegetable oil or clarified butter for moistness. The butter makes a moister, more tender and flavorful cake.

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Chiffon Cakes

Chiffon cakes are light like sponge cakes, but are easier to make because there are no egg whites to beat and fold in. Plus, there's more fat in it (oil) so it's more tender and moist than sponge cake.

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Angel Food Cakes

Angel Food Cakes have no added leavening (such as baking powder), shortening or egg yolks. They are leavened with beaten egg whites and they have a high proportion of egg whites to flour. Angel food cakes make a fabulous no-fat treat.

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More Cake Types

Charlottes

These molded desserts are a variation of the cake in which fillings, hot or cold, are poured into a bowl lined with bread, ladyfingers or pieces of cake, then decorated. A French pastry chef invented the charlotte in the 1800's. The classic version is the Charlotte Russe. Also try such flavors as chocolate, eggnog, strawberry, Bavarian cream.

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Meringue Cakes

Made from beaten egg whites and sugar, meringue is used as a leavening agent in some cake batters or to lighten a souffle or mousse. Baked by themselves into rings or other shapes, meringues make for light and pretty cakes filled with fruit or ice cream. They can be family size or baked as individual servings. A common name for a meringue cake is Pavlova.

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Jelly Rolls, Swiss Rolls, Roulades

These are a form of sponge-cake, baked in a shallow pan and used for jellyrolls or such holiday cakes as the Christmas "yule log," an especially nice variation. The cake (jelly roll, swiss roll, roulade) are immediately removed from the pan and rolled up in a sugared tea towel after baking. When cool, they are unrolled gently, filled with jelly, custard or icings and rerolled. For the yule log (Buche de Noel), fill and ice with chocolate buttercream, then decorate with leaves, "branches," meringue mushrooms and woodland animals - a crowd-pleaser!

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Cake Baking Tips

Cake baking is pretty straightforward, but perhaps you'll learn something or refresh your memory from reading these tips.

Use The Best Ingredients

If you are going to the trouble to make a "from scratch" cake, begin with top-quality ingredients, resisting temptations to substitute.

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Measuring Ingredients

Measure ingredients carefully, using spoons and measuring cups made especially for this purpose. All measurements are usually level. We all have memories of Grandma's baking, a handful of this and a shake of that, but remember, she baked everything from scratch and had years of experience.

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To Sift Or Not To Sift?

All-purpose flour usually doesn't need to be sifted; simply stir it lightly with a spoon before measuring. When sifted flour is called for, the ingredients list will say "1 cup sifted flour." This means sift the flour and then measure. If it says, "1 cup flour, sifted," the flour should be measured and then sifted.

Cake flour, which has been finely milled, has a tendency to form lumps. It should always be sifted before using.

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Be Prepared

Make sure you have all the ingredients before you start making the batter.

Use the pan sizes suggested and prepare the baking pans carefully as the recipe states. If you are greasing the pans, solid vegetable shortening is best to use. If the directions call for a lined pan, cut parchment or waxed paper to fit the bottom of the pan, then grease the pan before and after placing the paper inside.

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Dusting Pans?

Some recipes call for dusting the pans with flour. This helps the cake develop a thin, crisp crust and prevents the cake from absorbing the fat used to grease the pan. Use about one tablespoon all-purpose flour for dusting each pan, shaking and tilting until the bottom and sides have a fine coating. Then hold the pan upside down over the sink and tap it gently so excess flour falls away.

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Preheating Oven, Oven Thermometers, Etc.

It is important to have your oven preheated so you can immediately put the pans into the hot oven. Invest in an oven thermometer so you'll get accurate temperatures. Cake batter should not sit before baking, because chemical leaveners begin working as soon as they are mixed with liquids and the air in foam batters will begin to dissipate.

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What Oven Rack To Bake Your Cake On

Place the pan on the oven's center rack. If two or more pans are used, allow at least an inch of space between the pans and two inches between the pans and the walls of the oven for proper heat circulation.

DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN during the first half of the baking time. Cold air will interfere with the cake's rising.

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Uneven Cake Layers

If the crust of a cake layer seems tough or if the layer has an uneven top, trim it away with a serrated knife before frosting. To prevent the cut surface from shedding crumbs and spoiling the frosting, spread it with a thin layer of frosting (called the crumb layer) before applying the final frosting.

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Frosting a Cake without the Mess

To keep a serving plate clean while frosting a cake, place strips of waxed paper 4 inches wide in a square to cover the edges of the plate. Center the cake on the plate, making sure the strips are positioned to cover the plate on all sides. Frost the cake and then carefully pull away the strips.

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Torting A Cake

This tip suggests using dental floss to cut a cake into two even layers. Once the cake is divided - professional bakers call this process "torting" - the layers can be filled with jam, buttercream, or whipped cream. 1. Place several toothpicks around the edge of the cake, halfway between the top and the bottom. Use a ruler to determine the midpoint, thus ensuring even layers. 2. Wrap a long piece of waxed dental floss around the circumference of the cake, making sure that the floss rests directly on top of the toothpicks. Cross ends of floss and pull. As floss tightens, it will cut through the cake. 3. Once floss has cut through the cake, lift top layer and set aside. Remove toothpicks from bottom layer and proceed with filling and decorating the cake.

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Removing Cake From A Bundt Pan

Just before the cake is through baking, place a folded bathroom towel in the sink and saturate it with steaming hot water. When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately set the it on top of the towel, pan side down, and leave it for ten seconds. Immediately invert the cake onto a cooling rack. The cake will come out clean and whole without sticking.

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Making Your Cakes Look Professionally Decorated

Professionally decorated cakes always seem to have a molten, silky look. To get that same appearance in your homemade cakes, frost the sides and top of the cake and smooth out with a spatula as usual. Use a hair dryer to "blow-dry" the frosted surfaces of the cake. The slight melting of the frosting gives it that smooth, lustrous appearance.

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Easy Cake Handling

When garnishing the sides of a frosted cake with nuts or coconut, it's easy to make a mess. To keep the process neater and make handling the cake easier, Cut a cardboard cake round slightly smaller than the cake and place the cake on top of it. Using the cake round, hold the cake over a bowl of chopped nuts or coconut by hand while applying the garnish to the sides of the cake. --Cook's Illustrated.

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Some Reasons Why Cakes Sink or Fall In The Middle

Cakes will sink or fall because:

  • Overbeating - too much air is incorporated into batter.
  • Underbaking - Oven temperature too low and/or too short a baking time.
  • Over or under measurement of liquid or under measurement of flour.
  • Using too small or large of a baking pan.
  • Moving or jarring cake before sufficiently baked or opening the oven door before cake sets. Note: Only open oven door if absolutely needed, one-half to three-quarter's way through baking.
  • The most common error has to do with the oven temperature. Make sure you have an oven thermometer to test your oven for accuracy.
  • Depending on the recipe if you fold in egg whites, if not beaten fully or folded in too harshly, the cake could fall.
  • Even creaming the butter and sugar too much or too little can cause problems.

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Ideas for Decorating Tops of Cakes

Fresh edible flowers make gorgeous and oh-so-easy cake decorations. You can start with a frosted cake or even just a plain cake (it's nice lightly dusted with confectioners' sugar) then pile on the flowers such as sweet violets, lavender, honeysuckle, rose petals, borage, bachelor's buttons, johnny-jump ups, and calendulas just to name a few. For an added touch, dusting the flowers with super fine sugar gives a wonderful sparkly glow to your creation. Readily available candied violets and candied rose petals also add that special touch to a decorated cake. Just be sure when using flowers as a decoration that they are clean, all the parts you are using are non-toxic, and that they are pesticide free.

Another great way to spice up a cake is with fresh fruit. Fresh berries can be piled on top of cake, sprinkled with confectioners' sugar and garnished with a few fresh mint leaves. Whole strawberries placed around the outside of a chocolate cake add a touch of color. Kiwis, grapes, orange sections, and strawberries can be arranged on the top of a cake and glazed with a shiny syrup. Fresh sliced figs with dollops of whipped cream can also be arranged decoratively on the top of a cake. These are just a few of the many ways fruit can be used in decorating cakes. Using caramel dipped, sugar-dusted, or candied fruit and/or rinds can also add a nice finishing touch to a beautiful cake.

Confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder lightly dusted over the tops of cakes makes a nice finishing touch. Lace paper doilies placed over the cake before dusting makes wonderful lacy patterns, or create your own stencils using parchment paper cut into lovely designs such as stars, polka dots, flowers, diamonds, vines, and waves. Another great way to dust a cake is to use a stencil of radiating lines and both confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder. Place the stencil on top of the cake and dust with cocoa powder. Carefully remove the stencil and wipe off any remaining cocoa powder. Be very careful not to disturb the cocoa powder, and place the stencil on top of the cake again, this time making sure that the openings are on the parts of the cake that have not been dusted with cocoa powder. Dust with confectioners' sugar, carefully remove the stencil and voila! -- you'll get a very graphic two-toned design.

Chocolate curls, ruffles, jagged slabs, and leaves are another easy way to jazz up a cake. Chocolate curls can be made with a vegetable peeler by simply shaving off pieces of a chocolate block. To get small flakes and curls make sure the chocolate block is cold, to get larger curls the surface of the chocolate should be slightly warm but not melted. To get even larger curls spread melted chocolate, in a thin layer, over a marble slab or a baking sheet, let the chocolate cool then scrape using a knife, spoon, or spatula depending on the size and the shape of the curl/ruffle you want. For jagged slabs of chocolate simply cut out irregular shapes with a knife or other sharp instrument. To make chocolate leaves carefully brush melted chocolate onto the underside of a non-toxic leaf, cool until chocolate has fully hardened, and gently peel off the natural leaf from the chocolate one. These chocolate confections can be piled high, lightly scattered, or precisely placed on a cake. A mixture of white and dark chocolate leaves gives a real dramatic flourish to a simple chocolate cake or even a decadent cheesecake.

Marzipan molded into different shapes makes very attractive garnishes. Marzipan can be shaped into animals, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and any numerous fanciful shapes. It can be colored with paste food coloring before shaping for deeper more intense shades or dry food coloring can be dusted on the finished shapes for a subtle blush of color. Once made, these shapes arranged in groups or singly on or around a lightly frosted cake will make a very attractive or whimsical statement.

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How to Tell if a Cake is Done

When you go to the trouble to make a homemade cake, making sure the cake is done is an important process. No one wants a cake that is either still raw in the middle, or dryer than day old bread. There is no one hard and fast rule for making sure that a cake is done in terms of cooking temperatures and times. Each cake will bake slightly different according to its ingredients, the oven you are using, and the size of the baking pan or dish.

Generally, one tests a cake by inserting a clean toothpick into the middle of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. If the toothpick comes out with crumbs, or clearly shows wet cake batter, the cake is not finished cooking. Don't use a knife to test the cake as this can deflate a cake. If you don't have a toothpick, you can substitute with a thin wooden skewer or an uncooked spaghetti noodle.

Usually, the best way to ensure a cake is done is to rigidly follow the recipe ingredients. Substitutions like honey for sugar, or additions of wet ingredients like blueberries or bananas may result in a longer cooking time. In these cases, you can cook the cake until the time designated by the recipe and then test it, but you may need to add a little cooking time before the cake is done. Larger cakes usually require longer cooking at a slightly lower temperature. You may want to check the directions for baking doubled or tripled recipes.

There are often different cooking times for people who live in mountainous regions, and be certain also to check if you are using a convection oven, as these usually have much quicker cooking times. When one purchases a convection oven, it will also usually come with a book of recipes, or modifications that can help you determine when your cake is done. One can also purchase cookbooks designed for the convection oven, which are likely to yield better results than recipes designed for traditional gas or electric ovens.

Some cooks swear by the careful hand test to assess when a cake is done. They gently press on the top of the cake with the hand. If it feels firm, and does not give under the pressure, then the cake is done. It should spring back. The cake should only be pressed very lightly, or it can deflate the cake. Any significant amount of give suggests cooking the cake for longer. This method should be done carefully and quickly, since the cake will be quite hot.

To make sure your cake is done properly, you might also want to hang an oven thermometer in your oven and test the temperature. Slight variations in oven temperature can change cooking time. As well, older ovens may have hot spots that can affect larger cakes particularly. If you know of such hot spots, be sure to keep the cake away from them, or directly centered on them when possible, so the cake cooks through evenly.

Lastly, a good look at a cake, particularly those that are yellow or white can yield a lot of information about whether the cake is done. They tend to shrink from the sides as they become more cooked, though this is not usually the case with chocolate cakes, unless they contain a lot of butter. If the top seems to be getting golden or yellow, the cake is probably close to ready. If the cake still seems very pale, it may benefit from a few more minutes in the oven.

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Baking Tips For Cheesecakes

How to Soften Cream Cheese

Place completely unwrapped packages of cream cheese in microwavable bowl. Microwave on High 30 to 45 seconds or until slightly softened.

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Cheesecake Tips and Ideas

A springform pan (with removable side and bottom) is the most commonly used pan for making cheesecakes.

Avoid over-beating the batter. Over-beating incorporates additional air and tends to cause cracking on the surface of the cheesecake.

For even marbling and the best distribution of added ingredients, such as chocolate chips or nuts, do not over-soften or over-beat the cream cheese.

Avoid over-baking: Cheesecake baking times are not always exact, due to variations in ovens. The cheesecake will continue to bake after it is removed from the oven. The center of the cheesecake should be just slightly moist when it is ready to be removed.

Upon removal from the oven, loosen the cake from the edge of the pan by running the tip of a knife or narrow spatula between the top edge of the cake and the side of the pan. This allows the cake to pull away freely from the pan as it cools.

Cool the cheesecake on a wire rack away from drafts.

After a cheesecake has cooled completely, gently loosen the entire side of the cheesecake from the pan with the tip of a knife while slowly releasing the springform pan clamp. Carefully remove the side of the pan.

Baked cheesecakes freeze well. Cool them completely and wrap them securely in heavy-duty foil or plastic wrap, but do not freeze cheesecakes with garnishes or toppings.

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Preventing Surface Cracks

The most common complaint is cracking that develops through the middle of the cheesecake during or after baking. Bake the cheesecake in a water bath to keep the oven moisture high and the heat gentle. (A water bath is using a larger pan containing water in which to place the smaller cheesecake baking pan.)

Don't overbake the cheesecake. When perfectly done, there will still be a two to three-inch wobbly spot in the middle of the cheesecake; the texture will smooth out as it cools.

Cheesecake will shrink as it cools. Generously greasing the sides of the baking pan before pouring in batter will allow the cake to pull away from the pan as it cools and shrinks instead of pulling apart from the middle.

Cheesecakes have a tendency to crack, but they don't have to. This favorite American dessert can have a cracked surface for a number of reasons. One cause is air trapped inside the batter - a result of over-mixing. Once in the oven, the air bubble expands and wants to escape from the cake. As it finds its way out of the top of the cake, it creates a crack or crevice in the cake's surface. Another cause of a cracked surface is a drastic temperature change.

How to avoid cracks then? Be sure to mix your cheesecake batter well, eliminating all possible lumps in the cream cheese BEFORE you add the eggs. It is the eggs that will hold air in the batter, so add them last, and mix as little as possible once they are in the mix.

Also, be sure to cook your cheesecake gently. Use a water bath - wrap the bottom of your springform pan in aluminum foil and place it in a larger pan with water in it, just halfway up the outside of the springform pan. This will allow the cheesecake to cook more slowly and evenly.

Finally, cook your cheesecake slowly - at 325ยบ F. After about 45 minutes, turn your oven off and leave the cheesecake inside the turned off oven for another hour. Cool at room temperature with a plate or cookie sheet inverted over the cheesecake to slow the cooling. Only then can you refrigerate the cake, which you will need to do for another 6 hours at least.

If after all this, you still have a crack, make a topping or a sauce for your cheesecake, and tell all your guests that you intentionally made a special crack in the top of the cake to hold more sauce!

***VERY IMPORTANT TIPS ON PREVENTING CRACKING***

Cheesecakes with cornstarch or flour added to the batter do not crack as easily from overbaking. The starch molecules will actually get in between the egg proteins preventing them from over-coagulating. No over-coagulating, no cracks!! Some bakers add extra insurance to a cheesecake recipe that doesn't contain cornstarch or flour, by simply adding 1 tablespoon to1/4 cup of cornstarch to the batter with the sugar.

With today's trend to produce larger and higher cheesecakes and to bake them without the benefit of a waterbath, they tend to overbake at the edge before the center of the cake has reached the temperature necessary to set (coagulate) the eggs. Here, your cheesecake will tend to form deep cracks upon cooling.

Don't bake your cheesecake at too high a temperature (I recommend baking cheesecakes at 300-325 degrees F at the highest) The egg proteins will overcoagulate from too much heat which eventually shrink when cooled, causing cracking usually in its center or tiny cracks all over its top. If you heat it up to fast or cool it down too fast you're also going to get cracks.

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Freezing Cheesecakes

Cheesecakes can be frozen. Careful wrapping is very important. To freeze, place a fully cooled cheesecake in the freezer, uncovered, for 1 hour. If it's in a springform pan, remove sides of pan and freeze with the pan bottom in place. After 1 hour, use a knife to separate the cheesecake from the pan bottom. Slide it onto a foil-wrapped piece of heavy cardboard. Wrap in plastic wrap, then carefully place it inside a large freezer bag or wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil. Label and date. Freezing for more than a month is not recommended to retain the best quality.

For a cheesecake with topping, such as fruit, always freeze cheesecake WITHOUT the topping and add the topping before serving.

Always thaw a cheesecake overnight in the refrigerator. When partially thawed, transfer it from the cardboard bottom to a serving plate.

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" Water Bath " For Baking Cheesecakes

A "water bath" is a method that will help keep your cheesecake from cracking while baking.

First, take heavy aluminum foil, and wrap it around sides and bottom of your springform pan or cheesecake pan with removable bottom. This prevents leakage while baking your cheesecake.

Place your springform pan or cheesecake pan (filled with cheesecake batter and crust) into a larger deep baking pan* that it will fit into easily. *Note: The larger pan should be at least 2-3 inches in depth.

Place in pre-heated oven. With a kettle filled with very hot water, pour water into the larger pan about halfway up, or approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches.

Bake cheesecake as directed. When cheesecake is done, remove springform pan or cheesecake pan (if using) from "water bath" in oven. Carefully remove larger pan with water in it from oven. It will be very hot. Discard water when it has cooled.

Remove aluminim foil from sides and bottom of pan after your cheescake has cooled completely in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to release sides of springform pan, or remove cheesecake from a cheesecake pan with removable bottom (if using) and cheescake has cooled in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight; this is the best time to remove aluminum foil.

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