A good cake should be soft, moist and fluffy. Cakes are relatively easy to make, given the low number of ingredients and techniques involved. But baking a good cake is more of an art than having the right technique. Many bakers will find that in spite of using the right ingredients and the techniques required, their cakes end up being dry and dense.
It is amazingly simple to get your cake to be soft and fluffy. All it takes is the right combination of ingredients, the right amount of heat and a few careful methods to give you a cake that will be remembered by whoever gets to eat it. While flavours are important, the best flavours will fail to make an impact if the cake is dry and dense.
Which ingredient makes cake soft?
One of the key ingredients used in baked goods is a leavening agent. A leavening agent is used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of the baked goods. When a leavening agent like yeast is used, fermentation flavours are in the end product, which is fine for breads but undesirable in cakes. Because of this, chemical leavening in baking powder or baking soda is used in cakes.
Baking powder is a dry ingredient mixture of tartaric acid and baking soda. When mixed with water, the sodium hydrogen carbonate reacts with the tartaric acid and forms carbon dioxide gas as a result of this acid-base reaction. The carbon dioxide gas thus released is trapped in the wet dough and slowly bubbles out, making the cake soft and spongy. The tartaric acid reacts with sodium carbonate formed and neutralises it. This eliminates the possibility of a bitter taste. Baking powder is not a magic powder, though. Using baking powder alone does not guarantee a soft and fluffy cake.
Sometimes, bakers use baking soda as the leavening agent. This is not the preferred agent. The reason is that baking soda may leave an aftertaste that ruins the flavour for the consumer. Baking soda is an important ingredient in brownies and red velvet cakes. However, they may cause your cake to fall in the middle if not used correctly.
Read on to find out what else you can do to make your cake soft and fluffy.
How do I make my cake fluffy?
When baking a cake from scratch, you may seem to do everything right, but the cake seems dry, brittle, and dense when it comes out of the oven. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure your cake is soft and fluffy when done.
Use cake flour: One of the first things you will be doing when you set out to bake a cake is sorting out the ingredients for the cake. Choosing the right flour for your cake is one of the most important steps. All-purpose flour may be fine to use for breads, but nowadays, most supermarkets carry cake flour that is made specifically for use in cakes. Cakes made with cake flour tend to be softer and fluffier than those made with all-purpose flour. This is because cake flour has corn starch mixed in it. Corn starch is known to make the cake crumb softer, giving structure to cakes and other baked goods while remaining soft.
Make sure your ingredients are at the right temperature: This is a step that is often overlooked in baking. Recipes call for specific ingredients temperatures, and each ingredient’s correct temperature plays an important role. The flour and eggs that you use should always be at room temperature. The butter should be slightly warm and soft to the touch. Many of us tend to take the butter straight out of the fridge and throw it into the bowl, resulting in incorrect creaming.
Creaming the butter and sugar properly: An essential tip for a fluffy cake is to ensure the butter and sugar are creamed right. When whisking, either by hand or with an electronic mixer, ensure you incorporate enough air into the mixture. Whisk until the mixture become pale yellow and light and airy. Most people do not wait until the butter mixture is pale because they assume that adding the eggs will make it better. Seasoned bakers swear by the time you take to cream the butter and sugar. A pale yellow, airy mix will go a long way towards making a fluffy cake that does not sink. The best way to ensure you are beating it right is to set a timer. Mostly, you cream the butter and sugar for about 6-8 minutes.
Beat eggs slowly: Eggs are a binding agent in the cake batter. If the eggs are beaten incorrectly, it may cause the cake to become heavier. Once your butter and sugar have creamed to the right level, add about one-third of the required quantity of eggs into the mixture and beat it together. Repeat the process two more times until you get a mixture that looks slimy. This is the batter’s right consistency before adding the flour. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature. The eggs cannot be removed from the fridge and added to the mixture. Cold eggs will change the texture of your cake. Also, check the freshness of the eggs before adding them to your batter.
Sifting the dry ingredients: flour, salt, and baking soda or powder make up the dry ingredients in a cake. Other flavouring agents like cocoa powder or cinnamon powder may also be used depending on the cake you want to bake. Sifting the dry ingredients together is a process that has been used for centuries to make a cake soft and fluffy. Sifting adds air and makes the mixture lighter. It also removes any lumps in the flour or cocoa powder and leaves you with a loose and airy mixture. Many skip this step to avoid the hassle of cleaning up after sifting. However, an airy mix of dry ingredients means enough air pockets in your cake batter.
Folding the flour: You have carefully mixed enough air into your dry and wet ingredients. When combining both, you should take care not to lose the airiness that has been so carefully incorporated. You must slowly fold your flour into the beaten butter, sugar and egg mixture. Just like the process followed with the eggs, add the flour gradually into the mix. Starting with about one-third of the flour, fold the flour into the mixture, taking care not to lose too much air. Do this slowly and carefully, and repeat by adding the rest of the flour in small increments. Folding the flour slowly will result in a cake batter that is light and full of air. Most bakers would teach you to swirl the spatula around the mixing bowl and not attack the batter. The reason is that batter will lose the air if you stir or mix vigorously. If this happens, the cake will be dry, hard and dense.
Using Buttermilk: Some recipes call for using buttermilk as a substitute for baking soda. Cakes that use buttermilk become softer as the high acidic content in buttermilk breaks down the gluten in the flour. Gluten is the protein found in wheat items that act as a coupling agent. Add a little baking soda to the batter and buttermilk for even better results.
Using oil as a substitute for butter in cakes: One of the surefire ways to ensure you have a moist cake is to substitute some vegetable oil for the butter in a cake. Vegetable oil is known to decrease the creation of gluten in flour. Too much gluten in a cake will make it sticky and tough instead of moist.
Sugar syrup: A lesser-known secret to moist cakes, use sugar syrup to make your cake spongy. Frosting or storing a cake in the refrigerator tends to dry them out, and using sugar syrup can ensure that they stay moist. Simply prepare a syrup by boiling equal parts of water and sugar together. Once the syrup is cooled, you can pour it over your cake slices or use a spray bottle to spray it on before you frost your cake. Be careful about the temperature and consistency of the sugar syrup. If the sugar syrup is too sticky, your baking expedition could end up in disaster.
Frosting the cake: Like everything else, there is a right time to frost your cake. Once your cake is out of the oven, allow it to sit uncovered until it gets to room temperature. Cut into your cake and start frosting it only after it has set and cooled completely. Cutting into a warm cake will break down, and frosting will result in runny frosting. Wait until the right time for the best results.
What does milk do in cake?
Some recipes call for milk to be used instead of water. In baking, milk functions like water, moistening batter or dough, adding protein, colour and flavour to baked goods. In baking, the form of milk that is used most commonly is non-fat dry milk, which is dehydrated skim milk. This is a form of dry milk, which is known to help improve the texture and mouthfeel of cakes, create a strong batter from the protein that is naturally present in the milk, and add fat for a crisp crust. Using milk instead of water will make your cake taste much better, and more homemade.
Keep these points in mind when baking your next cake, and we guarantee your cake will be soft, moist and fluffy when it comes out of the oven. Impress your friends and family with your baking skills, and thank us later.
What should I not do?
The most important thing to remember is to stick to the measurements or quantities. Tweaking the measures won’t result in a better cake. Some people believe that using more baking powder or any other leavening agent could result in a fluffy cake.
If the recipe calls for a certain amount of baking powder or soda, stick to the same quantity. Do not use more than the specified amount. Contrary to popular belief, using more will not result in a better cake.
Add the leavening agent according to the steps mentioned. For example, in a red velvet cake, baking soda and vinegar are added towards the end of the batter mixing. This is because the effervescence caused by the reaction between baking soda and vinegar causes the cake to be light and airy. If you mix it in the beginning, you lose all that effervescence. The result is a dense cake with a slightly sour taste.
Do not let the batter sit for a long time before baking. Cake batters are meant to go into the oven soon after mixing. Most recipes ask you to pre-heat the oven even before you start mixing the batter. This is because the oven will be ready for the batter as soon as you are done with the mixing. The longer the cake batter sits, the more the chances of a dense cake.
Overmixing is another problem that many amateur bakers face. While the creaming of the butter and sugar is a process that requires time, the rest of the batter-making process is relatively quick. You only have to mix till all the ingredients are incorporated together. Overmixing means that you are removing air from the mixture. This will result in a cake that is not fluffy or collapses in the centre.