A collection of my knowledge that will continue to grow..
I found this helpful article that explains what ratios of ingredients are necessary to make a cake. Here are the main takeaways, along with other bits I’ve learned along the way:
In weight (if you don’t have a scale, here is a conversion chart),
- Sugar = Flour; if uneven, the sugar should be slightly more than the flour
- Eggs = Fat (Butter); if uneven, the eggs should be slightly more than the fat
- Liquid (Milk) + Eggs = Sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder for every 100g flour OR ¼ teaspoon baking soda if using acidic ingredients (like buttermilk)
- A little bit of salt and vanilla for flavor
- Add in any other flavorings or ingredients you like while keeping an eye on the ratios (ex: if adding cocoa powder, don’t put in as much flour)
The ratios aim to create a balance in order to make cake the right texture. It is okay to stray slightly away from them, but you can’t go too far (try to be within 20%). Too much flour and and eggs (these give the cake structure) and the cake will be dense, chewy, and dry; too much sugar and fat (which makes the cake moist and soft) and the cake might not bake fully. The goal is a cake that will keeps its shape while also being yummy.
I’ve made a formula calculator that uses this information to help you.
MIXING THEM TOGETHER:
Now that we have an understanding of how MUCH ingredients we need, the way in which they are combined is very important to what kind of cake you end up with. There are two main methods.
The creaming method – The familiar mix butter and sugar together first until fluffy, then alternate adding the liquid and dry ingredients. The sugar creates little pockets of air in the butter which expand by the gases created by the reactions in the batter while it cooks and make the cake rise. This method creates what are known as “butter cakes” which have a fine crumb.
The egg foaming method – Whip the eggs and sugar until they form peaks (this is what creates the bubbles needed for the cake to rise), then fold in all other ingredients while being careful not to collapse the egg foam. This method creates what are known as “sponge cakes” and are lighter in texture than butter cakes.
If you want to read about many other various methods that exist go here.
INGREDIENTS AND THEIR ROLES:
Flour: Gives the cake structure. Different types of flour have different protein (what contributes to structure) levels. All purpose flour will work for pretty much everything (8%-11% protein). Cake Flour has a low protein content which will make cake more tender and, as its name implies, is best for cakes. Pastry Flour has a protein content in between the two and is best for pastries.
Milk & Buttermilk: Serves as a liquid in cakes. Can be substituted for each other 1:1. Buttermilk tends to be preferred in baking because it yields a more moist cake with a kick of flavor. The cakeblog.com did a nice visual comparison of using whole milk vs. buttermilk vs. sour cream here. Since buttermilk is acidic, use baking soda instead of baking powder.
Butter & Oil: Serves as a fat in cakes. Buy unsalted butter so you can control exactly how much salt is going into your baked goods. When using the creaming method, you must use butter. When using the egg foaming method it is okay to use either butter or oil since we are not relying on the butter for the air bubbles.
Sugar, Honey, & Syrups: Sweeteners used in baking. Regular crystal sugar attracts water which means the flour will not have as much of a chance to form gluten. This is why sugar contributes to the tenderness of the cake. When using the creaming method, you must use crystal sugar (not liquid sugar) in order to achieve the air necessary bubbles. Brown sugar can be substituted for white sugar and makes a moister cake with a little bit of that molasses flavor. When not relying on the creaming method (other cake methods or when making fillings etc.), it is okay to substitute for liquid sugar. White sugar has the least nutritional value out of all the sweeteners while maple syrup and honey (especially local honey) has the most nutritional value.
Cream of Tartar: An acid that is sometimes added to egg whites to help prevent over-whipping (which would ruin the foaming effort and you would have to start over). Can substitute this with another acid, like lemon juice, for the same effect.
Baking Soda & Baking Powder: Both are used as leaveners for cakes. Baking Powder is a mixture of baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar.