Call me old-fashioned - in fact, just call me old - but I do love a butter cake.
Frankly, no other type of cake will hold the flavour and texture like a good old- fashioned butter cake.
Sadly, the art of cake making or baking appears to be threatened by the dozens of mixes available for both household and commercial use.
Yet there are endless recipes available, and here's another today, for those who still enjoy making their cake from scratch.
I guess it would be fair to suggest the method used to make a butter cake would be best described as conventional.
While there are dozens of different kinds of cakes, they all descend from three basic types: the sponge cake (air-leavened cakes made with a great many eggs or egg whites), the chiffon (a combination of butter and sponge, containing some fat, usually a cooking oil and a high proportion of eggs) and the butter cake (when the butter or fat is creamed and baking powder or soda are used to leaven).
The conventional method of making for a butter cake is simple enough. A hand mixer or electric mixer can be used, but I guess these days a cake mixer is the preferred device.
Have the butter or shortening at room temperature, then cream it until it is light and fluffy, almost white in colour if you are using butter. Then gradually add the sugar and continue to cream it until it is again light and fluffy.
Next, add the eggs one at a time, ensuring that you beat well after each addition. Then add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the liquid, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. A quarter to a third at a time is about right. Should the recipe require you to separate the eggs, then beat the whites to soft peaks and fold in.
A cake will be no better than what goes into it. Choose top- quality ingredients. Do not improvise or substitute one ingredient for another, but use the types of sugars, flours, shortenings and leavenings that the recipe specifies.
Back in the day, dripping or lard were commonly used as the fat for a butter cake, but these days you will never fail to impress by using good butter.
Modern styles of vegetable shortening can produce a higher, more tender cake, with a combination of the two producing a cake of exceptionally fine volume.
Margarine is not a good alternative for butter unless the recipe calls for some. It has a somewhat greater shortening power than butter and in a cake of delicate balance, it may make the cake fall or split. Always use granulated sugar unless the recipe specifies other, such as light or dark brown sugar.
When using brown sugar, make sure it is fresh and soft and moist. It is virtually impossible to remove or beat out hard lumps of old, dried brown sugar. When measuring brown sugar, pack the sugar into the measuring cup.
Egg sizes vary enormously. Generally those used in the developing of recipes are large. If using small or medium-sized eggs, then add one more and, for greater volume in the cake, always use eggs at room temperature.
Either cake or all-purpose flour can be used in mixing cakes, but should not be used interchangeably for one another, at least not measure for measure. To use one in place of the other, make the following adjustments: 1 cup cake flour = 7/8 cup all- purpose flour.
1 cup all-purpose flour = 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp cake flour.
Cake flour will produce a drier, more textured and more tender cake, whereas all-purpose flour has slightly more body.
When it comes to leavenings, while air or steam can leaven cakes, most cake recipes these days include baking powder or baking soda. If you wish to make your own baking powder, simply use 2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt and that will leaven one good cup of flour.
Full-cream milk is the best when making any cake.
If a cake contains minced fruits and/or nuts, gently fold them in at the very end. To keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cake during baking, toss the fruits, nuts, etc, with about one-quarter of the dry ingredients, then gently fold them in to the mixture.
For light, evenly brown cakes, use shiny baking pans, rather than dark or discoloured ones, which will overbrown or even burn the cake.
Do not use glass baking dishes unless you compensate for their slow heat conduction by raising the oven temperature about 10 degrees Celsius. Glass dishes bake cakes too slowly and will dry them out.
Always grease and flour the pan. Thinly brush the butter with a pastry brush and then dust with flour.
Here are some reasons for the odd, not perfect cake which can happen on occasions.
Collapsed centre - too much sugar or shortening, too little baking powder, underbaking.
Fallen cake - same as collapsed centre, also too little flour.
Lopsided cake - unlevel oven shelves, also sometimes cake pans touching one another or the oven walls.
Cake overflowing - the pan was too small.
Heavy cake - too much sugar or too little baking powder.
Dry cake - too much flour or too little shortening, also overbaking.
Coarse texture - too much shortening or baking powder, undermixing, oven heat too low.
Uneven texture - undermixed.
Cracked or uneven top - too much flour or too hot an oven.
Sticky top or crust - too much sugar.
Uneven browning - crowding oven rack, using dark pans, baking at too high a temperature.
CHOCOLATE BUTTER CAKE
Makes two 22cm layers or one large 22cm cake
2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (or soured milk - to sour the milk, add 1/2 tsp lemon juice to each cup of full- cream milk)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups sugar
100g good baking chocolate, melted
Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.
Combine buttermilk and vanilla.
Cream the butter until light and fluffy, now add the sugar gradually, continuing to beat until it is again light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Mix in the chocolate.
Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry and adding about a third at a time. Beat until just smooth.
Smooth into 2 greased and floured 22cm cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes until the cake has started to shrink from the sides of the pans and is springy to the touch.
Cool in the pans on wire racks for 5-6 minutes, then tip out onto the racks and cool thoroughly.
EASY FUDGE FROSTING
This will fill and frost a 22cm two-layer cake
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
60g unsweetened chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
Stir all ingredients except the vanilla in a heavy-based saucepan over low heat until the chocolate and butter have melted.
Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and continue to boil for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and continue to beat until lukewarm.
Stir in the vanilla and continue to stir until a good spreading consistency has been achieved. This will take some time.
Spread over the cake and allow to set.
Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/Bainfield Rd roundabout.
- © Fairfax NZ News