Cake Baking 101
4.03: What is Cake?
Cake is a form of sweet food that is usually baked. In their oldest forms, cakes were modifications of breads, but cakes now cover a wide range of preparations that can be simple or elaborate, and that share features with other desserts such as pastries, meringues, custards, and pies.
The most commonly used cake ingredients include flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil or margarine, a liquid, and leavening agents, such as baking soda or baking powder. Common additional ingredients and flavorings include dried, candied, or fresh fruit, nuts, cocoa, and extracts such as vanilla, with numerous substitutions for the primary ingredients. Cakes can also be filled with fruit preserves, nuts or dessert sauces (like pastry cream), iced with buttercream or other icings, and decorated with marzipan, piped borders, or candied fruit.
Cake is often served as a celebratory dish on ceremonial occasions, such as weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays. There are countless cake recipes; some are bread-like, some are rich and elaborate, and many are centuries old. Cake making is no longer a complicated procedure; while at one time considerable labor went into cake making (particularly the whisking of egg foams), baking equipment and directions have been simplified so that even the most amateur of cooks may bake a cake.
4.04: History of Cake
Cakes are made from various combinations of refined flour, some form of shortening, sweetening, eggs, milk, leavening agent, and flavoring. There are literally thousands of cakes recipes (some are bread-like and some rich and elaborate) and many are centuries old. Cake making is no longer a complicated procedure.
Baking utensils and directions have been so perfected and simplified that even the amateur cook may easily become and expert baker. There are five basic types of cake, depending on the substance used for leavening.
The most primitive peoples in the world began making cakes shortly after they discovered flour. In medieval England, the cakes that were described in writings were not cakes in the conventional sense. They were described as flour-based sweet foods as opposed to the description of breads, which were just flour-based foods without sweetening.
Bread and cake were somewhat interchangeable words with the term “cake” being used for smaller breads. The earliest examples were found among the remains of Neolithic villages where archaeologists discovered simple cakes made from crushed grains, moistened, compacted and probably cooked on a hot stone. Today’s version of this early cake would be oatcakes, though now we think of them more as a biscuit or cookie.
Cakes were called “plakous” by the Greeks, from the word for “flat.” These cakes were usually combinations of nuts and honey. They also had a cake called “satura,” which was a flat heavy cake.
The terms “bread” and “cake” became interchangeable as years went by. The words themselves are of Anglo Saxon origin, and it’s probable that the term cake was used for the smaller breads. Cakes were usually baked for special occasions because they were made with the finest and most expensive ingredients available to the cook. The wealthier you were, the more likely you might consume cake on a more frequent basis.
By the middle of the 18th century, yeast had fallen into disuse as a raising agent for cakes in favor of beaten eggs. Once as much air as possible had been beaten in, the mixture would be poured into molds, often very elaborate creations, but sometimes as simple as two tin hoops, set on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. It is from these cake hoops that our modern cake pans developed.
Cakes were considered a symbol of well-being by early American cooks on the east coast, with each region of the country having their own favorites.
By the early 19th century, due to the Industrial Revolution, baking ingredients became more affordable and readily available because of mass production and the railroads.
Modern leavening agents, such as baking soda and baking powder were invented.
4.05: Varieties of Cake
Cakes are broadly divided into several categories, based primarily on ingredients and mixing techniques.
Although clear examples of the difference between cake and bread are easy to find, the precise classification has always been elusive. For example, banana bread may be properly considered either a quick bread or a cake.
Butter cakes are made from creamed butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. They rely on the combination of butter and sugar beaten for an extended time to incorporate air into the batter. A classic pound cake is made with a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Baking powder is in many butter cakes, such as Victoria sponge. The ingredients are sometimes mixed without creaming the butter, using recipes for simple and quick cakes.
Sponge cakes (or foam cakes) are made from whipped eggs, sugar, and flour. They rely primarily on trapped air in a protein matrix (generally of beaten eggs) to provide leavening, sometimes with a bit of baking powder or other chemical leaven added as insurance. Sponge cakes are thought to be the oldest cakes made without yeast. An angel food cake is a white sponge cake that uses only the whites of the eggs and is traditionally baked in a tube pan. The French Génoise is a sponge cake that includes clarified butter. Highly decorated sponge cakes with lavish toppings are sometimes called gateau, the French word for cake.
Chiffon cakes are sponge cakes with vegetable oil, which adds moistness.
Chocolate cakes are butter cakes, sponge cakes, or other cakes flavored with melted chocolate or cocoa powder. German chocolate cake is a variety of chocolate cake. Fudge cakes are chocolate cakes that contains fudge.
Coffee cake is generally thought of as a cake to serve with coffee or tea at breakfast or at a coffee break. Some types use yeast as a leavening agent while others use baking soda or baking powder. These cakes often have a crumb topping called streusel or a light glaze drizzle.
Baked flourless cakes include baked cheesecakes and flourless chocolate cakes. Cheesecakes, despite their name, aren't really cakes at all. Cheesecakes are in fact custard pies, with a filling made mostly of some form of cheese (often cream cheese, mascarpone, ricotta, or the like), and have very little flour added, although a flour-based or graham cracker crust may be used. Cheesecakes are also very old, with evidence of honey-sweetened cakes dating back to ancient Greece.
Butter or oil layer cakes include most of the traditional cakes used as birthday cakes, etc., and those sold as packaged cakes. Baking powder or bicarbonate of soda are used to provide both lift and a moist texture. Many flavorings and ingredients may be added; examples include devil's food cake, carrot cake, and banana bread.
Some varieties of cake are widely available in the form of cake mixes, wherein some of the ingredients (usually flour, sugar, flavoring, baking powder, and sometimes some form of fat) are premixed, and the cook needs add only a few extra ingredients, usually eggs, water, and sometimes vegetable oil or butter. While the diversity of represented styles is limited, cake mixes do provide an easy and readily available homemade option for cooks who are not accomplished bakers.
4.06: Cake Decorating
A finished cake is often enhanced by covering it with icing, or frosting, and toppings such as sprinkles, which are also known as "jimmies" in certain parts of the United States and "hundreds and thousands" in the United Kingdom. Frosting is usually made from powdered (icing) sugar, sometimes a fat of some sort, milk or cream, and often flavorings such as vanilla extract or cocoa powder. Some decorators use a rolled fondant icing. Commercial bakeries tend to use lard for the fat, and often whip the lard to introduce air bubbles. This makes the icing light and spreadable. Home bakers either use lard, butter, margarine, or some combination thereof. Sprinkles are small firm pieces of sugar and oils that are colored with food coloring. In the late 20th century, new cake decorating products became available to the public. These include several specialized sprinkles and even methods to print pictures and transfer the image onto a cake.
Special tools are needed for more complex cake decorating, such as piping bags and various piping tips, syringes and embossing mats. To use a piping bag or syringe, a piping tip is attached to the bag or syringe using a coupler. The bag or syringe is partially filled with icing which is sometimes colored. Using different piping tips and various techniques, a cake decorator can make many different designs. Basic decorating tips include open star, closed star, basket weave, round, drop flower, leaf, multi, petal, and specialty tips. An embossing mat is used to create embossed effects. A cake turntable that cakes are spun upon may be used in cake decoration.
Royal icing, marzipan (or a less sweet version, known as almond paste), fondant icing (also known as sugar paste), and buttercream are used as covering icings and to create decorations. Floral sugar craft, or wired sugar flowers, are an important part of cake decoration. Cakes for special occasions, such as wedding cakes, are traditionally rich fruit cakes or occasionally Madeira cakes, that are covered with marzipan and iced using royal icing or sugar-paste. They are finished with piped borders (made with royal icing) and adorned with a piped message, wired sugar flowers, hand-formed fondant flowers, marzipan fruit, piped flowers, or crystallized fruits or flowers such as grapes or violets.
4.07: Review/Critical Thinking
Please complete the following questions. It is important that you use full sentences and present the questions and answers when you submit your work.
Go to the Assessment area in the course to complete the assignment Review and Critical Thinking and submit the work as a file attachment.
The answers to the Review and Critical Thinking Questions are worth 10 points.
4.08: Cooking Assignment #4
Please choose a cake of your liking that you would like to bake. The only requirement for this assignment is that you do not use a boxed cake mix. I would like for you to experiment with different flavorings and even decorate your cake! This is your opportunity to incorporate all of the ingredients and actually have the hands-on experience with the creaming process, adding eggs one at a time, mixing the flour, baking soda/powder, etc. This is the best way to learn. This assignment will NOT be graded on presentation so please do not worry if your cake doesn’t turn out perfectly. If it falls flat, is too crumbly, has cracks, etc. it doesn’t matter. My goal for you on this assignment is to TRY YOUR BEST! You will need to take photos of the process as you go along as well as of the final product. Please submit your work in the Assessments area.
Bake a Cake!
4.09: Module 4 Quiz
For this quiz, you will write a summary of your cake baking process. Be sure to include key details such as things you learned, what went right, what did not go so well, how it tasted, and your overall experience. What did you love about this process? What are some things you would do differently next time? I would like you to have at least a one page, double spaced summary so I can ensure that you have the cake baking process down.
Once you have completed your summary, save it and then submit your work in the Assessments area.