The Perfect Cake: 150 Cakes for Every Taste and Occasionby Susan G. Purdy
Originally published as A Piece of Cake, this baking classic is now back in print, thoroughly revised, and beautifully redesigned.
Author of The Perfect Pie and renowned baking authority Susan Purdy has spent a lifetime mastering the art of baking perfect cakes–those mysterious delicacies that are not too dry, not too dense, and never/i>/i>/i>
Originally published as A Piece of Cake, this baking classic is now back in print, thoroughly revised, and beautifully redesigned.
Author of The Perfect Pie and renowned baking authority Susan Purdy has spent a lifetime mastering the art of baking perfect cakes–those mysterious delicacies that are not too dry, not too dense, and never stuck to the pan. Revealing her secrets for the complete range of easy to elegant recipes, The Perfect Cake gives every home baker an extra helping of confidence.
With Purdy at your side sharing her precise troubleshooting tips and clever shortcuts, layer cakes, sheet cakes, sponge cakes, angel-food and chiffon cakes, tortes, and jelly rolls become wonderfully feasible. Helping readers skillfully create everything from a simple pound cake to Old-Fashioned Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Black-and-White Cheesecake, or Hazelnut Torte, The Perfect Cake features easy decorating pointers that are sure to impress on special occasions. Providing a selection of more than 150 exceptional recipes, this is the book that will keep even the novice from ever resorting to mediocre mixes again.
- Broadway Books
- Publication date:
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.97(w) x 9.13(h) x 1.07(d)
Read an Excerpt
In this age of ubiquitous food processors and electronic gadgets, it is important to remember that not too long ago arm power was the home bakers' primary tool. Cake batters were beaten with wooden spoons in wooden or earthenware bowls and egg whites were whipped with a fork or a bundle of twigs. The wooden spoon blended ingredients perfectly well (and still does); the fork- or twig-whipped whites foamed well, given enough time and effort. However, if you really want to "feel" the transformation of raw ingredients into a cake batter, you can do so only by beating them by hand. For today's home baker, it is usually more practical to beat batters and egg whites with an electric mixer to save time, and use a spoon or rubber spatula for folding.
While hands are still a basic tool, there are certain pieces of equipment that are essential to today's baker. These are described in this chapter. Be aware that baking is a creative art, and part of that creativity may involve improvisation with equipment. Feel free to substitute what you find in your cupboard before you run out to buy something new. Put a saucepan into a frying pan to make a double boiler. Use a wine bottle for a rolling pin. Consult the Pan Volume and Serving Table (see Index) to substitute baking pan sizes based on cake batter quantities given in the recipes.
Note: I assume that since you are reading this book, your kitchen has the basic cooking essentials: liquid and dry measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, whisks, a rubber spatula, a wire rack for cooling pans, potholders, and a hand-held or stand-type electric mixer. Each cake recipe carries a list of "special equipment" needed. This refers only to items beyond the above-mentioned basics, such as extra bowls or pots, a double boiler, grater, decorating tubes and tips, sifter, wax paper, etc.
The first thing to note when selecting cake pans is the size. Every manufacturer measures by a different system. In this book, all pans are measured across the top inner edge and volume is measured in cups of water needed to fill the pan to the brim. The Pan Volume and Serving Table (see Index) compares different pan sizes and volumes. Many cakes can be baked in a variety of shapes and sizes, and for these cakes, the recipes note the number of cups of batter the recipes yield. Select alternate pan sizes from the chart by comparing volumes. Note that pans should be filled about 2/3 full so there is room left for the batter to rise; for this reason, the table notes maximum batter amounts for each size, as well as the number of cups of water needed to fill the pan to the brim.
You can calculate the comparative pan sizes by square inches: An 8 x 8 square has 64 square inches, while an 11 x 7 pan has 77. Deeper pans hold more batter even if dimensions are otherwise the same. Remember that a round 9-inch diameter pan equals I the area of a 9-inch square pan because the corners add more area.
To modify the size of a large pan, line it with foil, fold the foil into a lip at the cut-off point, and fill the excess area with dry beans.
The wrong size pan may result in baking failure. Batter must be at least 1 inch deep in the pan, preferably deeper, for the cake to rise properly. Batter that is too thin bakes into a cake that is too flat. On the other hand, if the pan is too small and the batter too near the top, it may overflow while the cake is rising, causing the cake to sink after baking and the overflow to burn onto your oven floor.
Buy layer-cake pans in pairs or threes. For cake baking basics, you will need two 8- x 1 1/2-inch rounds, two 9- x 1 1/2-inch rounds, one 8-inch-square 2 inches deep, one jelly-roll pan 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1/2 to 1 inch deep, one 9-inch tube pan (6-cup capacity), one 10-inch tube or Bundt pan (12-cup capacity), one 8- or 9-inch diameter springform pan with a flat bottom, and one loaf pan 9 x 5 x 3 inches.
As a general rule, I prefer to bake cakes in aluminum or heavy, tin-plated steel. Look for well-sealed seams and good construction. You do not need nonstick cake pans if you grease your pans properly. Black steel or iron is fine for some types of baking, but not for cakes. The blackness causes a dark, heavy crust that is undesirable in delicate cakes.
Springform pans are two-piece pans that have either a flat or tubed center panel surrounded by a hoop fastened with a spring latch; these are used for delicate tortes and cheesecakes that might be damaged by inverting from a solid-bottom pan.
Removable-bottom layer-cake pans make unmolding easy. These are simply round pans containing a central flat disk that is a removable bottom. The cake is inverted onto a wire rack, the side piece lifted off, then the bottom disk removed. Avoid this type of pan for very liquid batters, as they may leak from beneath the bottom while in the oven.
Tube pans vary amazingly in manufacture, size, and shape. Plain tubes, ring molds, Bundt pans, and kugelhopf molds are all variations on the same theme, and can be used interchangeably as long as the size is correct; check volume in cups of water needed to fill to capacity. The tube shape is designed to conduct heat to the center of the batter, allowing the dough to rise and bake evenly. For this reason, the tube is excellent for heavy or dense batters like pound cakes and their relatives. The kugelhopf and other yeast doughs are baked in a tube because it gives the rising yeast dough more surface to cling to, thus helping the rise. Angel-food cakes are also baked in tube pans because the added surface area gives the fragile batter structure something to cling to as it rises. The best angel-food pans have removable bottoms as well as small feet sticking up on the rim so the baked cake may be inverted and suspended as it cools. If your pan has no feet, invert your baked angel cake onto a funnel or tall bottle until thoroughly cool (see page 75). As a general rule when selecting tube pans, the heavier the metal, the more evenly the cake will bake.
Square, oblong, or rectangular pans 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches deep are used for sheet cakes. They come in a wide variety of dimensions; in the home, one can use a lasagna pan or turkey roasting pan.
Jelly-roll pans have many uses. Select a sturdy, nonwarping pan with a firm lip all around, 1/2 to 1 inch deep. A nonstick surface is not essential, though it works well. I use the jelly-roll pan for roulades, for fairly thin sheet cakes from which to make petits fours, and I have also been known to invert the pan and use it as a cookie sheet. In addition, I like to use the jelly-roll pan beneath the springform when baking cheesecakes, for ease in handling and to catch any leaks or drips of batter.
Commercial double boilers have a bowl or basin with a lip that sits inside a saucepan; usually there is a pot lid as well. Hot or boiling water goes in the lower pot; the item to be melted or cooked sits in the raised top container. The purpose is to provide gentle, indirect heat for cooking. You can improvise your own double boiler by setting one pan with the ingredients to be cooked inside a slightly larger pot or frying pan holding water.
All cakes can be mixed by hand with a spoon and a bowl. Some, like Swedish Butter Cake (see Index), are even best made that way. However, I have written the recipes in this book assuming the availability of an electric mixer because it gives good results and saves time.
There is a wide variety of electric mixers available. I like to use a heavy-duty KitchenAid with its wire whisk or flat paddle-type beater for all general-purpose cake baking. I use a KitchenAid Model K45SS, with the head that tips back to raise the beater; I find this model practical because the design makes it easy to add ingredients or scrape down the sides of the bowl. Models with fixed heads are larger but make these tasks awkward; a detachable collar is available to facilitate adding ingredients to them.
For whipping cream, I prefer to use a hand-held beater and a small, deep stainless-steel bowl that has been well chilled. (I finish whipping cream, however, with a hand whisk, so I can control the degree of stiffness.) The hand-held beater is excellent for beating yolks or sauces in a double boiler, as for zabaglione, but a whisk or egg beater will work well, too.
I prefer to use heavy pottery or stainless-steel bowls, with wide, flat bottoms. Avoid metal bowls with rounded bottoms, as they can tip over if you leave a spatula or whisk inside. It is good to have a variety of sizes, and a small, deep metal bowl is handy for whipping small amounts of cream. I also like my heavy Pyrex glass bowl that is microwave safe, has a handle and pouring spout, and is marked with graduations up to 2 quarts. It is great for whipping cream, for blending batters by hand, or for whipping eggs. Avoid plastic bowls for general use because the plastic surface retains grease, damaging beaten egg whites for instance, and occasionally plastic bowls retain odors that may be passed on to your cakes.
Flour settles in packing and shipping, and even brands labeled "presifted" are not, for our purposes. For most cake baking, it is important to sift flour before measuring by the scoop and sweep method (see page 51) and again with the other dry ingredients. This second sifting blends the dry ingredients together, distributing them evenly throughout the batter. For most cakes, I find this method sifts sufficiently; I rarely use a triple-tier sifter, though I own one; I do use it occasionally for a genoise, an especially fine sponge cake. My regular sifter is actually a sieve, or strainer, with a very fine mesh.
Dry And Liquid Measuring Cups
Dry measuring cups are designed so you can fill them to the brim and level the top by passing a straight edge over it. These cups are available in graduated sizes, with a separate cup for each unit from 1/8 or 1/4 cup up to 2 cups; usually they nest together for storage. By contrast, liquid measuring cups are usually Pyrex (select this type) or plastic, with a handle and pouring spout. They are commonly available in 1-, 2-, and 4-cup sizes. To use a liquid measure, you simply fill the cup to the desired mark and read it at eye level. Another feature of liquid measuring cups is the space left just above the topmost measuring mark. If you fill the cup with liquid to the highest mark, there will still be a space above this mark so that the liquid will not spill while being moved. If you were to fill this cup with dry ingredients and level it off, you would have much too much. If you filled it to a measurement below the brim, you would have no way to level it off; the cup will not work properly for dry ingredients. Be sure to use each type of cup for its designated purpose. Read How to Measure Ingredients (see page 50).
Scales are used for accurate measuring of flour, sugar, fat, and some other ingredients in cake baking. Read About Using Scales (page 52). There are two types of scalesbalance and spring. Both are accurate, but professionals use the balance system in bakeshops. The spring-type can be checked for accuracy by weighing a known quantity: a pound (454 grams) of butter, for example. After practice, you will find it much more practical to measure 100 grams of flour on a scale than to measure 1 cup; your cups may be of differing sizes, you may compact the flour by tapping the cup, in any number of ways the volume may vary, but the scale weight will not. Butter and other solid fats, of course, are easy to measure on a scale, as opposed to packing them into a measuring cup and hoping no air holes lodge in the bottom.
A pastry brush is essential for applying egg washes and jelly glazes to tarts. It is also excellent for spreading soaking syrups on cake layers and fruit glazes atop finished cakes. For the most delicate tasks, I prefer an imported European goose-feather brush with a handle of braided quills. This is lovely to look at, lasts a very long time, and is inexpensive. After use, you simply wash it in warm soapy water, rinse, and air dry. Find it in gourmet cookware shops or bakeware catalogues. Ordinary bristle pastry brushes from 1 inch to 2 1/2 inches wide are better for spreading jam glazes on sponge layers.
There are two types of spatulas referred to in this book. Rubber spatulas are used for mixing, folding, and scraping out the inside of a bowl or mixer beater. They come in all sizes, but the most common for home kitchen use has a plastic or wood handle about 6 inches long, topped by a flexible tongue about 2 x 3 1/2 inches. One edge of the flexible top is curved, to ride neatly against the side of a bowl.
A metal spatula is equally essential. It resembles a blunt-edged, round-ended knife with a metal blade and is useful for all spreading tasksfillings and icings, for example. The basic icing spatula that I use is about 10 inches long overall, with a 1- x 6-inch blade that will flex but is not flimsy. For fancy decorative work with icing, I use an artist's palette knife, kept just for this purpose. For smoothing icing on the tops and sides of large layer cakes or for icing sheet cakes, I use a large metal spatula built like a fine knife, with a strong wooden handle and a 12- x 1 3/4-inch blade. For lifting, I use an offset, or step-down spatula with a broad long blade. The ideal tool for lifting whole cakes or cake layers is a broad rectangular kuchenloser (cake-lifter), with a hand grip at one end and a flexible metal (or plastic) blade about 10 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches (see Sources, page 477).
My favorite tool for working with yeast doughs is the dough scraper, or coupe-pate. It is simply a rectangular metal scraper with a wooden handle on one edge. Similar tools are made of flexible plastic. Use this ingenious device for cutting, kneading, lifting, and scraping dough, as well as for cleaning off countertops. You can substitute a wide putty knife or pancake turner.
Meet the Author
SUSAN G. PURDY's other baking books include Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too, The Family Baker, and The Perfect Pie. Purdy teaches baking across the country and in France, and writes for numerous national magazines. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
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