Often, we are not able to bake a cake to perfection, as we do not know which ingredients to use and how to create the perfect blend in this process. In a supermarket, we are bewildered with the array of flours available on the shelf and we wonder, which is the right one. The next in line is the sweetening agent. Some of us do not consume sugar, then arises the question, if not sugar, then what? Different recipes often use different fats and we are confused, which fat will give it the right consistency. These are just some of the examples, which come up when a newbie decides to bake.
The first important point to remember when we are in the process of choosing ingredients for baking, is that the products being used should be of good quality and they have to be fresh. If you are a supporter of the organic movement, you can utilize the organic choices, but these variations will certainly affect the final product.
This is the primary ingredient for baking. There are different types of flour which can be used for baking. You can either use wholemeal flour (also known as wheat flour) or all-purpose flour (commonly known as refined flour). As the name suggests, wholemeal flour is made up of 100% wheat grain. Wholemeal flour often helps to give a finer texture. If you are baking a cake for your health-conscious family members, then you can certainly use this flour as it contains all the nutrients and wheat barn. However, if you are baking for commercial consumption or for a party, then you must use refined flour. Wholemeal, as well as refined flour is available in plain as well as self-raising forms. If you are going to use self-raising flour, then you will have to strike the right balance of raising agents. However, it is best to use refined flour and then add the required quantity of baking powder. The normal ratio is 2 ½ tsp. of baking powder for every 8 oz. of refined flour. You must sieve the flour before you use it for baking, in order to get rid of all the impurities.
The method you are going to use for baking, will decide the fat you should use. If you are going to bake using the creaming method, then it is best to use soft margarine. If you are going to use the rubbing-in method, then hard margarine is the best option. You can also use butter as one of the ingredients while baking, but it will add its own distinctive flavor to the cake. While adding butter, it is essential that you use it at room temperature. There are recipes, which also suggest using a combination of butter or margarine with lard, however, these days this method is not used by most of the bakers. Oil is also used in some of the recipes. When it comes to using oil, there are various options like sunflower oil, peanut oil, etc., which you can choose from. However, the use of extra virgin olive oil is not recommended, as it has a distinct taste, which can spoil the taste of the product. At the same time, the low-fat spreads are also not recommended, as they are high on water content.
The best sweetening agent that can be used for baking is caster sugar, because of its fine texture. However, if you do not have caster sugar, you can also use granulated sugar. If you are going to bake using the creaming process, then granulated sugar is not recommended, because of its grittiness and this may also cause reduction in volume. Never use icing sugar for baking as it ruins the texture. It should strictly be used only for icing. Brown and unrefined sugar also gives a distinct flavor. Soft brown sugar can be used for baking creamed cakes. If you are going to use the rub-in method, then using demerara sugar is recommended. You can make use of other sweetening agents as well. The most commonly used sweetener is honey.
The most commonly used leaveners are eggs. Beaten egg whites as well as yolks are used as leavening agents. The other leaveners are baking powder and baking soda. They are used to expand the air bubbles that are beaten into the batter, and also restrict the creation of new ones.
Milk contains proteins, which sets or coagulates because of the oven's heat and helps in forming the basic structure of the cake. Milk powder can also be added to strengthen the structure. The other dairy products which can be used include buttermilk, sour cream, or cream cheese. They all add more moisture and flavor and also help to build the structure and texture. Buttermilk and sour cream contain acid, that helps in tenderizing the gluten present in the batter.
If you are making a fruit cake, then you may want to use fresh fruits as the flavoring agents. The other flavors which can be used are ground spices, extracts, citrus peels, citrus oil or even liquors. If you are going to use liquors, then it is recommended that you use only small quantities, as it has a tendency to dry out the cake. The other possibility is that it can cause the cake to fall. If there is too much liquid flavoring in proportion to the other ingredients used for baking, then the structure becomes weak.
These are the basic ingredients which are used for baking. Some cakes do require to be infused with special ingredients, depending on the flavor and texture. When you are baking, it is recommended that you do not alter the measurements mentioned in the recipe, as this affects the structure and texture of the end product.