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Butter or Shortened Cakes Recipe

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Cake making is not difficult, but having an understanding of the role ingredients and technique play in the quality of your finished cake will help you to have consistent and excellent results every time.Butter cakes consist of taking the most basic of ingredients butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and a leavening agent (baking powder or baking soda) and transforming them into a baked good with a wonderful taste and texture. 

There are three methods used in making butter cakes and the goal of each method is to incorporate the maximum amount of air into the batter (produces the volume and texture of the cake), to restrict the development of gluten in the flour (provides tenderness, texture and volume), and to have a uniform batter.

1)  Creaming Method

2)  One Bowl, Quick or Blending Method

3)  Combination Method

Of the three methods, the creaming method is the most common and produces the lightest cake with the greatest volume. To start, the butter should be unsalted, of good quality, and at room temperature (65 - 70 degrees F) (18 - 21 degrees C). Butter that has a high butterfat content produces more air bubbles and tends to produce less curdling. The type of sugar used can vary by recipe from regular granulated white sugar to superfine (castor) white sugar. 

To begin, place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and start beating these two ingredients on low speed. The creaming of the butter and sugar produces air bubbles in the fat created by the rubbing of the sugar crystals against the fat.  These holes will get larger and multiply as you continue beating. Starting on low speed and then gradually increasing the speed allows the air bubbles to form and strengthen. Starting at too high a speed could damage or break the fragile air bubbles which will cause the finished cake to be heavy with a compact texture. The goal is to have maximum aeration, that is, lots of air bubbles in the fat.  A well aerated batter means a cake with good volume and a soft crumb. Beating time can range anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes so be sure to follow your recipe. 

Butter and sugar have different jobs in cake making. Butter provides flavor, tenderizes the batter and provides volume.  Sugar, on the other hand, helps to tenderize the batter (slows down the gluten development in the flour) but also sweetens the batter, moistens the batter which helps keep the cake fresh, and helps with browning.

At the point where the butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy, room temperature eggs are added. (The use of cold eggs will reduce the volume of your finished cake.) You may have noticed that there may be curdling of the batter at this stage. This is particularly so when the recipe is for a high-ratio cake (see below). This is caused by the addition of more liquid (eggs) than the batter can handle at one time.  Once the flour has been added it will smooth out the batter so don't worry. One solution is to add the eggs to the batter more slowly as opposed to one egg at a time as most recipes state. Lightly beating each egg first and then slowly adding the egg down the side of the bowl as the mixer is running will help. If you see curdling, stop adding the egg and beat the batter a little to smooth it out before continuing the addition of more egg.

Eggs play a major role in cake making. Not only do they add needed aeration to the batter, they also provide structure to the cake, help to bind the ingredients together, keep the cake moist, add flavor, and tenderness. 

Once the eggs have been combined and you have a smooth batter, flavorings, such as extracts are added.  The flour is then sifted with a leavening agent (baking powder/baking soda) and salt. This is done not only to aerate the flour and remove any lumps, but to evenly distribute the leavening agent and salt throughout the flour. If the leavening agent is not evenly distributed throughout the cake batter, holes in the baked cake can occur. Baking powder's role is to enlarge the bubbles created in the fat during the creaming of the fat and sugar. 

The flour mixture and room temperature liquid (milk, water, etc.) are added alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture to ensure a smooth and light batter. It is very important not to overmix the batter at this point. Over mixing will develop too much gluten in the flour and the result will be a tough cake. Mix only to incorporate the ingredients. The first addition of flour will be fully coated with the fat and does not form gluten, so it is a good idea to add the largest amount of flour in the first addition. When you add the liquid any uncoated flour will combine with the liquid and form gluten. Continue adding the flour and liquid alternately, making sure you mix on low speed just until blended. This will enable enough gluten to develop to provide structure but not enough to make a heavy and compact cake. 

Liquids are used in butter cakes to dissolve the salt and sugar, to add color and richness, and to not only moisten and therefore activate the baking powder/baking soda in the batter, but to also create steam when the cake batter is placed in the oven so the cake will rise and reach its full volume. 

The one bowl or quick method produces a cake which is very moist, dense, with a fine and velvety texture. As the name implies, this method is faster and easier than the creaming method as the creaming step of the butter and sugar is eliminated. All the dry ingredients are first put into a mixing bowl and then soft butter and a little liquid are added. This is thoroughly beaten together and then the eggs, flavoring, and remaining liquid are added. Since the liquid is added after the butter and flour are combined, it reduces the gluten formation in the flour because the fat has had a chance to coat all the flour before the toughening action from the liquid can take place. This is why this method produces a melt-in-your-mouth cake (less gluten is formed). However, using the one bowl method does not produce a cake with as much volume as the creaming method. This is because the butter tends to melt into the batter, so it doesn't form as many air bubbles needed for maximum volume as in the creaming method. The temperature of the ingredients plus the mixing speed are very important with this method so be sure to follow your recipe's instructions.

The combination method is when whipped egg whites are added to the creamed ingredients. This method gives additional volume and light texture to your cake. Some recipes that call for the creaming method can be changed to this method by simply separating the eggs, beating the whites separately with a little of the recipe's sugar, and then adding the whites to the finished batter.

With all three methods, once the batter is mixed it is then placed in greased and floured pan(s) (sometimes lined with parchment paper). The batter should fill approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the cake pan(s) to allow room for the batter to expand. See the Pan Sizes page if you wish to change the size of the pans called for in your recipe. If you have a problem with over browning of the edges of your cake, you can place reusable Bake-Even Strips (available at most cake supply stores) around the outside of the cake pans. Make sure you take into account that dark and/or dull colored pans absorb more heat than aluminum and/or shiny pans and therefore the batter will bake faster. Lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F if using a glass pan to prevent over browning.  . 

The oven temperature affects both the texture and look of the cake. How hot the oven temperature determines how long it takes for the batter to set. The longer it takes for the eggs, milk and flour to coagulate, the more time the air cells in the batter have to grow larger and produce volume in the cake.  Too hot and the outer edges of the cake will set before the middle has a chance to fully bake. This is why it is important to have an accurate oven temperature. Having a free standing oven thermometer in your oven will give you a proper reading on temperature as some ovens are not calibrated properly.    

The oven should always be preheated about 15 minutes before placing the pans in the oven. If baking more than one layer at a time, arrange the cake pans so they are about 2 inches (5 cm) apart and 2 inches (5 cm) from the sides of the oven. This ensures adequate air circulation and promotes even baking.  Do not open the oven door, especially during the first 15 minutes of baking, as the oven temperature drops about 25 degrees F every time the oven door is opened. 

Butter cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the baked cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before releasing. 

There are formulas for butter cakes that professionals follow and deviations from these formulas of about 20% can be supported. This is why you have so many different recipes for one type of cake. Some alterations in using eggs can be made. Egg whites and yolks play different roles in cake making and changes in the balance of whites and yolks will affect the baked cake. For example, in layer cakes you can replace one whole egg with either 2 egg yolks or else 1 1/2 egg whites to change the texture. Using yolks will produce a more flavorful cake with a darker color, but a cake with less structure. Using whites will produce a softer cake because egg whites do not firm up as much as egg yolks when baked. Types of fats (butter, margarine, shortening), sugars (regular, superfine or brown) and flours (all-purpose or cake) used also affect the cake. 

If you have a recipe that is not working compare it to these formulas to see if there may be a problem with the proportions of the ingredients in the recipe. These formulas are from Shirley O. Corriher's CookWise.  This is an excellent book that not only has great recipes but also explains the science of cooking and baking. For additional help check the Troubleshooting Butter Cakes page.

Formula for regular butter cake:

- Weight of sugar is equal or less than weight of flour

- Weight of eggs is equal or greater than weight of fat

- Weight of liquids (egg and milk) is equal to weight of flour

Formula for high ratio butter cake:

- Weight of sugar is equal or greater than weight of flour

- Weight of eggs is greater than weight of fat

- Weight of liquid (egg and milk) is equal or greater than weight of sugar

Leavening:  (This is a general guideline as the other ingredients used in a recipe also affect the amount of baking powder/baking soda used.)

1 - 1 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of flour OR

1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of flour


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