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Bake a Cake From Scratch

Follow these simple rules for success to make a homemade cake.

These days, baking a cake is kids' play; anyone can do it. It's easy to open up a boxed cake mix, add oil, eggs and beat. Then pour the mixture into a pan and bake. It's a little harder to actually make a cake from scratch. But it can be done and it's worth it.

While boxed cake mixes are tasty, and are what the majority of Americans are used to eating, they simply aren't as satisfying as cakes made from scratch. Scratch cakes take a tightrope balance of flours, leavening agents, liquids, fats and flavorings. Everything must be just perfect so the cake rises, doesn't crumble and tastes just right.

Still, it's not too difficult to get it right by following simple instructions. Or if you're not sure what to do, look it up or ask.

Here are some tips for baking better cakes:

  • Replace baking powder and baking soda every six months for guaranteed freshness; the two are not interchangeable.

 

  • Cake flour may be substituted for all-purpose flour by simply increasing cake flour by two tablespoons per cup. Cake flour gives cakes a finer texture.

 

  • Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and level with the flat edge of a knife. Do not pack flour into cups, as the consistency of the cake will not be correct.

 

  • If using a stand mixer, first cream the butter with the paddle attachment, and add the sugar to cream with the butter, still using the paddle.

 

  • If choosing to remove bubbles from the bake mix while in the pan, tap gently on the counter only once. Handling the pans roughly may release too much air and cause the cakes to fall.

 

  • Mix the eggs into the batter one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next.

 

  • Always use the correct size pan. To measure, measure at the top from inside rim to inside rim.

 

  • If a cake calls for three pans when baking and only two are available, store unused batter covered in the refrigerator while the other layers are baking. When the first two layers have cooled, remove the cake. Clean the pan, grease again and bake - the third layer may take an extra minute or two of baking.

 

  • When storing, wrap cooled, unfrosted cake in plastic wrap and store for two days in an airtight container on a countertop. If the cake is frosted, store on countertop in an airtight container for two days, except if frosted with a cream-based frosting. If frosting is cream- or milk-based, it needs to be refrigerated.

Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

1 cup hot water
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1-1/4 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup chopped nuts, if desired

Preparation:

Bring the cup of hot water and the cocoa to a boil, and cool. In a mixer, cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Combine the buttermilk with the baking soda and add alternately with flour and salt. Add the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Add chopped nuts if desired. Pour into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

-  Amy Zielske, Naples, Fla.

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