Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ask Me Anything - Post 13 - A Baking Special + Recipe

Ask me anything is a series of posts where I answer any questions you may have about me. Cake decorating related or not :)

This post goes back right to the beginning of any cake... baking. I've had lots of questions from people who ask me for a 'good' or 'fail safe' recipes or for reasons why their cakes don't do what they are supposed to. I am not a trained baker so I have asked my trained pastry chef assistant Joanne to answer some of these questions and also to provide a delectable vanilla cake recipe for you. This recipe will serve as a good base cake recipe.

The vanilla cake recipe can be found here.

My cakes rise in the centre more than the sides, what can I do to avoid that? Also is there a way I can avoid or control the doming of the cakes and cupcakes? I want my cupcakes to dome a bit but not my cakes. And sometimes, my cakes and cupcakes rise well in the oven while baking but sink down when I take them out. Please help me with this.



There are several factors that could affect cakes to rise in the centre more than the sides: 

  • Oven temperature – your oven’s temperature may have been too high at the beginning. Lower temperature slightly to prevent it from rising rapidly and for a more even rising. All ovens differ in temperature (different types of oven and brands of oven), so sometimes slight adjustment of the recommended baking temperature or time may be needed for each oven. Also, the temperature may have been inaccurate. The temperature you set may not be the actual temperature inside your oven. An oven thermometer can be permanently hooked into your oven so you always know the exact temperature in your oven to cook your cakes at the correct temperature.
  • Too much baking powder, self-raising flour, or liquids – ensure being accurate with measuring ingredients.
  • Improper mixing of ingredients – avoid over-mixing or under-mixing your batter.
Cakes ‘sinking’ after taken out of oven: this usually happens when the centre of the cake is not cooked through, so it collapses when it cools. Check if the cake is cooked through by inserting a skewer in the centre of the cake. If it does not come out completely clean, bake it a little longer than your recipe recommended. Also avoid over-mixing your batter as that may incorporate too much air in the batter, especially avoid mixing too much after flour has been added. Tap your filled cake pan gently on the table before baking to prevent air bubbles incorporated in the batter


I'm a nanny in the US, and the three girls and their mom tries to feed them as much organic as possible (especially avoiding msg), and one of the girls is gluten-sensitive (although not Celiac, so a little gluten here and there does not harm her). My main question is, if i find some recipes that I'd like to bake, is it always possible to replace regular flour with a gluten-free alternative? What are the best alternatives the the gluten stuff, and what tips might you have for using it? Thanks for any tips!

Recipes can be adapted by replacing regular flour (wheat flour) with another similar ingredient, although not with identical flavour, texture, or other characteristics. It can be substituted by other flours but wheat flour's structure forming properties are difficult to duplicate. It may need a mix of different ingredients to make your end product with the desired characteristics. Alternatives include arrowroot, chick pea flour, potato starch, rice flour, skim milk powder, tapioca flour, white maize starch, soy flour, CMC, Zanthan gum, guar gum, cornflour, and commercially reachable gluten-free mixes. Few suggestions while using the alternatives:
  • Many commercial gluten-free flour mixes are available, which are easy to use as they can usually replace the same amount of wheat flour recommended in your recipe, for example, you can use 100g of gluten free flour mixes to replace 100g of wheat flour. It generally produces a good result.
  • Add some more protein when using the alternatives – replacing half of the liquids in your recipes with liquid egg whites.
  • Add a little more liquid when using rice flour as an alternative as it has a coarser texture than wheat flour

Do you think there is a difference with using high end ingredients vs. house brand ingredients for baking? For example, the grocery store brand of flour and butter compared to a branded version which is sometimes three times the price?



Quality of ingredients is important, as this will make a big difference to the flavour and texture. ‘High end’ ingredients usually have good quality but some home brand ingredients found in market have good quality for baking as well. Lower price does not necessary mean lower quality.

It is essential to understand the differing quality characteristics of products and choose the type that is suitable for the baked products, rather than comparing them with their "brands". Compare them by checking out the ingredients content on the products’ packaging. For example, depending on the character of the wheat from which it is milled, the flour may be strong/hard wheat or weak/soft wheat. Compare the protein content level to choose flour that is suited for its intended purpose. Many “Plain flour” found in the market, either high end or home brand, consist different level of protein. Some have 9% of protein content, some 10%, 10.1%, 10.9% or 11% etc.

For puff pastry or fermented products, use flour with higher protein content, and for more tender goods, like cakes, sponges or sweet pastry, use flour with 7-9% protein. For caster sugar,check out for its fineness, and for butter, check out for its liquid fat content and texture. It should contain at least 80% milk fat and not more than 16% water. Good quality butter has a fresh sweet, almost nutty aroma and a smooth creamy texture.

A little bit about Joanne...
Joanne graduated in 2010 from University of New South Wales with a combined degree in Bachelors of Commerce and Arts, and decided to follow her dream and passion for patisserie and sugar art instead of joining the corporate world. She completed Diplome de Patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu Sydney while attending various sugar art workshops and working at various patisseries. Upon successful completion of Superior Patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu, she started to work as a junior pastry chef at The Restaurant Art Gallery of NSW. She eventually found her ultimate passion in sugar art. With her family and friends’ encouragement, she has recently set up an online business, Simple Ingredients and currently is very privileged to have such great opportunity to work at Sharon Wee Creations. 


If you’d like to ask a question feel free to email me (creations_at_sharonwee.com.au) or send me a message through Facebook. 

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