I am a pastry chef by trade and I spend a large volume of my time baking. It's in my job title.
While there is no doubt about the joys of baking at home, I've come to find that many people don't realise they're making mistakes with their cakes, My biggest one is when it comes to cooking times—over-baked cake is sad, crumbly, and often difficult to swallow without a good drink and this is simply because of the bad description of a cooked cake. Yes, when testing it, the knife or whatever you use wants to come out clean of cake batter, but if you're getting cake crumbs and clear moisture, it's ready to be removed from the oven.
Another factor is when it comes to butter. Most recommended "butters" are actually a margarine like stork or a butter/margarine mix. The difference is that margarine will often give you a softer, fluffier sponge which is what everyone wants! So be mindful when setting up for cake making—though it's really personal choice, I would professionally recommend the margarine!
Timing is really important too but it's all down to the size you're doing. Cupcakes, as an example, should only take about 15 minutes, if you're using the large cake cases, i.e. muffin cases. You'll get more mix in but again, you're looking at around 18 minutes. For an 8-inch cake pan, depending on depth of mix in the tin, you want to give it 20 minutes for a thin layer and up to 30 for a thick one. These are simple things people don't actually know they're doing wrong in anyway—not through fault, just simply because it's so easy to do it "wrong."
I'll give you my grandma's basic recipe and method as a starting point. It's a simple Victoria sponge cake that makes us a simple sandwich cake or 24 cupcakes!
I'll be honest, I still use ounces to measure this mix with.
- 8 oz butter/margarine
- 8 oz caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- 8 oz self raising flour
You can add a teaspoon of baking powder to the mix, but it's not overly necessary in the basic recipe.
Ok, so method:
- Cream your sugar and margarine together. If you're doing it by hand just make sure they're nicely incorporated and if you have a hand or stand mixer, you can take it a little further and get it lighter and fluffy.
- Once it's mixed, add your eggs once at a time. Stop halfway through and give the bowl a scrap to make sure you're getting it all!
- Again, if you're mixing by hand add the flour by sieve and fold it in. If you have a mixer, you can be a little more ruthless with it and just beat the flour in with the paddle attachment. (If you've added the baking powder, pop it in with the last of the flour) Voila! Simple cake mix, just pick whether you're making cupcakes or a sandwich.
- Bake in 160 degree fan oven—cupcakes take 15 minutes and the sandwich sponges should be around 25, but test after 20 minutes to see how far along it is!
- Let the cooked cakes cool slightly in the tin before taking them out and putting on a rack.
Simple! It just takes time and patience—the only things I can't give you. I can give you the recipe and the method, the pro tips and industry tricks.
Fear not my friends. The world of baked goodies are for the people at home as well as the bakeries and shop. There will be many articles on different things most people dismiss as too difficult or time consuming to try.