Yes, You can bake a cake that is as good as any you have had, maybe even better. With the widespread availability of different types of baking mixes, making a cake is simple. Add oil, water, and eggs to the content of the package and stir until creamy. Pour in a greased and floured pan and bake in a 350 degree oven until done. Simple, yes. Imaginative? No. But if all you want is a cake for dessert, try one of the mixes. The cakes are good tasting, moist, and almost foolproof if you follow the package directions.
If you want something truly homemade, you can create your own masterpiece. You just need the basic skills. The important thing is to follow your recipe carefully. Baking is the science of combining ingredients in measured proportions to achieve a tender product with good flavor. Here is an easy one to start with. Even if you only have some very basic equipment, do not worry, I will talk you through it.
DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE
First, gather your ingredients. Nothing is more frustrating than finding out half what through the mixing that you are missing an important ingredient. You will need:
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1/3 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup coco powder
- 2/3 cup soft shortening. It should be very soft but not melted. (I prefer butter but stick margarine or a vegetable shortening is OK too.)
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, crack them open and put in a small bowl until you are ready to use them. They should be at room temperature
- Two cake pans, round are usually used but square ones are OK as well.
- I would also suggest parchment paper, especially for beginners as it allows the cake to be removed from the pan more easily.
Prepare your pans. If you have parchment paper, set a pan on a sheet and trace around it with the tip of a sharp knife to get the size and shape. Use some scissors to cut out the shape. If you put a little smear of shortening in the pan first, it will help hold the paper in place. Set these aside. If you do not have cake pans you can use a loaf pan or a rectangle shaped pan. You need one or two pans that will hold the batter and have about a 1/2 inch room to rise up the sides.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You may want to line the bottom with foil in case some of the cake batter spills over while cooking. However, if you use the correct pans this should not happen. Make sure the oven rack is in the middle so the heat circulates well around the cake pans.
Use a sifter or a wire mesh strainer to sift the flour. Measure out 2 cups and sift again with all the dry ingredients. That is everything except the shortening, water, extract and eggs. If you do not have a sifter, do not panic. A good cook knows that the purpose of sifting flour with the dry ingredients is to mix them together and to break up any lumps. Use a fork or a wire whisk. Stir the flour vigorously. Measure out the 2 cups and put in a bowl. Add the other dry ingredients and stir well. You should not see any lumps in the dry mix.
Put about half of the softened shortening into the dry mixture. Use the fork to mash it into the flour mixture until it is as well mixed as you can manage. You should end up with tiny balls of flour. If you happen to have a mixer, you can use it for this step. Use a medium speed and just be sure the shortening is well mixed.
Now add about half of the water and the vanilla. Stir well with a spoon or again use the mixer. You will get a very thick batter. When it is well mixed add the remaining water, and eggs. Using the spoon or mixer on medium speed, mix the remaining ingredients well until you have a smooth batter that is slightly thick. It should look about like a soft pudding, but not runny. It takes about 2 minutes.
Pour half of the mixture in each pan. Here is a tip I learned from my grandmother. Tap each pan a couple of times on the counter. This will force any trapped air bubbles to the top and make your cake more uniform in texture. You will actually see the bubbles break the surface. Do not worry, you will not ruin the cake at this stage.
Place the pans in the oven on the same rack but leave room for hot air to circulate around them evenly. Close the door and check the clock. You want the cake to cook for thirty to forty minutes. The difference in timing is because every oven heats a little differently and at slightly differences in temperature. One of the keys is DO NOT PEEK. If you have an oven with glass in the door you can check that way. But try not to open the door to have a look. Each time you do your oven temperature drops about 25 degrees or more and then has to heat back up. This can cause uneven cooking and you could have a cake you think is done but still has portions that are not fully cooked. Yuk!
While the cake is cooking it is a good time to clean up and get ready for the next step. Cooling and then frosting. If you have a wire rack to cool the cake on that is great. If you do not, use a paper plate or a plate with a little wax paper or parchment paper on it. Be prepared for a little of the cake to stick to a plate while it is cooling. That is normal and will not hurt the final product.
At the 30 minute mark quickly check the cake for done. The most reliable way for the new cook is to stick a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it is free of cake batter when you pull it out the cake is done. If it looks very wet, but no batter, give it another 2 minutes. Be sure to check both pans, they may cook a little differently. Check each 5 minutes until done. It might even take a little more than the 40 minutes, but that is ok. When they are done, take them out and place the pans on the burners. The burner should be off of course. But the air space under and around the burners will help the pans start to cool. You may notice that the cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan slightly. That is a good sign that it is fully cooked.
After 5 minutes run a knife blade around the sides of the cake. Turn it upside down onto the cooling rack, or if you are using a plate, put it on top of the pan then flip it over. Pat the bottom of the pan lightly and the cake should fall out. Remove the pans carefully and allow the cake to finish cooling completely before frosting. IF some of the cake is stuck in the pan you can carefully remove it with a spatula and lay it in place on the cake. No one will ever know once it is frosted. If it has problems like breaking apart, do not fret. I have a unique solution to save the day. But first, I am assuming your cake is perfect so let's get to a great frosting. How about a mocha cream?
THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE
You can buy ready-made frosting if you like but it seems a shame to spread all those preservatives on your beautiful cake. You can find good frosting recipes in any cookbook. Mastering a butter cream frosting is easy and once you know how you can add or remove the flavors you like best. My family really loves this frosting and asks for it all the time.
You will need
- 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules OR coco powder
- 2 tablespoons very hot water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 – 3 cups confectioners sugar
- 1 stick or 1/2 cup of butter. You can use stick margarine, but butter is so much better in this and it is a natural product with little or no chemical additives.
Dissolve the coffee into the hot water. Set aside.
In a large bowl cream the butter with the vanilla. You want to get the butter almost liquefied. It will be very soft and creamy and lighter in color. This is easily accomplished using a mixer, but you can also do it by hand, it just takes longer. stir in the sugar, starting with 2 cups. You may need to add a little more along the way but this is the starting point. As soon as the sugar is mixed in add the coffee mixture and beat until light and fluffy looking. Yes, go ahead and taste it. Good right? Do not like coffee flavor, see below. If the frosting seems a little too runny add a little more sugar, about a 1/4 cup at a time until it gets to a nice spreading consistency. Think about other frosting you've had and you have a good frame of reference. Never had frosting? Then it should be thick enough to hold a peak when a spoon is pulled out, but not so stiff that it is dry looking, or so thin it runs off the cake.
When your cake is completely cool lightly brush off any loose crumbs and place one layer of it on a serving plate or platter. If you place some wax paper or foil strips just under the edge of the cake before frosting it will be easy to remove when you are ready to serve and your platter will be perfectly clean.
Place about a third of the frosting in the center and using a rounded tip knife spread it just to the edges of the layer. It should be about 1/4 inch thick all over. Brush the crumbs from the other layer and place on top. Frost the sides of the cake first. Here is a tip to get an even, thick coating. Using a couple of tablespoons of frosting, spread a very thin layer all over the cake. Set the cake in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. This will set the frosting. Now when you take it out you can put a nice thick layer on the sides. It can be smoothed out or you can make swirls like you see on television commercials. Finally frost the top. Now, while you a licking your fingers admire your work. See, you can bake a cake. Serve it with smiles and a glass of milk or cup of coffee.
You can substitute cocoa powder for the coffee or use just the vanilla and a few tablespoons of milk, omitting the water and coffee all together. The basics of creaming the butter and sugar are the skills you need.
Now that you understand a little about baking you can branch out into cookies, biscuits and rolls. Even bread is easy once you take a little time to learn the skills. It is not about the recipes really, being a good cook, or a baker that is the envy of the neighborhood, is about understanding the science of mixing batters and dough, and learning the specific skills to bring the compounds together to create a lip -smacking treat. Once you have those basic skills, the ingredients can be whatever suits your tastes.
BONUS: For a fast and easy meal, Wash chicken parts under cool water. Remove the skin if you wish. Place in a shallow baking lightly greased dish bone side down. You want the fleshy part on top. To the pan, around the chicken parts tuck in some sliced carrots and sprinkle with some diced onion. Open a can of cream of chicken soup and mix it in a bowl with 1/2 a can of water. Pour over the pan of chicken. Place in the oven and bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes. Take the pan out and sprinkle your favorite shredded cheese over the top. Return to the oven for 15 minutes to finish cooking.
During the last 15 minutes cook a pot of rice. Read the package for directions. When done, and after letting the chicken dish cool for at least 5 minutes, lay down a bed of rice on a platter. Place the chicken on top gently, keeping the cheesy crust as intact as you can. It will not affect the taste, but it will look more appealing. Stir any sauce remaining in the pan and spoon it over all. Serve with a simple salad or sliced tomatoes. Add a little loaf of french bread from the grocery bakery and save the chocolate cake for dessert.
You have created a meal any cook can be proud of and all without even knowing how to boil an egg. Enjoy and I would love to hear from you about how your first cake turned out.