In my high school jewelry class (one of my many elective art classes during my senior year) my teacher, Mr. Miller, had a sign behind his desk that read “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” He also said this aloud during every single class, repeatedly. It’s really no wonder it’s been running through my head on a daily basis ever since.
During my externship in culinary school, the mantra in the kitchen was “Make it nice or make it twice”, which, if you think about it, is really just another way of saying what Mr. Miller was saying. Yes, I realize that these are both very cliche, but cliches are just so for a reason; they are true, thought provoking statements.
Perhaps by now you’ve realized I’m a little scatter-brained. If not, then, will you marry me? Yesterday I was baking a cake in a hurry. Although I know that when baking a cake, all of the ingredients need to be at room temperature, I disregarded that piece of tried and true information, and went on about my business. Yikes! What a waste of time, money and energy. The result was a batter that looked like curdled milk. Although I knew immediatley that I needed to remake it (correctly this time), I went ahead and baked the cake anyway, for comparison reasons. Unfortunatley, due to my shortage of time, I didn’t take a picture of it. The resulting cake had large air pockets and a very flabby crumb. It was delicious, nonetheless.

Let’s talk for a minute about why this happens and how to avoid it. When making a cake batter, especially one that contains butter as the primary fat, it’s important that all of the ingredients actually mix together, almost emulsify, if you will. When your ingredients are at the correct temperature, this happens easily. You cream your room temperature butter with the sugar, add your room temperature eggs one at a time, and then, generally speaking, alternate adding your dry ingredients with your room temperature liquid. Let’s say your ingredients are cold though; this is the play by play of what will happen:

  • You cream your cold butter with the sugar, incorporating way too much air along the way because it’s taking longer than it should to get the creamy consistency you are looking for before adding your eggs.
  • You add your cold eggs one at a time and they never fully incorporate because the butter has, at this point, seized and become even more stiff, due to the addition of something cold. Your batter is now a mess of cold butter and suspended egg.
  • You then think to yourself, “The dry ingredients will make all of this come together”, so you continue, alternating your dry ingredients with your cold wet ingredients, causing the butter to now be suspended in a mess of eggs, liquid, and flour. It looks like curdled milk in coffee. Yum.
  • You bake it. It’s not what you had hoped for. It has air pockets and a too loose crumb. It’s delicate. You break it trying to invert it onto the cooling rack.

I understand being in a hurry, trust me, but here is how you can avoid all of this, even in a rush.

  • Microwave your butter in 10 second intervals until it has softened slightly, or slice your butter, put it in the mixer and begin to mix on medium, while heating the side of the metal bowl with a torch in a back and forth motion.
  • Set your cold eggs in very hot water from the tap for about a minute.
  • For your wet ingredients, microwave or heat them just to take the chill off. Make sure not to get them hot. If they do get hot, cool them down to room temperature before you use them.

And that, my friends, is all for this episode of “I mess things up, so that you don’t have to.” Stay tuned though, I’m sure to make more mistakes sooner rather than later.

69 Responses to “I mess things up, so that you don’t have to (episode 1)”

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    that’s so great! I can’t believe I missed this one!

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