Cake Baking and Decorating Basics Series – Right Ingredients

“The supreme magic of cake baking is the metamorphosis of relatively ordinary ingredients into exquisitely textured and flavorful visions of delight. A well crafted recipe is essential, following the instructions advisable,but the quality of the ingredients makes the difference between good and sublime.” – Berenbaum, Rose.Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.John Wiley and Sons, Inc.2009.p.436

Here are the basic ingredients for cakes and some useful tips regarding them:

1) Flour:
Types of flour – Cake recipes usually call for one of the following types of flour –

All Purpose Flour – It can be bleached or unbleached. Some bakers like Rose Levy Berenbaum prefer bleached all purpose flour for cakes.
Cake Flour – It has a lower protein content than all purpose flour and results in more tender and fine grained cakes.
Self rising flour – This type of flour has flour plus baking powder and salt. Most bakers do not recommend  this type of flour as they like to control the amount of baking powder that they use.

Substitutions – To substitute cake flour for all purpose flour use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour for every cup of all purpose flour.
One cup sifted cake flour can be substituted with 3/4 cup (84 grams) sifted bleached all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch.
1 cup self rising flour can be substituted with 1 cup (130 grams) all purpose flour plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder plus 1/4 teaspoon salt

Weighing/Measuring flour – It is extremely critical to weigh flour accurately as it affects the texture of the cake. If you choose to measure it rather than weigh, please refer to my post on cake baking equipments for the right measuring techniques.
All Purpose Flour : 1 cup = 140 grams, 1 cup sifted = 115 grams
Cake Flour: 1 cup = 130 grams, 1 cup sifted = 100 grams

2) Eggs: Most American recipes call for USDA grade large eggs, unless specified otherwise. As a general rule of thumb, 6 large eggs are equal to 5 extra large eggs.
Weight of one large egg = 57 grams/2oz with shell, 50 grams without shell

  • It is extremely important to have eggs at room temperature for baking. If you want to bring eggs to room temperature quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for 15-20 minutes.
  • It is easier to separate cold eggs. So if a recipe calls for separating the eggs, do so first and then bring the whites and yolks to room temperature.
  • To test for freshness of an egg, place it in a bowl of water with a little salt.If the egg is fresh it will sink. The quicker or farther it sinks the fresher it is. If it floats it is spoilt.
  • For half an egg, lightly beat one egg and then measure 1 1/2 tablespoons.
  • Do not use aluminium vessel for beating eggs as it gives a grayish tinge to the eggs which is a result of the aluminium coming off during beating.
  • For beating egg whites make sure that there is absolutely no trace of yolk. Also, the bowl and beaters should be completely grease free to ensure maximum volume.
3) Sugar: 
Types of sugar used for cakes
Fine granulated sugar – Most common type of sugar used.
Superfine sugar – If you don’t have it at hand, you can make it by processing fine granulated sugar in a food processor for few seconds.
Light and dark brown sugar- These types of sugar impart a subtle butterscotch flour.
Powdered/Confectioners’ sugar/Icing sugar – This super superfine sugar is mixed with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent it from lumping.It is used mostly for frostings.

Granulated and Superfine White Sugar: 1 cup = 200 grams,1 pound = 2 1/4 cups
Light Brown Sugar (packed):1 cup = 218 grams,1 pound = 2 1/4 cups
Dark Brown Sugar (packed):1 cup = 238 grams, 1 pound = 2 1/4 cups
Powdered (Confectioners or Icing) Sugar:1 cup = 115 grams,1 pound = 4 cups (4 1/2 cups sifted)

4) Butter: Most bakers prefer unsalted butter so that they can control the amount of salt that they add in the recipe. It also has a fresher flavor.If you only have salted butter, simply omit the salt in the recipe. Like eggs and other ingredients, butter needs to be at room temperature (65 -70 degrees F) for baking cakes.Room temperature butter leaves a slight dent when pressed gently with one finger.
Tip– To bring butter to room temperature quickly, cut it into 1 inch cubes.

5) Baking Powder/Baking Soda: Baking powder and baking soda are the two most common chemical leaveners used for butter cakes. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate whereas baking powder is sodium bicarbonate plus an acid phosphate salt (such as cream of tartar) and cornstarch.
Baking powder begins to lose strength about a year after opening.  Baking soda has very long shelf life if stored in a cool, dry place.
Tip – To test if baking powder is still active, sprinkle a little over hot water.If it fizzes actively, you can still use it.

6) Cocoa :
Types of cocoa-
Natural Cocoa – It is simply chocolate liquor (non alcoholic) with most of the cocoa butter (fat) removed after hydraulic pressure.Its intense flavor makes it well suited for use in brownies, cookies and some chocolate cakes. When natural cocoa (an acid) is used in recipes calling for baking soda (an alkali), it creates a leavening action that causes the batter to rise when placed in the oven. Popular brands of natural unsweetened cocoa powder include Hershey’s and Ghirardelli.
Dutch Processed cocoa powder – This type of cocoa is treated with an alkali to neutralise its acids. Because it is neutral and does not react with baking soda, it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder, unless other acidic ingredients are used in sufficient quantities . It has a milder taste and is darker and sometimes redder than non alkalized cocoa.

Measurements/Weights –
Natural Unsweetened or Nonalkalized Cocoa: 1 cup = 82 grams
Dutch Processed Cocoa : 1 cup = 92 grams, 1 cup sifted = 75 grams
7) Flavourings: The most common flavouring for cakes is vanilla extract. It is always advised to spend the extra dollar or two to buy pure rather than imitation vanilla.These days non alcoholic (halal) vanilla extract is also available at speciality stores such as Whole Foods. Vanilla beans/vanilla infused sugar can also be used as a halal alternative to alcohol based vanilla extracts. Other common flavourings for cakes include almond extract, lemon extract and spices.

Berenbaum , Rose .The Cake Bible. William Morrow and Company Inc. New York : 1988
Berenbaum, Rose. Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. John Wiley and Sons Inc.New Jersey: 2009
Braker, Flo. The Simple Art Of Perfect Baking, Chronicle Books. San Francisco: 2003
Dodge, Abigail. The Weekend Baker. W.W Norton & Company. New York London: 2005

8 comments on “Cake Baking and Decorating Basics Series – Right Ingredients

  1. Dear Sadaf,

    a very useful and informative post… thanks for sharing this..

    The most awaited Roundup and the announcement of “Hall of Fame” members of Healthy Morsels is now online !
    Please accept our sincere and heartfelt thanks by collecting your badge from any of our blogs 🙂

    Your Healthy Morsels Team !

Comments are closed.