Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Magic Cake

Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. – Norman Vincent Peale 

Cakes are bastards. If you don’t do everything “just so” they’re like a little tyrant that will take a tantrum in your oven.

Case in point? The other night I made a banana cake (not loaf) with cream cheese icing. It was a super, head-on, massive meltdown “Pinterest Fail.” It went in the garbage.

This is egg whites whipped
to "stiff peaks."
I needed a little self-justification – I can bake, I know I can! – so I decided to make this cake and write down exactly what you need to do. Not just the directions, but how you can go wrong.

“Baking” is a series of chemical reactions. Not so with cooking. The two shouldn’t be confused. You can fiddle with cooking recipes. Baking? Watch your step. It’s a pasture full of cow patties waiting to be stepped in.

Hopefully my laborious directions below will be at least a little useful.

You would think I would make a normal cake to give basic directions, but oh no. It's me of course. This cake is a bit special/unusual. First it’s a “magic” cake. That means it's to magically separate into distinct layers when baked.

Second, it is a separated eggs cake, sometimes called chiffon. There is no baking powder or baking soda used as leavening. It’s all done by stiffly whipped whites. It’s a useful skill to know how. Angel food cake is done the same way.

Yolks and sugar beaten to
"light and fluffy."
This cake is from a site that copied it from another site published all in French. I did not try to translate the original source. My cake didn’t turn out exactly as my source, but pretty close. 

At least I can guarantee my results are real, and probably typical, unlike a lot of cooking sites that have staged pictures of food. Pretty, but real?

There wasn’t three distinct layers. There was two. One was a very light cake layer and the bottom a sturdy, pudding-esque layer. Still very good. I ate 1/3 of it and am still alive.

And it boosted my confidence about cake after the abject failure of the banana one I chucked in the compost.

So here we go, into the "wonderful" world of cake.

Magic Cake
Prep: 15 min  |  Bake: 45-60 min  | helpful hints are in red
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup of flour
2 cups milk
powdered sugar for dusting

Break the whites into the batter gently, taking care not to
deflate them. This is the the last 2/3 of whites being added.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a 8 inch x 8 inch baking dish. Get into the corners and up the sides well. Getting all the surface will help the cake release once it’s baked. That’s kind of important.

Separate the eggs and egg whites into two bowls. Do this by breaking each egg over another small bowl to avoid contamination. There cannot be any egg yolk in with the whites or they won’t whip. Make sure your beaters are very clean as well. Follow these steps and you’ll get maximum volume. 

Beat the whites until stiff peaks. "Stiff peaks" is when the beaters are lifted out of the whites and the tips stand upright. “Soft” peaks curl over slightly. Set the whites aside.

Add the sugar to the yolks and beat until light and fluffy. If you don’t mix immediately you risk the sugar beginning to “cook” or “burn” the yolks. You can use the same beaters from the whites to beat the yolks, but NOT the other way around, without washing them. The consistency of the yolks and sugar will change from very grainy to thick and light.

Beat in the vanilla. Then slowly add the butter, a little at a time – especially if it is still quite warm. If it’s hot you again risk cooking the yolks.

Cakes are done when they start to pull away from the sides.
This is a little dramatic because this batter separates into
cake and a firm "pudding."
Then add in the flour. Do this a little at a time too. If you don’t you run the risk of having the flour fly out of the mixing bowl and making a right royal mess.

Then add the milk, by 1/2 cup, 1/2 cup and 1 cup. You want to gradually thin the batter at first. If not you may get lumps. Also, do not measure the milk over the bowl, if you have a spill you’ll never know how much milk went in.

Beat the batter until smooth. You will note that the batter at this stage is very runny. That’s not common but is OK for this cake. Usually the batter for a chiffon-type cake is stiffer than the whites and they are folded in to “lighten” the egg yolk mixture.

Next grab a (clean) whisk. Beat the egg whites again briefly to make sure they’re still stiff. Often some of the albumen returns to a liquid when whipped whites sit.

Take 1/3 of the whites and place into the batter. Using a gentle touch, slowly break the whites down into the batter. You don’t want to beat it and deflate the whites, you just want to incorporate them.

This cake will slump back down into the pan. Don't worry.
It's not ruined.
Once mixed, take the remaining 2/3 and do the same. The mixture should NOT be smooth. You will still see bits of egg white. They just won’t be very large.

Unlike this one, when making a chiffon cake you use a spatula and a folding motion to incorporate the whites. If you tried that method with this batter you would be doing it all day. A whisk is quicker. Just be gentle.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-60 minutes. Start checking at 45. (Mine took 51 minutes.)

A cake is done when a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the centre “comes out clean.” “Clean” means that no wet batter is sticking to it when it is removed. If you are in ANY doubt put the cake back in for 5-6 more minutes and then test again.

Remove the cake and let cool completely. The cake will be up over the pan when done, but will sink substantially as it cools. This is what causes the central “pudding” effect.

Sprinkle the top with icing sugar and serve.


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