For thirty years, as I learned about cooking, Ted looked over my shoulder.
And he did all of the baking, which consisted of making hundreds of dozens of Toll House chocolate chip cookies.
In the past few years, Ted has become much more interested in cooking, and when Dorie Greenspan's book arrived in our house, Ted began to bake something new every weekend. Now I'm the one looking over his shoulder.
I didn't grow up in a baking house; I grew up in a Weight Watchers house. No cookies, no pies, no cakes.
So, until recently, I'd never used cake flour.
Made from soft wheat flour only, cake flour has a much lower protein count (6-8%) than all-purpose flour (10-12%), which is made from a blend of hard and soft wheat. According to the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, cake flour is treated with both dry bleaches and chlorine gas, which change the nature of the wheat starch, allowing it to absorb more liquid. So, a batter made with cake flour will be able to support the large amounts of sugar and fat that are usually used in cake recipes. Bleaching also makes the flour more acidic, ensuring that the starch gelatinizes and "sets" more quickly.
What all of that means is that cakes and cupcakes made with cake flour are lighter than those made with all-purpose flour. Sometimes a heavy (dense) cake is what you want; sometimes you're after something fluffier.
Of course, you can make your own cake flour, but I've found so many different formulas for this that I really can't advise about absolute proportions. For every one cup of sifted cake flour, substitute approximately 3/4 cup sifted bleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
Too confusing for me. I can buy Softasilk brand in my local supermarket, or Queen Guinevere Cake Flour (only $2.99 for a three-pound bag) online from the ever-reliable King Arthur Flour.
My friend Mary is the best cake-maker in our cooking group, and she taught us this recipe last Fall. Make this in a 9-inch tube pan or two layer pans.
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups of sugar
2-1/3 cups cake flour
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp cognac or brandy
Preheat oven to 350°F. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
Beat three egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk until stiff but not dry. Take the egg whites out of the mixing bowl and put them aside in a clean bowl.
Sift 2-1/2 cups cake flour into a bowl, and measure out 2-1/3 cups. Put the rest of the flour back into the box.
Sift nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, baking soda and salt onto the flour. Mix gently to combine all.
In the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar to the butter and beat at medium-high speed until well creamed. Add three egg yolks, one at a time, and cream well after each is added. Mixture should be light and fluffy. Add buttermilk or plain yogurt. Stir in vanilla extract and cognac or brandy.
Add wet and dry ingredients alternately to the butter and sugar mixture, mixing well after each addition. You will add one-third of wet, then one-third of dry,nd repeat twice, ending with the dry ingredients.
After all wet and dry are added and mixed well, take the mixing bowl off the mixer and stir in a heaping tablespoon of the beaten egg whites by hand to soften up the batter a bit. Then, add the rest of the egg whites and gently fold them into the cake batter.
Butter and lightly flour cake pans, and tap out any excess flour. Or, coat pans with baking spray.
Bake a 9-inch tube pan for 1 hour or two layer pans for 25 minutes. Test with a toothpick or cake tester to see if cake is done. Either should come out clean when the cake is done. After the cake has cooled for 10 minutes or so, run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely before you take it out of the pans.
From The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Sufficient to frost an 8- or 9-inch layer cake, 9x13 inch cake, or 24 cupcakes.
5-1/3 Tbsp (2/3 stick) butter
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/8 tsp salt
4-5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk or cream
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, and salt until fluffy. Add about half the confectioners’ sugar and beat slowly until well blended. Add the vanilla and half the milk and beat until fluffy. Continue mixing in sugar and milk alternately until they’ve been completely incorporated, and beat until frosting is light and fluffy.
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