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February 27, 2007

Cake flour (Recipe: spice cake)

Cakeflour

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.

Spice cake

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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

Easy buttercream
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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

Is this similar to the Italian OO flour? We don't have cake flour in the UK but I have a feeling that they are one and the same. If so, cake flour is also excellent for pasta and bread making.

Freya, 00 flour and cake flour are not the same, though both are low in protein and very soft. Seems like our all-purpose flour, if more finely milled, would be closer to the 00 flour. Here's one good explanation:

http://www.ochef.com/830.htm

For US readers, King Arthur does sell Italian flour:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/landing.jsp?go=DetailDefault&ref=ti&id=3338&gclid=CMzJ0uz9zooCFQoygQodOld7bA

Lydia,

We don't have cake flour here. To be honest, even bread flour is something completely new (released a year or so ago).
So we (me, my mother, my grandmother, etc) have always baked everything - cookies, cakes, bread - with common wheat flour.

Now that we have bread flour here, who knows we'll also have cake flour in the future? :)

I use King Arthur all-purpose flour when I make dough, but I've never used cake flour. 'Course I don't bake much either. But now I'll be better armed next time I do. Thanks Lydia!

Link, thanks for sharing your family recipe (I do love when readers add their recipes in the comments!) -- could you use a chocolate buttercream icing? It's easy to convert the King Arthur Flour recipe, with a bit of cocoa powder.

Patricia, I always use all-purpose flour too, for breads and other types of dough. Occasionally, though, for cakes it's nice to have the option of a lower-protein flour.

Susan, King Arthur is still my all-time favorite, most reliable flour. I didn't know until I started writing this post that they also make cake flour!

Hey, that's what my mom uses! When I was younger, I used to bug her about why there isn't another "s" if it's supposed to be "soft as silk", haha... I should be putting much more thought into what I eat, like you do! I never knew real bleach was used in bleaching flour! Ooooh, your spice cake sounds very very tempting... unfortunately, I just had a gingerbread accident recently and so shall shelve plans for the moment :)

King Arthus is the best, i agree. I've used cake flour a time or two. You can't always find it here.

Like the cognac in that cake!

I was just thinking about cake flour. I have never used it before but I truly think I need to have this in my kitchen! Thanks for posting this.

Shilpa, I noticed that about the spelling, too! I'll bet it was the package designer who decided to leave the "s" out. I read about your gingerbread accident on your blog (Pantry readers, please visit Shilpa's blog and leave notes of gingerbread sympathy....) but hope you'll get back to baking soon.

Mimi, is cognac in cake ever a bad thing? I think not!

Veron, have fun experimenting with cake flour. It's still pretty new to me, too.

I use the same brand as you, because it's the one that's always on the sh.elves at the grocery store. :):) Wish they would carry King Arthur

Oooooh, spice cake! I haven't had one in years. And I'm glad to see some one else using yogurt in place of buttermilk. I can't get buttermilk here and I actually like the texture yogurt gives better!

Cognac in anything is a good thing.

Sher, my local grocery store is carrying more King Arthur products these days, but not the cake flour. I'm going to request it.

Katie, I love the texture of yogurt in cake. But for buttermilk, I use the powdered stuff, because I always end up with leftover buttermilk when I buy the quart size.

Mimi, amen!

Haha, thanks for rallying sympathy for me Lydia! :) How often do the words "gingerbread" and "sympathy" get linked in this way? Am feeling better with the tooth back in its place!

Lydia, in Australia we don't have specialised cake flour. I buy a product from Indonesia instead or mix my own cake flour. Lots of job *sigh*

I wish this flour available in my store!!!
I had used cake flour (other brand), fantastic texture, no other subsitute can achieve it. However cake flour just not always available.

Shilpa, glad to her you are on the mend. Those gingerbread injuries are the worst....

Anh and Gattina, there are so many products you have available locally that I can't get here in Rhode Island. Even though we are close to Boston and New York, a lot of products just don't make it to this small place. But we do a lot of baking here -- the old Italian heritage -- so baking supplies are one thing I can find anywhere.

Hi,

I'm trying to cook healthier foods for my family. One of the things I'm interested in is wheat flour. How do I cook/bake with wheat flour and get the same results as with bleached flour?

Wilda, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Cooking healthy foods for your family is wonderful -- I hope you'll share some recipes as I write about pantry items that you use in your cooking. As I'm not an expert baker, I'm going to send you by email some sources where you'll be able to learn more about white vs. wheat flour.

Hello there! Found your (awesome) site via a google search on 'Cake Flour'. Thanks for the write-up!

On more digging, 'cake flour' is called 'soft flour' in the UK. Citation here: http://www.recipezaar.com/library/getentry.zsp?id=64

Not sure of the validity, but thought it might help your UK readers.

Happy baking!
- Patrick

Patrick, so glad you found your way to The Perfect Pantry! Thank you for this very helpful info -- I always want to learn more about how my pantry items "translate" to other countries.

50 years ago my mother made spice cakes and spice cup cakes. What was memorable and tasty was a hardened icing on top, sort of a pearl white in color and like a praline without nuts in texture. I have no idea what it was, so whenever I see spice cake on the internet, I look to see what icing/frosting they use. Would love to know what that was!

Tom, I wonder if the icing was royal icing? That gets very hard.

Lydia, Yes, some form of one. It was sort of creamy off white with some brown swirls (cinnamon and ?) in it. And I think she stuck some pecan pieces in it before it hardened.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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