Cake FAQ

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

a) Why didn't your cake rise?  »
Short answer: Because you did not follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Egg whites were overwhisked and inextensible.
  2. Whisked egg whites, kept waiting too long, deteriorated and became inextensible.
  3. Eggs/yolks were underwhisked. Didn't have enough air bubbles.
  4. Whisked eggs deflated when mixed with oil/melted butter and dry ingredients.
  5. Not enough eggs/whites/yolks.
  6. Not enough non-fat liquids, so not enough steam to help the cake rise.
  7. Batter was too thick. Thick batter was too heavy to rise well.
  8. Batter was too thin. Thin batter allowed air bubbles to escape easily.
  9. Too little baking powder/soda.
  10. Baking powder was stale.
  11. Too little acid. Baking soda couldn't activate.
  12. Too much acid. Batter was set before it could rise.
  13. Wrong flour type.
  14. Batter was kept waiting too long before it was baked, allowing air bubbles to escape, and the baking powder and whisked egg whites to deteriorate.
  15. Oven wasn't hot enough. Without enough heat, air bubbles couldn't expand, water couldn't convert to steam, and double-acting baking powder couldn't activate.
  16. Oven was too hot. Batter was set before it could rise.
  17. Wrong pan type, which affected the heat transfer. 
  18. Pan was too wide. Shallow batter was set before it could rise.

b) Why did your cake crack?   »
Short answer: Because you did not follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Egg whites were underwhisked and too extensible.
  2. Too much egg white. 
  3. Too little flour.
  4. Oven was too hot.
  5. Top of oven was too hot. The crust hardened too quickly, then ruptured when the batter underneath puffed up.
  6. Too much baking powder/soda.
  7. Too much non-fat liquid.
  8. Wrong pan type.
  9. Pan was too narrow.

c) Why did your cake collapse/sink/deflate?  »
Short answer: Because you did not follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Egg whites were underwhisked and provided poor structural support.
  2. Oven was too hot. Cake rose higher than it should, so it came back down due to insufficient structural support.
  3. Too much baking soda/powder.
  4. Too much acid. Strictly speaking, the cake didn't sink. The sides rose but the centre didn't, so it looked like the centre sank.
  5. Uneven mixing.
  6. Too little flour.
  7. Underbaked.
  8. Cooling down method was wrong. Fragile cakes need to cool down inverted and stuck to the pan or they would sink.

d) Why was there a hard layer at the bottom of your cake?  »
Because the batter set too slowly, allowing starch to separate and sink to the bottom of the pan, where it hardened.

Why did the batter set too slowly?

Short answer: Because you did not follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Oven wasn't hot enough.
  2. "Bathtub", if there was a water-bath, wasn't metallic.
  3. "Bath water" wasn't hot enough.
  4. Not enough acid.
  5. Not enough eggs.
  6. Not enough flour.
  7. Not enough starch.
  8. Not enough cream cheese.
  9. Wrong type of cream cheese, that didn't have enough starch.
  10. Too much liquid.

e) Why did your cake shrink after cooling down?  »
Everything shrinks after cooling down.

f) Why did your cake shrink excessively after cooling down?  »
Short answer: Because you did not follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Overbaked. Cake lost too much moisture, so it shrank.
  2. Too much non-fat liquid. H2O turned into steam when heated, creating empty pockets which, when excessive, made the cake shrink excessively.
  3. Too much egg white, which is 90% water. Refer to point 2.
  4. Not enough flour.
  5. Not enough yolks.
  6. Pan was prepped wrongly. Don't grease/line the pan unless the recipe says so.

g) Why did your cake fail even though you followed my recipe "closely"?  »

Reader cath's Japanese cheesecake...KT's Japanese cheesecake................ . .

Reader cath asked me what she'd done wrongly with her Japanese soufflé cheesecake. She'd followed all the steps "closely", according to her. Did she really? My recipe says she should bake the cake in a bain-marie. She obviously didn't because her cake was brown all over. If she did, the water would have prevented the sides and bottom from browning.

Not only did cath not follow the baking instructions, she also did not follow the list of ingredients. Her cake was so overbaked the crust was thick and brown but the inside, she said, was still wet. If she had followed the ingredients detailed, her horribly overbaked cake would have dried out.

It is, of course, everyone's prerogative to not follow my recipe. Whatever floats your boat and all that, you know? Just please don't whine and ask me why if your boat sinks. When you ignore my instructions and then you want me to speculate about which part of my instructions you have ignored, my blood pressure goes up. I become very sarcastic when my BP rises. My response to cath was: "If what you did was close to the recipe, then the moon is close to planet Earth." 

h) Why did your cake fail even though you followed my recipe to a T?  »
There are only two possible explanations for your cake failure. Either my recipe is crap, or you didn't follow my recipe to a T even though you think/say you did. If the former – it isn't but let's assume it is – I'm not going to admit it, am I? If the latter, I can't help you unless you show me a video of you not following my recipe to a T. Hence, the question is pointless.

i) Your cake pan is bigger/smaller than mine. How do you adjust the recipe?  »
You must scale the recipe by the percentage difference in size.
  1. Calculate the volume of the pan used in the recipe.
  2. Calculate the volume of your cake pan.
  3. Scale the recipe up/down by the percentage difference between the two pan's volumes.
A round pan's volume is 3.1 x r x r x h. A square/rectangular pan's volume is l x b x h. An irregularly shaped pan's volume, in cubic cm, is the weight of the water it holds, in grams.

If you can't handle the arithmetic, get a primary school kid to help you. You may want to pretend you're testing him/her.

j) You want to scale the recipe up/down. What pan size should you use?  »
The pan size must be proportionate to the quantity of ingredients.
  1. Calculate the volume of the pan used in the recipe.
  2. Calculate the pan volume you need, e.g. double step 1's answer if you want to double the recipe.
  3. Using step 2's answer, calculate the dimensions of the pan you need, keeping the height same as mine.
A round pan's volume is 3.1 x r x r x h. A square/rectangular pan's volume is l x b x h. An irregularly shaped pan's volume, in cubic cm, is the weight of the water it holds, in grams.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about or your little brain is threatening to explode, please seek assistance. A primary school kid should be able to help you.

k) Your pan type is different from mine. Does it matter?  »
Only round, square and rectangular "regular" pans are interchangeable.

A chiffon cake should be baked in a two-piece chiffon tube pan that's not non-stick. Some people use a bundt pan instead, probably thinking all pans with a hole in the middle are the same. *sigh . . . * They are, I presume, not civil engineers, architects or lawyers.

l) Why do I (sometimes) whisk egg whites before egg yolks?  »
The stability of whisked egg whites depends on the amount of sugar and cream of tartar added. If there is no cream of tartar and very little sugar, egg whites must be whisked after yolks or they would lose the extensibility that makes the cake rise, as they sit waiting. If there is cream of tartar and enough sugar, then the egg whites are quite stable and may be whisked before yolks, without adversely affecting the final product.

m) Why do I use a whisk to fold whisked egg whites?  »
A whisk is better than a spatula for folding egg whites. Each prong on the whisk is equivalent to one spatula, so folding with a whisk is faster. Speed is crucial because if the folding takes too long, the egg whites would deteriorate and lose their extensibility, resulting in a cake that's short and dense.

Some people believe whisked egg whites should be folded gently, and therefore slowly, or they (egg whites, not people) would deflate. That's wrong. There's no need to be gentle because the egg whites are whisked by the equivalent of a tornado (or two). It doesn't get more violent than that. Folding gently isn't necessary but at least it does no harm. Folding slowly, however, is a big (possibly fatal) mistake. The longer whisked egg whites wait, the more inextensible they become, the less the cake rises.

n) Why do I (sometimes) block the oven's top heat?  »
When the top of the cake browns and hardens too quickly, it'd try to stop the batter underneath from rising. If it succeeds, the cake would be short and dense. If it fails, the cake would be cracked. Blocking the top heat keeps the crust thin and soft, so the cake rises well and doesn't crack.

o) Wouldn't the cake collapse if you open the oven to rotate it (the cake, not oven)?  »
No, not if you're fast. Yes if you knock the pan against something or slam the oven door, but these are separate issues from opening the oven. Your cake will be fine if you don't lift the pan. Just slide it around the rack, turning it 180°, then close the door gently. The oven should be opened for no more than 2-3 seconds.

p) Can you replace     (fill in the blank)     with     (fill in the blank)    ?  »
Can you replace cake flour with plain flour? Plain flour with self-raising flour? Self-raising flour with plain flour? Plain flour with coconut flour?

Substitution of ingredients is the top FAQ on both my blog and YouTube channel. If I had a recipe for boiling water, someone is bound to ask if there's a substitute for water. Or if he could make boiled water without water, like the reader who asked if she could make Japanese cheesecake without cheese. And the other reader who wanted to make Hong Kong egg tarts without eggs.

Some readers can't be bothered to come up with alternatives. They want to replace something, and they want me to tell them what to replace it with. Of course, they have an unspoken condition. The substitute must be something that they already have, or will fall out of the sky and land in their laps.

One reader, jas, asked if it's OK to use "normal milk" instead of full-fat milk. She obviously didn't know what "normal milk" is. She didn't know what full-fat milk is either, and she didn't want to know. She just wanted it removed from the recipe, so it couldn't bother her.

On my Hokkaido cupcake recipe which doesn't use baking powder, reader nath asked "can I use baking powder too?" What for? He didn't say.

Ladies and gentlemen, yes, you can. You can put and not put whatever you like in your cake. Because it is your cake. Your boat, float it your way. Good luck.

q) How many eggs/whites/yolks do you need?  »
As many as necessary to get the required weight of eggs/whites/yolks in the recipe.

r) Is your oven too hot/cold?  »
I don't know. I am not a thermometer.

s) Can I convert grams to cups?  »
Of course I can, as soon as someone tells me how to measure block cream cheese in a cup. And as soon as everyone who measures with cups agrees on a universal method. Do they want to :
  • Scoop or spoon flour? 
  • Sift or not sift? 
  • Tap or not tap? 
  • Level or shake? 
  • Use a dry cup or liquid cup? 
  • Use an American customary cup (236.6 ml), American legal cup (240 ml), Japanese cup (200 ml), Australian/metric cup (250 ml) or Canadian cup (227 ml)?

t) What brand/model is my mixer?  »
I bought my mixer about 10 years ago. What was a good brand then may or may not be a good brand now. I suggest you refer to recent product reviews for up-to-date recommendations. All the major brands for small kitchen appliances – such as KitchenAid, Bosch, Braun, Philips, Kenwood, Cuisinart, etc – would have the type of mixer I use.

u) Where did I buy my mixer?  »
I get asked this question a lot, which is quite puzzling. Why would anyone need to know where I bought my mixer? If you want to buy one, then go buy one. A mixer is a small kitchen appliance, so you go to retailers that sell small kitchen appliances. Any departmental store or shop that specialises in household appliances would stock a few brands.

v) Where can you buy cake flour in Australia?  »
Why would someone living in Australia ask someone who is not living in Australia where to buy stuff in Australia? WHY? Somebody . . . ? Anybody?

Here's where you can buy cake flour in Australia:
http://shop.coles.com.au/online/national/anchor-lighthouse-flour-plain-cake-biscuit-pastry.

Make Google your bitch! (Or stud, if you prefer.)

w) Where is the recipe?  »
This is one of the FAQ on my YouTube channel. Viewers who ask the question either can't be bothered to look, or they don't have enough intelligence to figure out where to look. If the former, they don't really want my recipe. If the latter, they wouldn't know how to follow my recipe anyway.

When I first started my YouTube channel, I told viewers who couldn't find the link to my recipe to click on "show more". (I was afraid if I'd said "description box" instead, they didn't know what that was.) Some people said they read looked at my blog but couldn't find my recipe. One viewer asked "Where is show more?" I just gave up, to save my sanity. Now, my answer to the question is: "Viewers need an IQ of at least 55 to access the recipe. Sorry for the restriction."

x) What is     (fill in the blank)    ?  »
What is cake flour, pandan, lye, etc? Any "what is" question has shitloads of answers on the Internet. Why would anyone want to wait for me to reply instead of getting the answer, plus photos, with just a few clicks? What planet are they from? They don't know how to Google?

y) Do I weigh eggs with shells?  »
Let's say you need 220 g eggs which may be, say, 4¼ eggs. How do you weigh ¼ of an egg with its shell? And when the white and yolk are weighed separately, how do you split the shell? Maybe those who ask if eggs are weighed with shells know how. I am not so clever.

There's nothing in my recipes about discarding egg shells. If the weight stated is for eggs with shells, then the shells would be in the cake.

11 comments:

Eiva said...

Excellent FAQ. Not only is it informative, it cracks me up.... Kudos!!

Millie said...

After reading a few blogs, I know that KT's responses would pretty much be mine. Thanks for all your foolproof recipes, KT!

PS: any chance of a roulade/Swiss roll? Thanks!

Ju said...

I know that you're brilliant but you don't need to be so sarcastic and rude. Being asked with the 'stupid' questions is annoying, but because they trust you're brilliant so they asked you. That's it. They don't need to ask if they had known already.


I like your blog. Recipes and videos are very good, but unfortunately I don't like your personality. You are too proud!

elly said...

brilliant answers to the FAQ's!!! great recipes too!

KT said...

To the people who ask stupid questions, even a lamppost is brilliant.

Antonia said...

This is to answer question (v). All bigger Asian grocery store sells all types of flour, including cake flour. If you can't find it at one store try another. I usually go to the one next to Chatswood Chase which is very reliable.
By the way, just recently discovered your blog KT, love your sense of humour!!

Ponn said...

Dear KT,
Question on oven temperatures in your baking recipes, is that for a conventional oven or fan forced oven are you reffering to?
Thank you

KT said...

Hi Ponn, no fan. Cheers.

chloe said...

First of all, thank you so much for the videos! (yes, ALL the YT videos!) I just love watching you cook/bake, it's incredibly inspiring. It also helps me identify my mistakes that I wouldn't otherwise notice when following a written recipe. I realized that I've been underwhisking when creaming the butter + sugar, as a result, not enough air incorporated to the batter! There's definitely an improvement in my sponge cake recipes now, thank u so very much :))

Secondly, I love that you're so thorough in your recipes, plus reading the 'science' behind the recipes has been an eye opener. Regarding your comment in your pandan chiffon post: "Chiffon cakes shouldn't be baked in non-stick or greased pans but it's not because of the reason you think." PLEASE DO TELL!!! (I googled, but the popular misconception of the batter 'clinging to the walls of the tin' prevails)

KT said...

Please refer to my chocolate sponge cake, which rises spectacularly in a lined pan. It empirically disproves the myth about cakes not rising (well) in pans that are greased/lined.

Theoretically, the myth is essentially saying friction – from the pan which the batter clings to – helps the batter rise/move upward. That makes no bloody sense. Why? Because friction impedes movement.

Friction is a double-edged sword. It's bad when the cake is rising but it's a good thing when the cake is sinking. If the cake has something to cling to after it's removed from the oven, it would sink less because the cling/friction impedes movement.

Sinking less and rising more are two entirely different things. A chiffon pan must be ungreased/unlined to minimize how much the cake sinks, not maximize how much it rises.

chloe said...

oic, so that means that if you grease the chiffon tin, it would rise no problemo, but will also sink spectacularly, yeah? That makes sense, thanks so much for sharing!

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