Eat Cake


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Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of King Louis XVI, was viciously maligned throughout her reign.  The victim of countless rumors, charges of adultery, and other unfounded allegations, her Austrian heritage thwarted her ingratiation with the French people.  She never uttered the famous phrase “Let them eat cake”, in response to protests that the poor were starving, but it didn’t matter.  She was convicted of treason and like her husband, was executed via the guillotine.  For the revolutionaries, it was the icing on the cake.

There are many types of cakes and a variety of methods for creating them.  Cakes can be generally divided into two categories:  foam cakes and shortened or butter cakes.  Foam cakes differ from shortened cakes on a number of dimensions.  Foam cakes have a higher ratio of eggs to flour and typically don’t rely on baking powder or baking soda for leavening.  Beating air into the eggs in a foam cake provides the lightness and volume.  Angel food cake is the quintessential example.  Some foam cakes contain no fat or rely on egg yolk as the only fat.  Shortened cakes contain fat, usually butter or shortening and regularly employ baking powder or soda.

There are a few approaches to making a shortened cake; the creaming method, the two-stage method, and the single-stage or one bowl method.  The difference between them is primarily revealed in the texture of the final product.  If you prefer a light and airy cake, the creaming method is the way to go.

In the creaming method, sugar is beat into the butter.  This incorporates air bubbles in the butter, (which will be inflated with carbon dioxide from the baking powder or soda), and thus facilitates the maximization of the cake’s volume.  However, there are a number of factors to consider.  The first is the temperature of the butter.  Too cold and it is difficult to work with, too warm and it will not cream effectively.  If it starts to melt, kiss those air bubbles goodbye.  Sixty-five degrees is the ideal temperature.  Chill the mixing bowl and sugar to prevent the butter from overheating during the mixing.  Second, the eggs should be at room temperature for optimal volume.  Third, be mindful of the mixing times below.  It takes time to thoroughly combine the ingredients and infuse the batter with air.  Impatience means a heavier cake.  Finally, respect the juxtaposing addition of the flour and the liquid into the batter and always start with the flour.  Coating some of the flour with the fat first will inhibit gluten formation and create a more tender cake.  Do NOT put all the flour or all the liquid in first.  Either will reap havoc with the proper assimilation of the ingredients and the development of the airy texture.


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