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Ask a Pastry Chef Week 1: Your Top 5 Baking Questions, Answered!

Ask a Pastry Chef Week 1: Your Top 5 Baking Questions, Answered!

Our expert solves your cake-baking mysteries

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Ruby Goss

Ruby Goss

Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

To prove that you don’t need a ‘knack’ for baking—only a good dusting of knowledge—each week this month, we’re putting 5 of your most commonly asked baking questions to our in-house expert and very talented pastry chef, Johanna.

Baking is notoriously finicky—no matter how many ‘easy’ baking tips and recipes you read, it can sometimes feel like you’re more master failure than master baker. You’ve probably heard it’s an art of precision, but it doesn’t help that every oven seems to have its own personality, each kitchen its own atmosphere, and measuring cup its own volume—not to mention that some recipes can yield varying results, no matter how often you make them. So how to divine the perfect bake?

You asked and we listened. Since, this month, we’re baking our way into spring—each week we’ll be answering your most-asked, most (perhaps even literally) burning, questions about baking to help you along the way.

To answer your questions, we’ve chosen the best of our own: She’s the creator of the legendary, Milk-Bar inspired KS birthday cake, caramel-laden candied kumquat cake, light-as-air lemon and mint Swiss roll, regal Frankfurter Kranz, pastel buttercream flowers—and soon-to-arrive blackberry stripe cake (stay tuned for that one). It's none other than our pastry chef and test kitchen manager, Johanna!

To kick things off, let’s slice the proverbial cake and unlock the secrets to that most iconic of baked goods—the cake. From how to get the crumb right, achieve a towering creation, why we bake with baking powder and soda, and the all important question of ‘doneness’.

If you have more baking questions for Johanna, leave them in the comments!

1. Why is my cake texture gummy?

You want your batter to be well combined, but if your hand mixer or stand mixer is on too high, not only will your ingredients start to heat up, but it will mix too quickly, even ‘over mix’ your dough, which will give your cake that rough, gummy texture.

2. Why won’t my cake rise properly?

Your cake hasn’t risen and has become a hard mass? Check the expiry date on your baking powder. If it’s out of date, it just won’t work properly.

On the other hand, too much baking powder means the cake will rise too quickly and just collapse into itself. Using too making baking powder also leaves an unpleasant taste.

How to Prepare a Cake Pan

How to Prepare a Cake Pan

3. How can I tell if my cake is properly done?

Prick the cake with a wooden skewer. If it comes out with cakey bits still on it, the cake needs more time in the oven. Check back again and repeat in the net 4 – 5 minutes.

If the cake is starting to brown but bits of batter are still sticking to the skewer, place a layer of aluminium foil on top.

How to test a cake for doneness

How to test a cake for doneness

  • 00:27 min.

4. What's the difference between baking powder and baking soda?

Baking powder and baking soda help a cake rise. They increase the amount of air bubbles in the batter in addition to the air that's incorporated while mixing. Though they have the same job, they should NEVER be substituted 1 to 1.

Baking powder: When it interacts with heat and moisture, baking powder releases carbon dioxide bubbles which make batters and doughs lighter. Baking powder works twice during baking: firstly, during mixing and then in the oven.

Baking soda: Baking soda also creates bubbles during baking and helps a dough or batter rise. In order for it to work as a leavening agent however, there needs to be enough acidity in the mixture for example from milk, buttermilk, lemon juice or yogurt.

Let's be clear: you can replace baking powder in many recipes by using baking soda plus an acidic milk product such as buttermilk or lemon juice. For example, this baking powder alternative is used in most muffin recipes. But do not substitute baking soda and baking soda 1: 1, because you need significantly less baking soda for the same effect.

5. Should I use cups or scales when measuring?

Baking is all about precision. If something’s off, your dough will become too crumbly, too sticky, or too hard. Even if you think you can eye up ingredients, take the time to use your scales to measure the exact amounts.

How to measure

How to measure

  • 01:30 min.

Check back next week for Part II, where we'll be exploring everything to do with pastry and dough!

Published on May 3, 2019

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