Structural isses with downy yellow butter cake
Posted: 30 July 2013 02:34 PM   [ Ignore ]
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First, the short version because this post is quite long: I do not get enough structure during preparation of the batter and while baking. During preparation the batter is too fluid, and while baking the middle of the cake sinks towards the end of the baking time. Also, the bottom layer of about half an inch thick is not fully done.

I am getting desperate. I bought The Cake Bible because Rose is very precise, and I hoped this would avoid the failures I had with other baking books. But I have baked the all-occasion downy yellow butter cake dozens of times now, and the results are still not what I had hoped for.

Note: I use two-thirds of the ingredients because I only bake with one pan that is at least two inches high at a time:
- 75   gram egg yolk
- 161 gram milk
- 6   gram vanilla
- 200 gram flour
- 200 gram sugar
- 19.5 gram baking powder (cream of tartar and 150% of recipe, see below)
- 3.3 gram salt
- 113 gram butter

I measure everything by weight. I usually use two scales, which are off by a few percent. The flour and the sugar are weighed on the large scale, and the rest on the precision scale. I also weighed everything with the precision scale once, but did not notice differences.

I went over the list of ingredients multiple time to research the differences between American and Dutch versions of the ingredients. I have made some, in my opinion, small changes (for example: Using vanilla extract instead of vanilla sugar), but could not find major differences.

I tried multiple flours from the Netherlands and one from Belgium. There are differences in the results, but the only real difference is usually the height. For some cakes I replaced part of the flour with corn or potato starch, but again this mostly affected the height. Although I can get American all-purpose flour (no cake flour unfortunately), I have not tried it yet because I figured it would be the same as Dutch all-purpose flour when I was at the store.

What is different from the cakes in The Power of Flour articles, is that those cake are all completely done. No matter what flour is used, only the height is affected. I see the height differences too, but my cakes also won’t bake correctly.

I used two types of baking powder: heat-activated and fluid-activated (cream of tartar). Lately I have exclusively used the baking powder containing cream of tartar. When using this baking powder I increase the weight by 50%, because that was mentioned on some ingredient substitutions pages I found.

I used to bake in an electric oven, but after a test with the microwave oven combo of my brother I decided to buy another oven. Because it has a setting specifically for pasty (bottom heating element + convection) I decided to get the Rowenta OC7868. I use the pastry setting at 175 °C (= 347 °F). This really helped to get a more even color:
http://www.onyougo.com/rowenta-oc7868-cookers-_pi1007745
 
I also switch from a cheap springform pan to a Chicago Metallic, and then to a Fat Daddio’s pan. I only use the Fat Daddio’s pan since I got it. Each switch to another pan improved the result. And I put Magi-cake strips around the pans:
http://www.amazon.com/Chicago-Metallic-Stick-9-Inch-Round/dp/B003YKGRY6/
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000VYQHW/
 
Recently I found the video of Rose making the cake, and saw that her batter was much thicker than mine. So I figured I added too much liquid, and tried to bake with less milk: 30 and 60 gram instead of the specified 120 gram added to the dry ingredients (+ 40 gram mixed with the egg yolk). The cakes rose very well with hardly any bubbles on top, so I was excited that the cake might finally come out good. But they still sunk in the middle while still in the oven. And even when adding only 60 gram to the flour, the batter still ended up smooth, i.e. I don’t get sharp ridges when handling the cake with a spatula.

Here are some picture of one of the cakes. This one was made with the normal amount of milk. If you ignore the bubbles it looks pretty good, but the cake does not spring back when pressed at 25 and 30 minutes. At 30 and 35 minutes, you can see the dents made by my finger. Between 25 and 30 minutes the cake starts to shrink (because it was not done yet and the oven door was opened?). After 35 minutes I took it out because that is the maximum baking time. I was really happy with the color, thickness and softness of the crust. But as you can see in the last picture, the bottom half is not completely done yet:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/johan-en-laura/sets/72157634408317630/

My current hunch is that the flour over here behaves differently. I have gone over all the other ingredients, and don’t see how those could be the issue.

What am I doing wrong? What adjustments do I have to make for ingredients sold in the Netherlands? Thanks in advance for your tips.

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Posted: 31 July 2013 03:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here is another long one, so I have to split it in two parts.

Flour
——-
There is indeed no bleached flour available here. These flours have been banned because of the use of hazardous chemicals, and having trace amounts of neurotoxins in them because of the bleaching. As cake-eating Americans don’t seem to be affected by the neurotoxins, I would not mind using bleached flour, but I think it is illegal to import bleached flour from the US because I can’t find it here.

In The Power of Flour Rose also used unbleached (American) flour, and although the results were not optimal, the cakes did succeed.

I have seen the article about Kate Flour, and decided it was not for me. That is way too much work for baking cakes.

Baking powder
——————-
I dont’ use cream of tartar alone, but I use the baking powder variant that has cream of tartar as the acidic ingredient. (I did use only baking soda by mistake once, which lead to a surprising result.)

And I don’t make my own baking powder. We don’t have a lot of choice here in the Netherlands, so there are not many that I can try. In normal supermarkets you can usually only find the heat-activated one from Dr. Oetker. The ingredients are not listed on the Dutch site, but I expect they are the same as the baking powder sold in the US:
http://www.oetker.us/en/product/baking-aids/baking-ingredients/baking-powder

But because I found ingredient substitution pages stating that double-acting baking powder can be substituted with 150% baking powder containing cream of tartar, I switch to the cream of tartar one. Which is not available in a regular supermarkt, so I have to get at an organic supermarket.

I can’t get my hands on Rumford baking powder unfortunately. Amazon won’t ship food/ingredients to the Netherlands. But I still have to try a number of American stores over here, so maybe I get lucky.

Julie: I already tried to bake with less baking powder (cream of tartar) about a month ago. I used 13 gram instead of 19.5 gram then. Unfortunately, the cake already started to shrink when it was 26-27 minutes in the oven, the top cracked, the center was lower than the edges (but I did not write down whether, and if so how much, it sunk), and the bottom layer and some spots here and there were not done.

I also forgot baking powder completely once. Even so, the cake rose nicely, just not as much as with baking powder, but as far as I can remember the result was about the same: not completely done. Unfortunately I was not writing down what I was doing and what the result was at that time yet.

Convection oven
———————-
The convection does not seem to cause overbrowning. The combination of the convection oven and the Fat Daddio’s pan (Julie: a regular 9” by 2” pan) seem perfect for the crust.

Using both heating elements of my electric oven is problematic though. This does cause the top to be burnt slightly. And that’s why I switched to only using the bottom element in that oven. Which lead to cakes that were not browned enough on top. Therefore I switched to a new convection oven, which improved things a lot.

The convection oven is quite large, so the space around the pan seems adequate for circulation.

The fan is at the back and the cake is in the middle of the oven right in front of it. You can see in the pictures how much of the air flow is blocked. I do notice that the top of the cake near the fan usually browns a little bit slower because of the edge of the pan blocking the air flow. But in general the cake browns evenly.

I have never used a microwave to bake a cake.

Testing
———-
I normally test the cakes by pressing them lightly. I have used a cake tester (= metal knitting needle) sometimes, but it didn’t come out clean and/or dry either.

Altitude, weather conditions and flour storage
———————————————————————
I am not at a high altitude. One foot below sea level even if I am not mistaken.

We have had a pretty chilly spring this year, so there have been almost no humid days this year. I might have baked on a day that was a little more humid than normal, but I didn’t notice a significant difference with other days.

I used to store the flour in the paper bags in a cupboard under the stairs, but after I found out my batter was too liquid I thought the flour may be absorbing too much moisture, so I moved the flour to a well-ventilated storage room. And I also used flour purchased after the move to the storage room, so I am sure I baked with flourt that must have been dry enough.

Mixing
———
I do all my mixing with a hand mixer at the highest speed. The egg mixture is mixed by hand using a whisk.

Butter
———
It is very hard for me to get an exact temperature in the kitchen, but it is 20 °C (68 °F) ± a few degrees. The time I leave the butter out of the fridge also differs a lot. So I have used both very soft butter, and butter of which I thought it was too hard. I didn’t write the softness of the butter (what unit is that anyway?) down, so I can’t tell if there is a correlation between the softness and the result.

Reducing liquid
———————-
Gene: I have not tried reducing the amount of liquid by not adding all of the egg mixture yet. I will give it a shot, but won’t this have a significant effect on the cake?

Oven heat
————-
I tried measuring the heat of the oven, but it is very difficult to get a clear picture of whether the temperature is good and the heat evenly distributed. If I take a lot of measurements, the infrared thermometer heats up, which leads to incorrect readings. The door has to be open for the measurements for a long time too, adding more uncertainty to the measured values.

From what I have been able to measure, the temperature looks alright, maybe a little to high: 180 °C (almost 360 °F) instead of 175 °C (a bit below 350 °F).

Julie: I may consider buying yet another thermometer so I can measure the center of the cake. But I will try all other options first.

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Posted: 31 July 2013 03:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Oil cake
————

Julie: I will try an oil cake to see how that works out.

Recipe issues
——————-
I had issues with other cakes from multiple books, including The Cake Bible. Because this is a basic cake I focused on this one the last couple of months, so hopefully I could figure out what is wrong. Once I find out what it is I can use that knowledge to ensure the other recipes come out good too.

I tried a recipe for a basic cake from a baking book I bought in Belgium, which was probably translated from German, but that didn’t work out well either. I don’t trust that book because it uses tablespoons and teaspoons for measuring, without telling how many milliliters either of them is.

Note that I do not have issues with a pound cake recipe from a Dutch book with basic recipes. And (pound) cake mix also comes out good.

I might risk buying a French pastry book, which is used as a school book, and gets good reviews, before giving up completely.

Recipe information
—————————
Sorry about publishing the recipe information. Although I totally agreed with the site’s conditions, I didn’t actually read them of course.

I just added the weights of all the ingredients so people could verify I did not make an error.

So the next steps will be:
- An oil cake to see if the flour is the issue.
- If it is not the flour, I will use less of the egg mixture.
- And if that does not help I will buy a thermometer to measure the center of the cake.

Again, thanks for your help. I will keep you posted.

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Posted: 02 August 2013 02:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Gene: I will try moving the cake higher too.

I am hoping to get some American unbleached all-purpose flour tomorrow. I also bought some baozi flour which somebody said comes close to American cake flour a while ago, but I still have to try that too.

Unfortunately the weather is finally beautiful here, so it might take a couple of weeks for me to try all new variants.

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Posted: 06 August 2013 04:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I baked another cake today, but not the oil cake yet because I couldn’t find roasted walnuts and my parents-in-law have my muffin tin. Can I bake the batter for the zucchini cupcakes in a loaf pan instead? If so, what size?

At the American store they didn’t have all-purpose flour anymore, but I did find double-acting baking powder this time.

Differences from previous cakes:
- Davis baking powder: http://www.clabbergirl.com/consumer/products/davis/
- Pan higher in the oven. It was in the 3rd position from the top, and that was the highest possible position for this pan. Any higher position would result in the cake touching the top heating element. And even though that element was not used, it would have created a bit of a mess.

Results:
-The batter was still smoother than in the video when I put it in the pan.
- Lots of bubbles. I don’t think I have seen this many bubbles before.
- The cake rose level until about 27-28 minutes in the oven. At that point the center started to rise even further.
- The cake had a nice height in the oven: about one fifth of an inch above the top of the cake pan.
- I did not open the oven until after 35 minutes because the cake was still too light at 25 minutes, and the top was still wobbly when slightly bumping the oven at 30 minutes.
- The knitting needle came out almost completely clean at 35 minutes, and because 35 minutes is the maximum baking time, I took it out of the oven.
- During the cool-down the center sunk again, ending in a slight dent.
- The bottom layer is still not completely done.

Here are two pictures of the finished cake:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/johan-en-laura/sets/72157634962804666/

Hopefully I can bake also the oil cake, and another downy cake using baozi flour this week.

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Posted: 08 August 2013 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Freshkid: thanks for the advice about the loaf pan. I will get to baking the oil cake as soon as I can. About the checmical leavener: I baked the last two cakes (see earlier message and below) using the Davis baking powder, and those are the best cakes until now. What do you mean with the granular sugar problem? I use the finest sugar available in regular supermarktets in the Netherlands, and for the last couple of cakes I have used even finer sugar that I found in Belgium.

Yesterday I baked a cake using the baozi flour. Again with the Davis baking powder, and I returned the cake to the middle of the oven:
- Again lots of bubbles on top, but slightly fewer than the previous one.
- The cake was still too light at 25 and 30 minutes so I left it in.
- No doming around 27-28 minutes this time, but at around 32-33 minutes. The dome was quite a bit smaller than the dome on the previous cake.
- When I gently bumped the oven at 35 minute it seemed like the wobbling was gone, but my wife set to just leave it in this time until it was done.
- At 40 minutes the dome had disappeared, and the whole cake had started to sink a bit. The cake tester came out clean, so I removed the cake from the oven.
- After cooling for 10 minutes there was almost no dent in the center.

But the biggest surprise came when I cut the cake. The whole cake was done! There still is a difference between the top and the bottom though. The top one third of the cake is coarser than the rest:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/johan-en-laura/sets/72157634982561252/

So I am getting very close. I wonder whether using 15% starch will help again. I have tried that before but then I used different ingrediënts, so I will try again.

Almost there. Maybe I won’t have to move to the US after all.

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Posted: 08 August 2013 12:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Julie: Okay, I will try one with 15% starch and less baking powder. And I will keep a better eye on the cake near the end of the baking time. Too bad both types of American flours are bleached. I will try other stores with American products. Maybe some of them do have bleached flour.

Freshkid: In the Netherlands we can get fine sugar and in Belgium I found ultrafine sugar. The latter is actually meant for decorating and cold recipes. Here is a (crude) translation of the information about the Belgian sugar:
http://www.microsofttranslator.com/bv.aspx?from=&to=en&a=http://www.tiensesuiker.com/static/nl/producten/strooien/ultrafijne-korrel-suiker.aspx

I think putting this sugar in a food processor would not make a difference.

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Posted: 13 August 2013 04:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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No more baking yet (hopefully tonight), but I decided to get the pastry book of Christophe Felder:
http://www.amazon.com/Patisserie-Mastering-Fundamentals-French-Pastry/dp/0847839621

I browsed through it and what I noticed is that for a lot of recipes the dough/batter has to rest for 2 hours before it can be baked. Is it worthwhile to test if resting helps strengthen the cake, or is it guaranteed not to work?

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