Monday, February 27, 2012

The Basics: Chocolate Cake from Scratch

     I would like to be witty and super informative on the beginnings of my first food blog (which I swore I would never do), but for sake of time I'm going to keep this post short and to the point (or at least as much as possible).

     I had intended to write the entire recipe for the Gooey Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel, but it's too involving.  Instead I will post the recipe through smaller posts of the individual components, starting with my favorite, the chocolate cake.

The Chocolate Cake:

This recipe is one of my favorites, very simple, chocolatey and delicious!  I've altered this recipe from one I found in a book called, "Cake Love" by Warren Brown.  My version however, is as follows:

- 1 1/4 (7 oz.) cups AP Flour
- 1/2 cup (2 oz.) Unsweetened cocoa powder (notice the UNSWEETENED part)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (though I would recommend just 1 tsp, the reason being, the past few times I made this recipe the cupcakes rose too much and made a mess.  For cakes, it doesn't really matter).

- 1 cup buttermilk (or half and half if you don't like buttermilk)
- 1 TBS vanilla extract

- 3/4 (3 oz.) stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/3 cup (3 oz.) vegetable shortening
- 1 3/4 cup (14 oz.) sugar
- 4 large eggs

     First, you'll want to measure out all of your dry ingredients, flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder (I use a kitchen scale when measuring things like flour and sugar).  Once all your dry ingredients are measured out, go ahead and sift it all and set aside.

     In a separate bowl (of a standing mixer if you have one), add the room temperature butter, shortening and sugar (if you don't like shortening, go ahead and use a full 1 and 1/2 sticks of butter or if you don't like butter, go ahead and use a full 6 oz. of vegetable shortening.  I like using the best of both worlds so in almost all of my baking recipes I like to use half butter and half shortening).  Cream together the sugar and fats with a paddle attachment on a standing mixer on low speed, or just stir it with a large wooden spoon or use a hand mixer, though the beaters aren't quite the same as a paddle attachment and may yield different results.  If stirring by hand, remember that this process is about creaming the sugars and the fats.  You'll want to beat long and hard until the mixture is smooth, well mixed and even slightly aerated.  Expect some sore and tired muscles if stirring by hand.

    Once the sugars and fats are creamed into a nice mixture, go ahead and add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each one into the mixture before you add the next.  Once all the eggs are added, scrape down the sides of the bowl (if you haven't done so several times before), and then mix on medium speed for 20 seconds, to bring it all together.

    In yet another separate bowl or large glass measuring cup, add your buttermilk and your vanilla extract.  Stir to combine.

     Now comes the tricky and most important part when making a cake from scratch.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet and dry ingredients alternatively in 4 additions (for the dry) and 3 (for the wet) into the sugar mixture, starting and ending with the dry (so basically you'll add 1/4 of the dry, then 1/3 of the wet, then another 1/4 of the dry, and so on and so on, until you have emptied both containers).  Once you've emptied both the wet and dry into the butter-sugar mixture, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl (do this really well so you don't have clumps of butter floating around).  Now, mix the batter on medium speed for at least 20-30 seconds to fully incorporate and combine all the ingredients and give the cake some structure (now that flour is added, you DO NOT want to over mix at this point.  Why? Because over mixing will activate the gluten in the flour and you will end up with tough and chewy cake.  Gluten is good for things like bread and bagels, but BAD for things like cake and cookies).  If things still don't look well mixed, just fold your batter by hand with a large spatula or spoon so you don't run the risk of over mixing.

     If making a cake, go ahead and prepare 2 9-inch round cake pans by cutting out some parchment paper the same size as the bottom of the pans (2 circles, one for each pan).  Place these parchment circle in the bottom of the pan.  Don't bother using any non-stick cooking spray, it's not necessary.  If making cupcakes, line your cupcake pans with cupcake liners.  Poor the batter equally among your 2 9-inch rounds.  Smooth out the tops with a spatula and then pound the pans a few times on your counter to level and remove any large air bubbles.  For cupcakes, fill the liners about 2/3 full.  Make sure they're level as much as possible and give the pans a hard tap on the counter as well.  Once everything is filled and ready in their respective pans, bake in an oven at 350˚F, for about 30 minutes for a cake, and about 19-22 minutes for the cupcakes.  Make sure you check the cake at the lowest suggested baking time to see if it's done early (never trust an oven nor suggested baking times).  I take out the cake and use a chopstick to poke into the center to see if the cake is done.  If the chopstick comes out gooey, bake another minute or 2.  If the chopstick comes out with only a few crumbs, then they're done.  Cool on a cooling rack for 25-30 minutes.  If you made 9-inch round cakes, you'll want to take a small knife and cut around the outside of the cake to help separate it from the pan, after it's cooled completely.  Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and freeze if it for later use, or put in the fridge to chill it while you make your frosting or filling.  Cake is easier to frost when frozen or chilled.  For cupcakes, once cooled completely, they are ready to be frosted and eaten.  Enjoy!


- Try having your ingredients all at room temperature if you can (milk, eggs, and butter).  This somehow makes things mix and mesh better, creating a better product.
- A kitchen scale is your friend.  Once you start to become serious about baking, you'll quickly learn and/or realize that weighing is the proper and more accurate way of measuring ingredients.  How do you suppose they measure large quantities of flour and sugar in professional bakeries?  With large containers that say 10 cups?  No, they weigh everything.
- Preparing your pans, sifting the dry ingredients, and having your oven turned on and set to the proper temperature should be done before you start mixing things.
- A KitchenAid mixer is another great friend to have in the kitchen.  I bought mine a few years back and have never regretted it!
- If you're serious about making a cake from scratch, go ahead and read other blogs and books on the same topic.  You'll have a better understanding and a better chance at success if you can compare more than once source.
- The best successes I have had in baking come only after several failed attempts.  So if at first you don't succeed, please try, try again.
- Also, feel free to ask questions.