Thursday, 28 February 2013

Tips & Tricks on Baking - Chocolate Cake!

This post is a very special one to me, because of the lessons I have learnt from a dear friend, which I would like to share with others. This post will have no music, because it will be dedicated to something and someone very special. I would like to start this post by thanking a very close friend to me - Chitra. I admire her for many reasons, and one of them is her patience.

I've baked in the past, but it never turned out perfect. Sure, it tasted good, but it was never that crumbly and soft consistency, that just melts in your mouth. Chitra helped me achieve that on the weekend, by teaching me how to bake properly, and patiently. We made a mouthwatering eggless chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.

This eggless cake recipe was simple, but there are a few rules that we must always adhere to, as I've learnt.

We followed this online recipe from Tarla Dalal, but made just a few tiny changes to it, as I will explain. We made a two layer cake, with chocolate frosting. Some people bake one large cake, and cut it in half, but we baked two thin cakes and put them together. I wanted to spread something different into the middle, so I put some chocolate frosting on the bottom of the top base, and some toffee sauce on top of the bottom base. They went together beautifully!

The recipe we followed by making a few changes, was this:
For 1 thin cake (make two batches of this to make the large cake) -
1 cup homemade Cake Flour (explained in Method)
2 tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Bi-carb Soda
1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
3/4 cup Condensed Milk
4 tablespoons of Melted Butter
1 teaspoon of Vanilla Bean Paste (if you don't have this, you can use Vanilla Essense, but the paste makes a HUGE difference!)

Here is where I will explain the tricks and rules along the way.

The most important things Chitra taught me about baking, are to be very precise and accurate with your measurements, follow the recipe closely, and never to add or swap ingredients. The recipe is given in the way it is for a reason, and you don't want to change or add things, because it will make changes to the end result that may not be favourable, even if you think otherwise. Compliance is key!

Let's start!
Homemade Cake Flour is something Chitra introduced to me, and boy does it make a difference! Cake Flour is where for every 1 cup of Plain Flour, you remove 2 tablespoons and replace it with 2 tablespoons of Corn Flour. Why, you may ask? Because corn flour is what gives it that crumbly consistency in the end, and it makes all the difference in the world!

We used this home made cake flour, and to properly make it, you must put the plain flour and corn flour in a bowl, and seive it 5 times! YES, 5 times! Why? As Chitra explained, it is the only way the flour and corn flour will really blend in properly, because they are both different densities and textures. Seiving is an extremely important part of baking, that many people, including me, have missed before, thinking that it doesn't make that much of a difference. When I tasted the end result, I realised how much difference it made! I used to just put it all together, and use a hand-held electric whisk to leaven the dough, but this is not the way to do it, as I've discovered. Sieving is très important!!

So, once you've sieved your 1 cup of cake flour 5 times, add your  1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon bi-carb soda, and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the same bowl. Sieve the entire mixture another 2 times! It may seem unnecessary, but I can assure you, it is worth it! Once you have done that, leave this dry mixture aside.

In another large bowl, add your 4 tablespoons of melted butter and whisk it gently until it is one consistent colour throughout. Then add the 3/4 cup of condensed milk to the butter, and whisk it gently. It will look curdled at first while you are whisking it, but eventually, it will blend/come together and look beautiful. Condensed milk is our substitute for egg.
Add the Vanilla Bean paste. This paste gives the cake a much richer and more authentic vanilla taste, than adding Vanilla essence. Whisk it gently again till it comes together. Now, add 3/4 cup of water to this bowl and gently mix it.

Now add the dry mixture in 3 equal batches. You must mix/fold them in together gently with a spatula. Don't use a whisk or anything electric. The mixture should be gently handled, and added in small proportions. Use a spatula to break up the flour, and push it to the sides of the bowl to blend it in so there are no dry bits left in the flour. The key is to be gentle.

Once you have added all the flour, and mixed the dough together, run your spatula gently through the mixture, and listen closely - you will hear the air bubbles. This means the mixture is well aerated, and will mean your cake will rise and be soft and crumbly! 

Now, preheat your oven to 170ºC (Degrees Celsius).

While the oven is heating, leave the cake dough aside and start preparing your baking pan. It is important to oil your baking pan with either a brush or with an oil spray, and placing the baking paper correctly, as displayed below:
Pour the batter out into the baking pan, and level it out gently with your spatula. 
Now when you place it into the oven, place it on a low rack. The reason we do this is so that it has enough time to cook inside while the outside is slowly browning. I've had my share of deflated cakes, and having to leave the cake in the oven for some more time because it's still not completely cooked even though it's browned perfectly outside. To prevent this situation, place the pan on a low rack, further away from the heat source, so that the cooking and browning is even and consistent.

Cook for 20 - 25 minutes. IMPORTANT: Once you have placed the cake into the oven, do not open it again for at least 20 minutes. Chitra says that you need to retain the temperature in the oven while the cake is baking, so you can peek at it from the oven window, but resist the temptation to open the oven. 

After 20 minutes, open up the oven, and poke a butter knife into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean and does not deflate, it is well cooked. Otherwise, pop it back into the oven for another 5 - 10 minutes. It won't rise again, but it will cook at least. Once, done, allow the cake to cool outside for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan, and taking off the baking paper.
The cake looked beautiful! It had risen perfectly in the middle, and had cooked all over evenly and perfectly. It was such a happy moment :)

So, I went home and tried the bottom layer myself, and it turned out very well because I followed all the guidelines that Chitra had taught me. I put them together with some rich chocolate frosting, and presto! The cake was soft, delicate, crumbly, sweet and divine! 
Thank you Chitra for teaching me how to bake properly!