Batter up! I’m now onto batters, the next part in the first section of Ratio in my Cooking Through Ratio series. Batters differ from doughs with one significant difference in that they contain more liquid than solids making them pourable. Another interesting thing about batters is that you can create them using the same ingredients and the same ratios but what matters most is the order that the ingredients are added and therefore batters are categorized by the method the ingredients are combined in. For instance batters can be classified by mixing method including the creaming method, foaming method, the straight mixing method or variations of them.
The first items under batters are the pound cake and sponge cake. At first I wondered why there were two seemingly different cakes under one chapter, but the reason became apparent quickly. A pound cake is 1 part fat (butter), 1 part sugar, 1 part egg, 1 part flour and is so named because a traditional cake uses a pound of each of the ingredients. A sponge cake is 1 part egg, 1 part sugar, 1 part flour and 1 part fat (butter). As with all ratios, the ratio dictates the order the ingredients are added and these cakes differ dramatically in terms of the order and therefore different methods.
The first cake to make was the pound cake. Pound cake brings back childhood memories of my grandmother. She used to love eating it and I would enjoy eating it with her. Although we didn’t make it ourselves at home, we did enjoy cutting thick buttery slices from a box of Entenmann’s All Butter Loaf Cake. Sometimes strawberry jelly was added but it was just as good plain right out of the box. Making pound cake on my own was something I was looking forward to.
Last Thursday night while the oven was preheated to 325 degrees F, I got out my 9-inch loaf pan, measured out the ingredients, utilizing a half portion of the required ingredients and got to work. The mixer was placed on the counter, paddle attached. As the ratio indicates, the butter was put into the mixer bowl first and beat with the paddle attachment on at a medium speed. Sugar and salt were added and beat for a few minutes. This is technically the leavening stage in creaming method. As the sugar is beat into the butter, tiny air bubbles are formed. These pockets are what will expand during baking as the gas expands. The change in the butter is apparent as it becomes lighter in color as a result of the air pockets.
Eggs are added next one at a time so that they can be incorporated into the butter, sugar and salt. As the egg incorporates, the mixture appeared to become soupy and separate a bit. I was worried that the air bubbles in the butter were getting destroyed, but slowly everything started to blend together.
At a lower speed the flour was added to the batter. As it was added slowly a dramatic change started to take place. The batter pulled together and the flour slowly absorbed some of the moisture. To ensure that not too much gluten was created, I made sure to only mix everything as long as it took to incorporate the flour as instructed.
The batter was quickly placed into the loaf pan and placed into the preheated oven.
After an hour I used a paring knife to check on the baking. It needed a bit more time, and 10 minutes later the cake was cooked through.
Once cooled, I sliced into the pound cake and was surprised by how dense and rich it was. My visual observations were confirmed with a delicious bite.
This pound cake differed a lot from the Entenmann’s that I remembered eating as a child, but was great nonetheless. The texture and the sweetness were clear reminders of what this really was, a cake made in a loaf pan instead of a normal cake pan. Perception with food truly does have a powerful impact.
With the first cake batter completed, I continued on to sponge cake last night. As noted the ratio is the same, but it’s the method that differs. Sponge cake is what you think of when you think of birthday and layer cakes. I remember eating amazing homemade birthday cakes with raspberry or strawberry jelly between the layers and a sweet frosting growing up. Mom was not big on processed foods and boxes of cake mix. My sister Ashley and I ate the real deal, and so after reading over this ratio I was happy to see how easy making a good cake can be.
This cake started off with the foaming method whereby the whole eggs and sugar were first whipped in the stand mixer using the wire whisk attachment. This causes the eggs to triple in volume and produces bigger bubbles than the creaming method which yields a fluffier cake.
Once the eggs and sugar had foamed, vanilla was added and then the bowl was taken off of the stand mixer and flour was folded in gently using a spatula after it as aerated in a food processor. The folding of the flour into the egg Ruhlman points out helps preserve the network of bubbles created during the whipping.
Once the flour was folded in, melted butter was folded in as well. This was hard to incorporate and I felt like it didn’t quite combine like the other ingredients before it. It’s possible that I did not fold it in enough, although being the first time I was careful to not over-mix and destroy the bubbles.
The fluffy batter was placed into a cake pan immediately and placed into the oven which had been pre-heated to 350 degrees F.
After 40 minutes the cake was fully baked and pulled out f the oven.
Once it has sufficiently cooled, I cut a slice and was able to see the dense network of air pockets that were left from the bubbles in the batter.
Although the book instructions allowed for the addition of baking powder, I opted not to use any and focus on the ratio. I’m sure the baking powder would have provided a nice lift, but this cake was a perfect texture for adding some tasty Maine wild blueberry jam, that I picked up on our family trip to Kennebunkport a few months ago.
Two cakes in less than a week are enough to ruin any diet, but in my quest to learn certain sacrifices must be made no matter how hard they are and how much I suffer. It’s a tough life that I live; I know this. At least this lesson is not tough to swallow.