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Cake Making Basics: Eggless Whole Grain Cakes

There's nothing like sharing yummy slices of healthy cakes with friends and family, right?
Of course, when you bake a cake, you have got to take care of the minute details that go into cake baking. After all, you are trying to whip up a sweet beauty that is going to tickle the taste buds of your loved ones. 

You know it all about the magical chemical transformations that go into cake baking, right from the word go - when you start with sifting the dry ingredients, whipping up the wet ones, folding the batter, tapping the baking tin for the final time, and baking the cake finally!! Of course, the wait seems never ending. 
Who would want to wait for baked beauties?

You do so for your pure love for cakes. Who doesn't love golden baked beauties?

The cake making tradition is centuries old, but today, we hear more about light, airy cakes, which seems like a recent invention.


A Slice of Cake History

Cake baking started with the Egyptians, who would bake cakes with egg, honey, and fat. Bread was then the most popular cake.

Honey was added to differentiate between a bread and a cake - of course, it added taste as well as richness to the cake.

While in old times, yeast would be used for cake baking, the lighter cake versions of the previous centuries substituted yeast with bicarbonate of soda and other chemical raising agents.

The classic sponge cake has 4 key ingredients in equal amounts - flour, eggs, fat, and sugar.
Any alteration in either of these would weaken the cake structure and the delicate scaffold of the cake would tumble.

If you take more sugary stuff or fat,  the intricate balance created by the egg and flour would collapse, resulting in a dense cake. 

If you like fruit cakes, then you would fall for these dense cakes as well.


Cake baking basics

This cake baking guide takes inspiration from The Science of Cake Baking.
The main ingredients in every cake:

  • A sweetener, primarily sugar
  • Fat, primarily butter - we use oil, cream, malai, ghee as well
  • Flour, primarily white flour, but we try to make cakes healthier these days with whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and healthier grains
  • Leaveners-raising agents, particularly baking powder and sodium bicarbonate - I tried whipping up an eggless cake without raising agents
  • Egg - common but not necessary

How to make a cake

  • Mic sugar with fat. Do you know sugar and fat are quintessential to any cake recipe?  When you put a fatty product in your mouth, it is the fat that quickly coats your mouth. Do you know it is the coating ability of fat that allows it to play the role of "shortener". Now you must be wondering why fat is important for the cake? Well, just like fat coats the inner lining of your mouth, it binds the flour, coating its starch and protein with an oily film. This ensures that there is not much gluten formation. Now do you understand why do we need fat for a cake or for that matter cookies? Another takeaway is that fruit purees can work similar to fat in a cake recipe. I am surprised, just like you. But now you should stop scratching your mind, because in cake recipes that use fruit purees, we need less of fat or oil. Remember, my eggless mango suji cake?  This gives cakes a tender yet short crumbly texture. 
  • Why is Sugar important? Sugar has many roles to play in a cake, instead of working as a sweetener alone. Do you know sugar softens the proteins in a flour, thanks to its tenderizing effect? Additionally, it also reduces the caramelization of batter, while keeping the cake moist. What does it mean? Well, lowered caramelization process ensures that the cake crust browns at a slower pace. It's as simple as that! Just as sugar is important for a cake recipe, salt is a crucial ingredient too. How? Well, a pinch of salt is enough to helps strengthen the gluten network. You know it already that salt is a taste enhancer. When blended with sugar, you get a yummy, tangy mix!

  • Beat the mix using a whisker or hand (if you have super whisking skills) until the mixture looks fluffy. We are looking to get a consistency similar to whipped cream. 

  • Vigorously mix it until the sugar and fat is creamed and you are sure you have created the required gas bubbles. It is a critically important step as it is where you guarantee whether you will get melt-in-the-mouth cake texture, which is attributed to gas bubbles. What do these bubbles do? Well, nothing except subdividing the batter into fragile sheets. Isn't it that simple?

  • This process is termed as creaming - you cream together the sugar and fat mix. As a result, you incorporate air in the cake. It is the rough surfaces of sugar crystals that carry the air bubbles. This is one reason traditional recipes use smaller crystals of caster sugar. Why? Well, this is because the smaller the crystals, the more the incorporation of gas bubbles. What happens thereafter? These gas bubbles are enclosed by a film of fat, which results in foam.  At this stage, if you do a taste test, you will know it all about the difference whiping can make to a butter-sugar mix. It will be much lighter than the unwhipped butter. Take a taste test!!!

  • Sieve the flour- one of the most important steps in cake baking. When you are trying to learn cake baking basics, you will be taught to aerate the flours. Sifting is one of the basic steps in cake baking. Without sifting of flours, you cannot expect to enjoy light, fluffy cakes.

  • Then the stage to fold in the flour begins. It is one of the most important steps in cake baking. Why? Well, because it will decide whether you will get a beautifully baked loaf or a crunchy crust with a raw inside. Well, yes, so keep the folding action as simple as you can. Fold in one direction, that too, gently - just to incorporate the flour into the wet mix. In doing so, you would want to avoid that the bubbles do not break. Perhaps you have sweated out creating these bubbles. This action will also reduce gluten formation. Excessive beating could mean too much gluten formation, which will give you a heavy, dense cake. You for sure do not want to eat a bread when you are tempted by your sweet tooth to indulge in a cake, right? So why spoil the complex structure of the cake by beating it after the flour is mixed? NEVER EVER BEAT THE BATTER WHEN THE FLOUR IS ADDED. But hey, gluten is still important for the cake structure. How? It is the elastic gluten that holds your cake together. This is what makes cakes different from cookies. You do not want any gluten in your cookies, isn't it? Of course, you do not like chewy cookies. As far as cake baking is concerned, the elastic nature of gluten helps the expansion of batter in the hot oven. At this stage, gases are incorporate into the baking batte. Gradually, this is how the process of the batter coagulation into a network begins. This is the network that supports the sugar- buttery weight and gives you a beautiful baked beauty to indulge in.

  • Now comes the final stage of baking. Preheating the oven is quintessential to baking a perfect cake - eggless or with egg. If you do not preheat, it would amount to wasting all of your baking ingredients that you plan to put in the oven. Wondering why? Well, because preheating prepares the oven for baking the cake. If you do not preheat the oven (which is heating the oven/microwave convection at the same temperature at which you plan to bake the eggless cake), your oven will not be ready for cake baking.  This means if you put the cake in a cold oven, you will most likely get a denser, improperly baked cake. So you know the importance of preheating.

  • Baking is associated with expansion of the batter, setting stage, and browning of the crust. When you put the cake tin in a preheated oven, there is an increase in the batter temperature. As a result, there is expansion in the air cell gases, which further results in the expansion of the gluten. If you are using chemical raising agents, then they will release carbon dioxide in the cake, which will result in light cakes. When the cake batter reaches about 80c, it assumes the shape and form due to the absorption of water by starch. These starch granules form a gel. As a result, there is loss of gluten elasticity. This gives your cake the permanent form and porous structure. As you continue to bake, the constant browning of crust continues. Now that the cake surface has dried, constant baking will produce flavors during the cake crust browning process. These are the Maillard reactions taking place in the cake - the process that gives your cake the enhanced flavor. One point to find whether your cake is done is to check the shrinking of the cake from its sides. The cake would leave the tin sides (making it easier for you to unmold).  If your cake is ready, the crust should come back when pressed. Alternatively, you should first do a knife test to see if the skewer of knife comes out clean, with nothing attached to it. If it is still wet, then your cake must go back to the oven for baking for more time.

  • Standing time is crucially important as well. When the knife comes out clean, you know already that your cake is done. But then you should allow your cake to sit in the oven for a few minutes. Then remove it from the oven and allow it cool down for a few minutes - 10-15 minutes. Loosen the sides a bit. Run a knife underneath your baked beauty and invert it gently onto a cooling stand to speed up cooling of the cake. Do not be in a hurry to cut the cake, because you could get a crumbly mix instead. Let it cool down. Meanwhile, you can prepare a cup of tea or even your favorite icing. Voila! Your cake is ready. Enjoy your tea time.

IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CAKE

Does your cake often sink after baking?
A peep into the oven gave you a thumbs up that your baking beauty is baking perfectly, rising beautifully under heat. But hey, suddenly your cake sinks.

What could be the reason?
Well, a lower than required baking temperature could be the main reason for a sinking cake.
At a low temperature, the batter will set too slowly. As a result, there is a coagulation of the gas cells, resulting in a coarse, dense texture. This could make the top surface sink. 

For an excessively hot oven, especially if you set a higher than needed temperature, the batter would rise like a volcano peak in the middle. It could also result in the surface of the batter setting even before its inner layers have expanded fully. As a result, you could get an excessively browned cake top.

Baking Substitutions

1 egg= 1 tbsp of flax powder +3 tbsp warm water
All-purpose flour= Barley flour+ rice flour
Cream= Hung curd (quickest way to make hung curd)
Butter= Almond butter/ pistachio butter
cream cheese = cottage cheese+ hung curd (check the quickest way to make hung curd)
Dairy milk=coconut milk/ almond milk (learn how to make coconut milk at home/ find how to make almond milk at home)
Oil= coconut oil (learn how to make coconut oil at home)
Buttermilk at home
How to make almond milk and almond meal at home
Sugar= jaggery/raw cane sugar for baking recipes/honey for desserts or maple syrup





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