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'dry' cake

The Miette thread on the SF board reminded me that I've been meaning to rant about this.

It seems like no matter how fresh a cake is, how soaked in simple syrup, how fat and egg and sour cream laden a cake is, there will be someone out there who will say,'well it was OK, but it was a bit dry.' Now I realize that sometimes there are cakes that immediately suck the moisture out of your entire mouth. Sometimes cake has been frozen or overbaked or is a few days old and is in fact drier than is optimal. Yes, it should be delicious and pleasing to eat.

My rant is, how moist do people expect cake to be? It doesn't all have pudding in the mix, it's not all supposed to be liquid centered or soaked in three kinds of cream. It's not custard, it's not juicy pie, it's not a lovely fruit soup, it's cake. You eat it with a fork, not a spoon. But then personally, I cannot tolerate sogginess or mush. Tiramisu, bread pudding, tres leches, oatmeal, no way. I don't even dunk my biscotti. A nice fresh cake with a thin layer of buttercream or glaze is a lovely thing. A cup of coffee, and I'm good to go. "Dry" complaints about perfectly good cake drive me freakin' nutso.

Bakers? Pastry chefs? Anyone with me?

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  1. Brava on your rant! I could actually feel your blood pressure rising.:) But what you say is true, and the evidence is in the ever-present "molten chocolate" cake that seems to be on every restaurant menu these days.

    1. I agree with the molten chocolate cake idea. Ever since I made individual molten chocolate cakes for a family birthday, they've been requested at every family gathering. Sure, they were good, but there are so many other desserts; so many other sorts of cakes. Oooh, this is sending me off on my own oft-repeated rant about ubiquitous chocolate desserts!

      I think Americans are so accustomed to having cake with ice cream that they expect something to moisturize their dessert. It's the dessert equivalent of adding cheese to everything.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jillp

        Cake should be moist enough to eat, and not suck the moisture out of your mouth if eaten plain, without a frosting...it should be able to stand on its' own..without the "Sauce" if need be..(as should good BBQ)

        1. re: jillp

          Oh, don't get me started on molten chocolate cakes. I mean, they generally taste good if they are made with good quality chocolate, but do they have to be everywhere? 1998 had is moments, but can we move on? There IS more out there. But the molten cakes are easy to make in quantity and they do tend to sell well, maybe just because everyone has to try each restaurants version for comparison, so I think a lot of pastry chefs feel they can't take it off the menu - or the chef won't let them because they make $$. I like chocolate, but I'd rather not eat the same chocolate dessert for nine years straight!

        2. I like classical ( to distinguish from molten etc...) cakes where each crumb is moist and stands by itself.

          1. Dry cake...When a cake is dense, it better be semi-moist, in my opinion. And by that I mean that I shouldn't feel like I need to take a sip of milk or bit of ice cream to feel like I can swallow it. On the other hand, if a cake is light then I want a dry cake. I've heard lots of complaints about dry cupcakes on the aforementioned board and, frankly, cupcakes should, generally, be on the dry side or they are just too messy to eat as the lovely hand cakes that they are.

            1. I can agree with the previous poster, albeit for a different reason. Moistness or dryness is one thing, but there seem to be a lot of cakes around here (a lot of grocery store cakes, but Costco cakes in particular) that get covered in thick layers of sicky-sweet frosting with the texture of library paste. It doesn't matter how dry the cake is if you can't find it anywhere in the mass of frosting... Good cake can be enjoyed without frosting at all, but I'm pretty sure this stuff isn't it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Vexorg

                Oh, don't get me started on people and their reliance on frosting. I watched recently as my future in-laws and their daughter argued over who got the frosting on a mediocre slice of cake, and saw that they couldn't eat a bite of cake without frosting. They wouldn't touch the carrot cake because it didn't have frosting layered between every inch.

                I don't really understand how a person can stand eating those frosting flowers.

                1. re: mrsry

                  Great points about too much thick, sickly sweet frosting. My fav cake growing up was my mom's simple chocolate cake with a very lightly sweetened whipped cream frosting. It simply accented the cake, instead of overwhelming it.

                  1. re: mrsry

                    I hardly ever bother frosting a cake. A little syrup glaze...occasionally a ganache, but really, a good cake can stand on its own.

                2. I love this post. I could make it worse by bringing up the fact that EVERYONE has to have a thick soft chewy cookie anymore. Blech. Instant Gratification Food.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: NeNePie

                    Oh, the soft chewy cookie rant is always available from me. This drives me nuts. My mother-in-law used to say that people were "lazy eaters" because nobody wanted any texture to food. I am forced to agree with her.

                  2. This whole subject could moved to a BBQ thread. One of my biggest pet peeves is the amount of people who insist good BBQ is anything that "falls off the bone."

                    Aaargh! That's horribly overcooked BBQ, not good BBQ.

                    1. Same goes for bread. I used to work for an artisanal French bakery, and every day, we got customers trying to return the bread for being "hard" or "stale" - we had to explain that the crust is supposed to be there.

                      Re: cake - that's why I like muffins over cupcakes. More texture.

                      1. Great rant! Made me laugh. I never thought much about this before, but yes, I'd agree that many people expect cake to be unrealistically moist and creamy. To me, it's normal for some cakes to be a touch dry.

                        Frankly, that's why I'm not a big cake person but tend to go for desserts like custards (panna cotta, flan) or pastries (fruit tarts, galettes, etc). Cupcakes are sure cute, but they never, ever do it for me...EVER.

                        The most memorable cakes that I've eaten were Zuni's gateau Victoire and one from the SF Chron. Cookbook V. 1...mixture of orange and chocolate w/ chile. And I'm def. more of a pound cake person than angel food cake...

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: Carb Lover

                          I don't know what it is about the recipe, but the only cupcakes to ever really "do it" for me are red velvet ones. But I haven't ever had a red velvet CAKE, so maybe I'm missing out on something even better. The red velvet cupcake just always seem so much lighter and more chocolatey than the other cupcakes, no matter where I eat them.

                          But no, nothing beats that gateau victoire.

                          1. re: Pei

                            Hmmmm...I admit to never having tried a red velvet cupcake (or cake for that matter). Your experience is the opposite of most sentiments I've heard; most people seem to get excited by the idea of red velvet but usually are left underwhelmed by the actual taste. I'll be on the look out for red velvet cupcake...

                            1. re: Carb Lover

                              Yup. I was definitely grossed out by the idea of food coloring laden chocolate batter, but somehow the results are divine. I need to experiment a little at home to see if it's psychological or an actual chemical change caused by the food coloring.

                              1. re: Carb Lover

                                My East Coast friends are always touting Red Velvet Cake. Like many, I am totally underwhelmed by the taste. It is not the red coloring that bothers me but the lack of chocolate taste. Most recipes use just couple tablespoons of cocoa. Maybe it is a New York thing.

                                1. re: PBSF

                                  I grew up in New York and frankly never heard of Red Velvet cake untill I moved here...I always thought it was a "Southern Thing"!!!
                                  Ebingers Blackout Cake...that's a New York thing!

                                  1. re: PBSF

                                    Legend has it that the hotel Waldorf Astoria in NYC invented the cake in the 40's. Right now the heated debate among my NYC friends is who makes the best Red Velvet Cake or Cupcake...Magnolia Bakery, Buttercup Bakeshop, etc, etc.

                                    1. re: PBSF

                                      With you on that PBSF! I thought Red Velvet cake was a southern treat. I live in NY (albeit upstate, but was born in NYC) I make Ebingers Choco cake for many special occasions! Well, I don't know if it's the same recipe but it is GOOD!

                                    2. re: Carb Lover

                                      I have had a slice of red velvet cake before. It is heavenly. The taste itself isn't especially noteworthy (a little bit of chocolate, paired with tangy cream cheese frosting), but the texture... Oh, the texture! It's like nothing else I've had, and lives up to its name.

                                      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                        //Legend has it that the hotel Waldorf Astoria in NYC invented the cake in the 40's. //

                                        This has been pretty much debunked as urban legend. Even the current chef at the Waldorf admits he's conducted an exhaustive search of the hotel's archives, and can't come up with a single reference to this cake. Although he also laughingly says they're going to continue to take credit for it. :)

                                    3. re: Pei

                                      Traditional Red Velvet cake recipes contain no chocolate at all, only a hint of cocoa.

                                      A friend makes one that's just devil's food cake with food coloring added.

                                  2. Very nice rant and I totally agree. I often think that with all the box mixes/molten cakes most people don't even know what a good homemade tastes like!

                                    1. You're absolutely correct about boxed cakes being the taste standard for most people. Isn't that sad? But we, as Chowhounds, have a moral obligation to introduce them to the real thing. Which gives us an excellent excuse to make more cakes!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: jillp

                                        I know someone who refers to any kind of light-colored cake with a light-colored frosting as "birthday cake". It doesn't matter what type of cake it really is; she thinks this is an official name for a type of cake. Whenever she offers me "birthday cake" for dessert, I want to tell her that for my birthday as a kid, I always got strawberry-filled white chocolate mousse cake--so that frosted cardboard mess could not possibly be MY birthday cake.

                                        1. re: mrsry

                                          I always got mocha or saeng-kurim (fresh whipped cream with fruit) cake for my birthday parties. I almost cried the first time I had a sugar-laden yellow-cake-with-frosting blob at another kid's party. I took one bite of the brightly-colored sugared "flower" and spit it back out.

                                          I think I'd come to associate it with food poisoning too, but it was (probably) actually from the rancid milk that accompanied the cake some other time.

                                      2. just a thought, and not to be annoying or deliberately contrary but- isn't it a matter of personal taste? I don't like frosting, and I don't think I've ever complained about a cake being too dry, but I do know people who love frosting and eat a piece of cake mostly for the frosting that's on it. we have different preferences, and though I don't understand how they could like something that I don't like, it doesn't really bother me.
                                        I understand how one can complain about a cake being too dry or too wet or too whatever, but to complain about other people complaining seems almost invasive. but that's just my humble opinion.. :)

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: bijoux16

                                          But now you're complaining about people complaining about people complaining.

                                          Oh when will this divisiveness end? :)

                                          1. re: bijoux16

                                            I think the point is that the OP wishes more people would appreciate good cake without needing things added to it, on it, etc. In my opinion, being able to appreciate the flavors that are in food without adding all kinds of extras may be something that comes along with being a foodie, whether it is conscious or not. For example, the same person who loves frosting and insists on birthday cake being a flavor (which I wrote about above) can't bear to watch me eat salmon that has only a hint of flavor without begging me to glop all kinds of sauce on it. She thinks I should taste the sauce, not the salmon.

                                            Likewise, I think the OP is saying that people should try to focus on tasting cake, not tasting whatever liquid/cream/frosting that can be added to it.

                                            1. re: mrsry

                                              Well, and really just that some people need to admit that they don't like cake, which is OK. Cake is generally a dry food, like bread is a dry food, like cookies are a dry food, it's not the cake's fault if someone would really rather have pudding or pie. Of course nothing is going to satisfy everyone, it's just one of those complaints that I have a hard time taking seriously - seems like there's one in every crowd, no matter what. It seems like the kind of complaint that people who just like to complain make, just to prove that they know best, or whatever the reason (that is, unless it really is valid, which sometimes it is). If someone eats cake just for the frosting, they are probably someone who doesn't like or care about cake. Fine. They don't need to complain about the cake, they can just get their sugary goo rush and be happy.

                                              Sorry, Bijoux, we pastry chefs tend to be an uppity bunch!

                                              1. re: babette feasts

                                                Cake that is "generally a dry food" is NOT good cake......good cake is moist..even without frosting...

                                                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                                  I don't agree that "good cake is moist." Some cakes are supposed to be moist, like a pineapple upside down cake. Other cakes are supposed to be something else, like a sponge cake. What about tortes? They are usually something other than the box fan's definition of moist.

                                                  1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                                    Every cake including sponge cakes and angel cake should certainly be moist enough that they don't pull moistness from the mouth or make you run for a glass of milk or coffee...if they aren't they were overcooked or somewhat stale...

                                            2. OK, now I'm really trying to figure out why this bugs me so. I don't even make that many cakes. I think part of it is the way I easily dismiss gushing raves as people being drunk by the time they got to dessert, but take any criticism too seriously. And when I do get negative feedback, I try to remedy it in the next batch, or change the dessert, or whatever, but when that one filters back to me on something that I know was top quality, I'm just at a loss as to what the heck I'm supposed to do to please people. Maybe it is a people are just used to duncan hines issue, and that is what they base their expectation of how cahe should be, I don't know. I will have to try to remember to dismiss the worst 10% of feedback as easily I do the best 10%.

                                              I do appreciate the feedback and insight. Now if we could just get Bob L. to chime in with a round of 'ChezPanisseOlivetoPizzaiolo always has exquisite cake, each bite like a mouthful of morning dew sucked from a virgin's navel' this thread would be complete.

                                              : )

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: babette feasts

                                                You are too much! I'm laughing so hard...

                                                I now feel the need to honor you (and the almighty cake) by baking a cake this weekend. Oh, I failed to mention in my earlier post that I absolutely adore Sir Gawain's summer fruit cake!

                                                1. re: babette feasts

                                                  It is one thing to complain about people complaining about Miette's cake being dry; as one who has had Miette's cake, brownies etc. and will no longer purchase them, have you actually had them and thought them to be tasty or is just the phrasing bugging you?

                                                  1. re: wally

                                                    I have not tried Miette, when I lived in the area, I would look but could not convince myself to fork over the requisite cash to try. I'm just referring to the phrasing.

                                                  2. re: babette feasts

                                                    But you forgot that authentic regional Italian cake is dry. (vbg)

                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      Yeah, and the bread has no salt, and since you're not paying for airfare, $9 for a very simple dessert with no garnish whatsoever is actually quite a bargain!

                                                    2. re: babette feasts

                                                      I had some really pathetic cake at Oliveto, but that was years ago, before they hired a pastry chef.

                                                      It wasn't just that the cake was bad, but that the menu said "semifreddo." What they served was just a slice of very dry American-style layer cake, made with whipped cream instead of frosting, straight out of the refrigerator.

                                                    3. I enjoyed your rant! I know that Americans liked baked goods moist, and a lot of Europeans don't. In fact, the most common complaint regarding the famous Viennese Sacher Torte is that it is "too dry," because it's a chocolate cake that's not fudgy.

                                                      A few years ago, I baked a big plate of brownies for my best friend's birthday in Germany. She's Russian, and she took one bite of the brownie, smiled politely, and said, "Did you cook it long enough?" She then cut it into 1/2-inch pieces and gingerly ate one of these alongside a big cup of black tea. "This is one of those things you have to eat with tea," she insisted. Ditto with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups -- she and her mom smashed them atop pieces of dark bread and ate them at tea-time.

                                                      However, my German roommates always went crazy for my chocolate-chip cookies, although they were very skeptical at first. I made sure to bake them crispy -- I don't think they could have handled a chewy cookie!

                                                      P.S. Carb Lover, do you have a favorite pound cake recipe? I made Das Ubergeek's for my birthday last week and found it delicious. You should check it out.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: gus

                                                        Honestly, I haven't made pound cake in ages. I remember DU's recipe and it would be the first on my list if I were to make a pound cake. Maida Heatter also has some excellent pound cake recipes.

                                                      2. I'm more familiar with complaints about "wet cake" - like the dessert a small Italian place used to serve with their prix fixe, a piece of yellow cake with some kind of booze poured on it.
                                                        When in Europe I admit that I find sachertorte and some other cakes too dry. It's just not the style I'm used to. But I also wonder if that style just really needs to be fresh? Because when friends' old world grandmas make their cakes, I love them, especially ground nut styles.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: julesrules

                                                          The original Sacher torte that you get in Vienna is dry, but don't forget they eat it "mit schlag" meaning with a whole lot of whipped cream over it, that moistens it up considerably.

                                                          1. re: R.B.

                                                            Sacher torte is a torte (obviously) and not a 'cake'.. it is quite 'firm'

                                                        2. I'm not a baker, but I have friends who are :) What is the trick to making a moist cake?

                                                          2 Replies
                                                            1. I admit, I complain all the time about dry cake. Reading over this posts, I see that as with anything it can be regional and personal preference. I guess that helps explain why I've always LOVED bread puddings... Ah well! :)


                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Dommy

                                                                ....but I like bread puddings which are VERY 'custardy" and so the discussion continues!!!!

                                                                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                                                  Oh yes...when ordering a bread pudding in a restaurant I always ask..."Is this the soft, custardy kind of bread pudding? Or the dense stiff kind?" ('Cause if it's the dense stiff kind, I don't want it!)

                                                              2. These posts are hilarious. But I have to say, I don't really remember hearing a lot of complaints about dry cake. Most complaints I hear (probably coming out of my own mouth!) is that the frosting is disgusting...hard and way, way too sweet.

                                                                1. I am a pastry chef and I have never understood the complaint that all cakes are too dry.
                                                                  Many people seem to want all cakes to have the same texture as bread pudding (yuch)
                                                                  I have heard all the common complaints;
                                                                  baguette that has too much/too hard crust,

                                                                  people who will only eat carrot cake with 3/4 of cream cheese frosting(yuch)
                                                                  Many brides are demanding multi-layered pudding cakes; 5x 1" layers with 1/2" of sickening sweet butter-cream between layers

                                                                  Asking why theres isn't butter-cream in a European torte

                                                                  Saying they love sourdough, but its too hard and dry.

                                                                  they love gingersnaps,but they hate the crunchy texture?

                                                                  Every cookie should have the texture of a sour cream drop cookie.

                                                                  I have adjusted many recipes to the softer demands, but I only bake the original recipe for the case.

                                                                  PS, I actually prefer the original texture of a Sacher torte.