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Jul 10, 2012 08:56 PM

What happened to my cake ?

Baking gurus, I need your help. This is the recipe I used:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (3/4 stick)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

You're supposed to cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs, the sour cream, and then the dry. All went well and looked normal when I put it in the cake pan. However, when I cut the cake after it cooled, I could immediately see that something was awry. The cake was dark inside like the color of graham crackers. The texture was also funky; it was almost as if I had used cornmeal in the recipe. It had a texture very similar to corn bread. I've made this recipe before and never had any problems like this. I did buy a new bag of flour today that said all purpose, bleached, and enriched. What in the world would cause this problem that I had? Is it the flour or did I do something wrong?

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  1. I rarely use bleached flour but if your previous was unbleached that would seem a likely culprit as you have not had problems before. This FB page, from baking authority Gesine Bullock-Prado, has lots of participating bakers who may be able to give you a definitive answer: http://www.facebook.com/bakeitlikeyou...
    Another resource is the baking hotline at King Arthur Flour.

      1. I would never recommend AP flour for cake baking. Cake flour is made for a reason; making light cakes. AP flour quality varies, sometimes dramatically, depending on the quality of wheat selected by the manufacturer. Using AP flour means your protein content was greater than it would be with cake flour and the often lengthy beating periods for cake batters excites the gluten in AP flour making a heavier cake. That said, bleached or unbleached flour is not your problem. If anything, bleached AP flour would have given you a lighter color in the finished cake than the unbleached.
        My guess is that the batter was not mixed thoroughly enough and that the baking soda/baking powder wasn't thoroughly mixed with the other dry ingredients.
        No way of knowing the procedure you used but, if you did something other than blend all of your dry ingredients with a whisk before combining it with your liquid ingredients the distribution of the leavening chemicals may not have been thorough enough.

        4 Replies
        1. re: todao

          Many cake recipes call for AP flour, including those in RLB's The Cake Bible.

          1. re: todao

            I use AP in all my cakes. It is not a problem. That's why they call it "all purpose", IMO.

            1. re: danna

              I use 3/4 c sifted AP + 2T cornstarch for 1 c cake flour as suggested on joy of baking when I want a more delicate crumb.

              1. re: magiesmom

                good point. I always sift, whether the recipe calls for it or not. If the recipe doesn't call for sifted flour, i measure first, then sift. If it does...sift, then message. Also, I use White Lily so my flour is probably a little lighter to start off with than some national brands.

                My second-favorite angel food recipe calls for AP + Cornstarch. Thanks for the suggestion!

          2. What kind of flour were you using before?

            I rarely use cake flour, it's just too expensive. I try to use White Lily AP flour (not the self-rising) for cakes, cookies, pancakes, etc. Lately I've been using an "AP" flour from Costco which in my area (SE US) is 9.2% protein; it works well for cakes and cookies. However, all Costco flour is not the same and you would have to check with ConAgra to find out what the protein content is of the ConAgra flours carried by your local Costco (also processing method).

            There's a tendency for people to equate "bleached" with "bleached via chlorination"; in any AP flour OTHER than a Southern Flour such as White Lily (possibly Martha White as well though I have not specifically checked that), they are NOT bleached with chlorine, they have been bleached via a peroxidation process. This does not affect the ability of the flour to form gluten networks at all, it only whitens the flour.

            Bleaching with chlorine DOES alter the flour, by reducing its ability to form gluten networks, increasing absorption, breaking down starches so that structures based on gelatinization rather than gluten are more easily formed; cake batter is basically a foam as opposed to a dough. Gluten bad, gelatinization good, for cakes.

            The short of it is (details will follow if you want them) in order starting from the most convenient:

            1) Use cake flour when that is called for to start with
            2) Use White Lily AP, regardless of what is called for, or some other "southern" flour (not self-rising)
            3) Find recipes that go by weight measures rather than volume measures and sub equal weights of your AP flour for cake flour, if cake flour is called for (else just follow the recipe)
            4) to get a little better result, subtract 0.5 oz from every 4 oz of AP flour and add in the same weight of cornstarch
            5) translate volume measure recipes to weight measure using the conversion ratios below
            6) Make KATE FLOUR (see below)

            Cake flour is more finely milled than regular AP; it is also bleached with chlorine to get the advantages that gives a flour intended to make cakes. It is made from lower protein flours which firstly have fewer of the gluten forming proteins and secondly, when they do form gluten networks, those networks are weaker.

            White Lily flour is more finely milled than regular AP flour, though not so finely milled as cake flour is; it is also a lower protein flour (good for cake, bad for bread, same advantages as cake flour) and is "lightly chlorinated", which also confers some of the advantages of that process when making cakes. Some other "southern" flours have some or all of these characteristics, but White Lily is the only one I've checked out.

            However if you can't afford cake flour, and you can't get White Lily AP in your area (sadly it is a very regional thing), you can still work with AP flour.

            Firstly, switch to weight measures rather than volume measures. I know, there is usually great resistance to doing so among American cooks; I resisted this switch myself for 45 years, and I kick myself every day for waiting so long. Nevertheless, it makes baking so much easier it's ridiculous. You won't believe it 'til you switch.

            You can approximate how much flour to use by assuming 1c of CAKE flour called for weighs 112g or 4 oz; 1 c of AP flour called for weighs 122g or 4.3 oz. - this will usually get you close enough but you may need to tweak, given that one person's "1 c of flour" may weight 4.5 oz while another person's "1 cup of flour" may weight more like 6 oz.

            If that kind of conversion makes you nervous, just get one of the many cake baking books that have weight measures - these include

            The Cake Book
            The Cake Bible
            Great Cakes

            You can get them from your library (interlibrary loan is a wonderful thing) to try before you buy.

            Once you have a recipe that's in weight rather than volume measures, substituting AP flour for a recipe that calls for cake flour is child's play - use the same WEIGHT of AP flour as the recipe specifies for cake flour. Often this is enough, but to get a further boost, for every 4 oz of flour used, substitute .5 oz with the same weight of cornstarch. So that would be 3.5 oz of AP flour plus .5 oz of cornstarch. If the recipe calls for 12 oz total, that's 3 x 4 oz, so you would multiply the amount by 3 - subtract 1.5 oz of flour and add back in 1.5 oz of cornstarch.

            The cornstarch enhances the starch content of the flour and improves its ability to form the gelatinized structures that help make a good cake.

            There's another option - the benefits of cake flour due to bleaching can be obtained by heat treatment. In Europe, where almost all flour additives have been banned (hence no bleached flour at all), commercial bakeries rely on heat-treated flours that approximate the same characteristics of a flour that has been chlorinated. However, these flours are not available to home bakers. So one ingenious, resourceful home baker has put the time and effort into developing a method to heat treat her AP flour at home to make it more suitable for baking. Just do a search on "Kate flour" to find links to her website. She was doing this in the microwave but last I checked she was well on the way to developing a way to do it in the oven, which is a little less trouble and probably a little safer as well, as if you are not careful about stirring the flour while treating it in your microwave, you could stir up enough dust to get a flashover = a tiny explosion in your oven. It's really not THAT likely, but ... oven method might be preferable.

            1. I would blame the flour until evidence pointed any other way. Bleached flour is the Flour of Satan. I'm going to start calling it that: Satan's Flour.

              3 Replies
              1. re: LauraGrace

                Well not all of us feel like that. The fact is you will ALWAYS get better results from a bleached (by chlorination) flour when making a cake than if you are using the same grind, same flour, unbleached.

                If they provided us the heat treated equivalent of cake flour in this country, I'd have no objection to using that. But given current availability - I'm sticking with my "lightly chlorinated" White Lily.

                Heck, if actual cake flour weren't so goldurn expensive, I'd happily use that.

                  1. re: magiesmom

                    Well, cake can be damnably tempting .... LOL!