5 Ways to Ruin a Cake
Here, Baked co-owner Matt Lewis explains how you can do wrong by his number-one passion in our new blog series called What Not to Do.
© Tina Rupp
Malt-Ball Cake by Baked.
This is my relationship with cake: Cake is kind of my obsession, and I probably eat too much of it. I much prefer cake to cupcakes (the frosting/sponge/filling ratio is more to my liking), and I prefer cake for breakfast as opposed to a post-dinner sugar binge (cake goes extremely well with that first hit of coffee). I will eat almost any type of cake—but I really like dark-chocolate versions. As much as I want to love every cake, though, it's not always easy. Sometimes we do things to cake that we normally wouldn't do to things we love. Here, five ways to ruin a cake:
1. Put toilet-paper rolls in it. The disturbing trend of treating cake as a Michael's craft experiment is kind of gross and completely unappetizing. Do people actually eat cakes filled with chicken wire? Would the food world rise up if this trend started hitting other foodstuffs (i.e., salmon molded into the shape of your favorite cat, or pork chops twisted into a Prada purse)? Leave cake alone.
2. Experiment with food coloring. Perhaps I worry too much, but I think ingesting a cake that is neon red is not good for you—and I really do think some food colorings/gels add a slightly weird chemical-ish taste to cakes and icings (especially in large quantities). I love some of the natural brands, like India Tree, and I really appreciate the lighter shades that less food coloring imparts—they just seem more eatable.
3. Fetishize frosting. Bad cake cannot be covered up, and good cake should not get lost in mounds of frosting. Frosting should complement a cake, not overpower it in sweetness or in weight. By the way, icing shots are gross (think of salsa shots). Let's not encourage this trend.
4. Bake it to clean out the pantry. This goes for almost any recipe. Make sure you use fresh ingredients—baking soda and baking powder lose their potency over time, and old spices are ineffective and will impart an "off" taste. Also, if you are making a chocolate cake, make sure to start with a really good chocolate, since it is the star of the show.
5. Roast it. Most ovens are off by a few degrees at best, and wildly inaccurate at worst. Buy a cheapo oven thermometer to gauge your true oven temperature and adjust accordingly. Oven temperature is key to good baking. Overly hot ovens can cause cakes to be crispy on the outside and goopy on the inside, while your cake might not rise properly in a cooler oven.
Matt Lewis is the co-owner (with Renato Poliafito) of Baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He doesn't eat enough leafy greens. Oh, and he co-wrote two cookbooks: Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and Baked Explorations. He is currently very behind on his third book, due out in October 2012.