Dinner SOSis the podcast where Bon Appétit answers your highly specific cooking conundrums, thanks to host and food director Chris Morocco and a rotating cast of cooking experts. Here, Chris goes deeper into this week’s kitchen emergency, which you can listen to here. 

You like cake, you want cake, and now we are giving you the tips you need to bake cakes as well as Bon Appétit’s resident baking expert Shilpa Uskokovic does (which is to say: very well). The latest episode of BA’s podcast Dinner SOS features a spirited conversation between Shilpa and me dedicated to helping you level up in the cake department. Here are a few tips discussed in the episode:

If you still don’t own a digital scale, this is your last warning. Measuring ingredients by weight doesn’t just make better baked goods, it transforms the way you bake. You can add ingredients right to a bowl—all into the same bowl—without clumsy measuring cups. You will work faster, which will make you want to make more cake. You will be caught in a glorious positive feedback loop of joyful baking for the rest of your life. For $25. Which is a pretty good bargain. Use the ingredients the recipe calls for. We can’t stop you from accidentally using baking powder instead of baking soda, but we can tell you that there is a huge difference in how specific ingredients perform in recipes, like bleached versus unbleached flour, for example, or Dutch-process versus natural cocoa powder. For a recent series of cake recipes, Shilpa called for bleached flour (flour that has been refined to remove all traces of bran; the label will clearly indicate this), which is softer and bakes up fluffier, and doesn’t hydrate as much. Bleaching in this context doesn’t involve chlorine! Don’t overmix. This can happen at several stages during cake making. You can over-cream fat and sugar, incorporating too much air, resulting in a crumbly or dry cake, or you can overwork the batter once the flour and dry ingredients are added, creating toughness instead of tenderness. A Bon Appétit recipe will always give you a clear indicator of what to look for (is it pale and fluffy?) in addition to a time range for critical steps. Use your senses and, when in doubt, err on the side of undermixing.  Always check for doneness. Shilpa recommends using a digital thermometer (cakes will usually be done around 200°F) or the “touch test” to see if cakes are done. The touch test is just that: lightly pressing the top of the cake in the center and seeing if it gently springs back when poked; this tells you the crumb is firm and set, no longer wet batter. But Shilpa isn’t writing this article, so she can’t stop me from telling you that, while perfectly valid, those are more advanced techniques. There is an easier way—a wood toothpick works just fine. Prepare your pan before you start cooking. Parchment paper works better than nonstick spray, coating with butter and flour, or prayers. However, parchment isn’t practical for some pans, especially decorative ones with irregular surfaces like Bundt pans. I like using a light coating of fat before laying a round or sheet of parchment into a pan to make it stick, which starts you at an advantage when pouring in thick batters that can displace the parchment or that don’t stay flush against the pan. If you are using a spray, we highly recommend Baker’s Joy. Whatever method you choose, be sure to do it before you start mixing so your batter has someplace to land as soon as you’re ready. 

Listen to this week’s episode of Dinner SOS, then check out these five cakes Shilpa developed for any occasion. Happy baking!

Featured recipes:

Raspberry Cake With Whipped Cream FillingPineapple Upside-Down CakeVegan Banana Bread With Chocolate and Miso

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