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Keeping a Cake From Turning Rubbery

 HELP!I have tried six times to make a the Yellow Cake recipe from Wayne Gisslen's Professional Baking. Twice I have had success, four times utter failure. All failures have the same results — the full center of the cake, radiating out to the bottom of the edges of the cake, are like rubber with air pockets throughout, maximum 1/8" in diameter. The successes were both cupcakes and the failures were all in 10"-diameter pans or larger.The troubleshooting portion of the textbook does not even offer "rubbery" as an option for problems. Any ideas? I make the cakes for the baby and bridal shower events in our 60-person department and I am expected to bring a decorated and edible cake to a shower in two days (thus the test cake tonight). I would really like to avoid using boxed cake mix at all costs as they don't hold together as well when shaping or taking frosting.

 We have an earlier version of Gisslen's book, but will assume the cake didn't change in the editing process. His yellow cake is called a high-ratio cake, or one that has more sugar by weight than flour. High-ratio cakes may also have more egg and/or fat than regular cakes. The additional ingredients produce a more tender cake and a "light, airy crumb." Although, as it turns out, that hasn't happened in your case….

The ingredients are cake flour, baking powder, salt, emulsified shortening, sugar, skim milk, vanilla, and eggs. The batter is made using a "two-stage method," as opposed to the "creaming method" that home cooks are most familiar with, in which the fat and sugar are creamed first, then eggs are added, then flour and liquid ingredients are added alternately. In the two-stage method, the flour and other dry ingredients are first blended with the fat. When that is smooth, the liquid ingredients are added in stages

What you call rubbery, Gisslen calls tough, and he says it is the result of too much flour, flour that has too high a protein content, not enough sugar or shortening, and/or overmixing. In short, it is the result of the formation of gluten, the elastic protein structure that you want in bread, but that you really don't want in cakes and pastries. Gluten is produced when liquid comes in contact with two of the proteins in flour and is stretched, which is exactly what happens in your mixer.

Look back over the ingredients listed above. Two are particularly important. Now, we're sure you used cake flour, which, because of its lower protein content, helps avoid the formation of gluten. But we're also pretty sure you did not use emulsified shortening, and that, we believe, is your problem.

Emulsified shortening is soft vegetable shortening that spreads easily in a batter, and quickly coats particles of sugar and flour. Because of its emulsifying qualities, it can absorb more sugar and liquid than regular shortening, and give a finer and smoother texture to cakes and help keep them moist. But what is important is that in coating the flour particles in the first step of the two-stage mixing process, they act as a barrier to keep moisture from the flour and therefore from developing gluten. That's why in this recipe you can mix the batter for 5 minutes once all the ingredients have been added. That's an eternity in terms of the gluten-producing process — as much time as you knead most bread doughs in a stand mixer. It is no wonder that your cake is rubbery if you did not use emulsified shortening. What is a wonder is that your cupcakes were not.

It is hard to track down emulsified shortening (which can also be called cake, icing, or hi-ratio shortening) in any supermarket. The restaurant supply company we use only sells it in 50-pound containers. Can you track down a couple of pounds of emulsified shortening in the next 18 hours without having to buy 50 pounds?

Another question is, do you really want to? Commercial bakers make these cakes as a matter of course for a number of reasons. One is that they're relatively inexpensive. Another is that they can turn out very consistent cakes. A third is that the use of shortening helps preserve the cakes, keeping them moist for days when some other cakes would have started to go stale. But, in all honesty, they don't taste that good.

A lot of people willing and able to take the time and trouble to make a nice cake for their co-workers' and friends' celebrations would make a butter cake. It is certainly more expensive, but it also tastes much better. We are particularly fond of the basic cake, icing, and filling recipes in Sylvia Weinstock's Sweet Celebrations. The book would be a stunning coffee-table book of impossibly complex decorations if the recipes weren't so good.

We absolutely support your efforts to make a beautiful cake from scratch for your colleagues, but if you are open to a change of course, Weinstock's Classic Yellow Cake recipe is a great choice. You'll need to triple the batter to feed sixty.


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