Avoiding holes and cracks
Holes in cakes can be caused by mixing too much, too little or unevenly, or because the flour and raising agent were not sifted together thoroughly. Once the flour is folded in, the mixture should be of a soft dropping consistency; if it is too dry, pockets of air can get trapped.
To prevent cracking, use the right-sized tin and ensure that the oven is not too hot. Place cakes in the centre of the oven, not too high up where it will be hotter.
Curdling occurs when the butter and sugar have not been creamed sufficiently – until light and fluffy – to form a strong emulsion to absorb the eggs. A curdled mixture holds far less air, so the cake will be flat. Cold eggs also cause separation. Eggs should be at room temperature and added gradually. Adding a teaspoon of flour with each addition of egg can also help to prevent curdling.
If the mixture starts to curdle, dip the base of the bowl into warm water briefly, and whisk to restore the light consistency.
That sinking feeling
A cake will sink on removal from the oven if it has not been baked for long enough. Follow the time stated in the recipe, use a timer, and don’t be tempted to open the oven door during cooking. Using too cool an oven, or too much raising agent in the cake mixture, will also cause sinking.
Light as a feather
To make light cakes, measure the ingredients accurately. Adding too much egg, butter, flour or baking powder will give a heavy, doughy cake.
It is air that makes cakes light,
so beat the sugar and butter until pale, soft and fluffy. Fold in the flour gradually and carefully. And use the correct fat – if you use soft tub margarine instead of butter in a creamed recipe, the mixture will be too wet and the cake will be flat.
Is it done?
To test if a cake is cooked, insert a skewer or fine knitting needle in the centre; it should come out cleanly, with no batter sticking to it. Cakes are ready when firm in the centre and slightly shrunken away from the sides of the tin; sponge cakes will spring back when touched with a finger.