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Baker's formula for cake

posted 28 Jan 2015, 04:59 by R. N.   [ updated 6 Jun 2020, 18:58 ]

I generally prefer to make cakes from scratch. However, when it comes to cupcakes, I always get better results with packet mixes! They are usually much lighter and fluffier and more importantly remain fresh for much longer whereas my made from scratch ones usually either start to dry out or become sticky the very next day. No doubt the preservatives and other additives in packet mixes help maintain the freshness, but I'm sure there's a recipe out there that produces cupcakes better than packet mixes. I just haven't found it.

The problem is that there are way too many cupcake recipes available, both online and in print. And many a blog post have been devoted to perfecting the cupcake. Some say oil is better than butter; there's those that use buttermilk, yoghurt or sour cream; and of course the flour - plain, self raising or cake flour. I've tried quite a few different recipes, some quite good, but still not better than the packet mixes. So when I recently came across Bakewise: the hows and whys of successful baking with over 200 magnificent recipes by Shirley O. Corriher, I decided to have a go at creating my own recipe. Corriher explains the science behind baking and says that a successful cake requires a balance of the four key ingredients: flour, sugar, fat and eggs. She provides two sets of formula to get the proportions of these key ingredients correct.

The first, for ‘lean’ cakes (cakes made with all purpose flour), is:

  • weight of sugar is less than or equal to the weight of the flour
  • weight of eggs is equal to or greater than the weight of the fat
  • total weight of liquid (eggs plus any other liquid used) is equal to the weight of the sugar

The second, for ‘high-ratio’ cakes (cakes made with cake or self-raising flour so it can take proportionally more sugar), is:

  • weight of sugar is equal to or greater than the weight of the flour
  • weight of eggs is greater than the weight of the fat
  • total weight of liquid (eggs plus any other liquid) is equal to or greater than the weight of sugar.

So armed with this information, I thought I'd have a go at creating my own cupcake recipe!

Step 1: Calculating the measures of each ingredient

I decided to use self-raising flour (so I didn’t have to worry about calculating the amount of baking powder) and go with the high-ratio formula. 

Where to start? How much does an egg weigh (minus the shell)? Only one way to find out. A 55g egg sans shell weighs about 47g. For the proportion of eggs to be greater than the butter, I would need to have less than 47g of butter, which didn’t seem like a lot. I decided to go with 50g of butter and two eggs.

So far, so good. Next, the combined liquid weight (eggs plus milk) needs to be equal to or greater than the weight of sugar. To work out the weight of sugar, I needed to know the combined liquid weight. Time for some guesswork. I decided to go with 150ml of milk which gave me a total liquid weight of 245g. So sugar would have to be 245g or less. I decided on 200g.

The flour needs to be 200g or less. I settled on 150g of flour.

Checking the ratios:

  • sugar (200g) is equal to or greater than flour (150g)
  • eggs (95g) weigh the same as or more than butter (50g)
  • eggs plus milk (245g) weigh the same as or more than sugar (200)

As you can see, there is quite a bit of wiggle room. So if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have to do some tweaking.

Step 2: The method - there’s more than one way the skin a cat

  • cream butter and sugar, add the eggs, fold in flour, alternating with milk
  • beat eggs and sugar, add butter, then fold in flour alternating with milk
  • separate the eggs and folding the egg whites, beaten to soft peak, to the batter at the end
  • mix together all the dry ingredients; whisk all wet ingredients; add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients
  • dissolve the sugar in some of the liquid, add with fat to dry ingredients, beat eggs with remaining liquid and add to batter

Corriher says that mixing the fat with the flour before adding any liquid prevents gluten from forming and that dissolving the sugar in liquid gives a light velvety texture, so I decided to use this approach.

Step 3 – Bake

Next is deciding on the baking temperature. 180 degrees celsius is pretty common for baking most things so I went with this, although later reading of Corriher revealed that for a level cake layer, at a baking temperature of 177 degrees celsius, the cake rises for a shorter time, sets a little sooner and the texture is finer. At 163 degrees celsius, the cake rises slightly longer, producing a lighter cake but with a slightly coarser texture.

The result

Pretty chuffed. Soft, light and deliciously moist.

Spice cupcake

The verdict

Have I found the perfect recipe? Is it better than the packet mix? I think I'm almost there but I want to try with slightly less sugar to see if I get a finer texture. Also, is it the muscovado sugar that makes it so moist or will I get similar results with raw or white sugar. And of course I want to experiment with different flavours.

In the meanwhile, here is my original recipe for the spice cupcakes.