Like the 3 strings of fate and the Furies in Greek Mythology, there are 3 things that decide the fate of your beloved cake: Temperature, Mixing, and Ingredients
I think that people never regard the fine lines in a recipe that specifically call for a certain temperature of butter. For example, there is a really good reason why we use cold butter in pie crust. The fats in cold butter are unable to be absorbed, yielding a flaky and wonderful pie crust that we all seem to love. But, in cakes, we use room temperature butter. Always. Room temperature butter allows for the maximum amount of air to be whipped into it. And, remember, when baking a cake, you must be delicate in everything you do not to crush the fine texture and knock out the air of the cake. Also, the fats in room temperature butter are able to emulsify into eggs much better than cold butter, making your cake batter base much fluffier in consistency.
Mixing comes into play throughout the whole process of combing the ingredients together to make your cake. Let’s start out with the butter. It is key to beat the butter until it is pale and white in consistency. When the butter is at that stage, it is a good indicator that enough air has been thoroughly whipped. Next, when beating the butter and sugar together, it is so important to beat it until the sugar is fully dissolved into the butter. Now, this might take some time and the most impatient cooks will not be able to stand looking at a mixer for that long. However, cakes are baked with love and care. It is extremely important not to over mix your wet and dry ingredients together. The second the flour starts to incorporate with the butter/egg mixture, molecules and strings of gluten-y starches will start to combine. Overmixing will cause your cake to be very tough.
I cannot stress this enough, but it is so, so, so, so, SO important to use high quality ingredients when making a cake. For example, let’s look at these 2 cocoa powders.
The biggest difference is color. The darker colored cocoa is of a much higher quality, and the lighter colored cocoa is lower quality (obviously) These differences are huge when it comes to cake flavors. Also, substituting ingredients is a big problem some first-time bakers have. I know it’s hard to round up all the ingredients to bake a cake. However, it is worth it. I think the biggest substitutions people make are substituting buttermilk with regular milk. And it’s probably the difference between the most perfect, light, and moist cake, and a horrible dense, rubbery, cake. Because of the acid found in buttermilk, it actually makes the cake rise a bit more and it softens the texture.
In A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, a peculiar character, Madame Defarge is ALWAYS knitting. In fact, she was first introduced as strict and knitting! In literature, when a character is always knitting, it’s important to associate that character with fate, in allusion to Greek Mythology. In Greek Myth, the Furies are in charge of fate, which is measured, sewed, and cut. I wonder what kinds of names and networks Madam Defarge is knitting into her long, big, blanket of mysteries. Just like Fate, these 3 things intertwine in baking. Cut one thing out, such as the temperature of butter, and it can ruin your cake. These 3 key things work together to produce a wonderful cake, or disastrous cake. You have to just trust the fates, right?