Cake, I love cake, rahhhlly I do.
I’m also picky about cake. That is to say; even shitty supermarket cake is still CAKE, but I swoon over GOOD cake. The kind of cake I grew up with, which was sweet but not cloying, dense but not heavy, and frosted with REAL buttercream. Made with copious amounts of butter.
For someone who likes to cook, and who is so picky about what makes a good cake, you’d think that I’d be baking cakes all of the time. And you’d be wrong. I bake a lousy cake. I blame a certain lack of patience, and the altitude. I was a much better baker at sea level, and try as sporadically as I do, I’ve had a tough time properly adapting recipes to 5,000 feet.
My cakes are so consistently bad that when I decided to bake my own birthday cake last summer, I ran out at the last minute and bought a back-up cake in case mine didn’t turn out. And mine didn’t turn out. The flaws with my cakes can apparently be attributed to over-mixing, so for my next cake I was going to be excessively attentive to how long I mixed the batter.
My regular readers know that I collect vintage cookbooks, and one of my recent acquisitions is a 1957 copy of Mile-High Cakes, put out by Colorado State University. Hey, rather than adapt a sea-level recipe to altitude, why not start with a recipe that was developed here in the first place? And so: let’s bake a cake!
I read the intro of the book, where the chemistry of ingredients is discussed. I grease and parchment-line my pans. I read through the recipe three times. I measure out all of my ingredients precisely. And then: I set up my kitchen timer, so I can time my mixing.
Following instructions to a T, I mix that batter for far longer than I have mixed any batter ever before. A combined 12 minutes?! I cringe when I think about what all of this mixing is doing to my historically over-mixed batter. But I am determined to follow every instruction as written. Will it be dry? Crumbly? Will it tunnel? Fall? All of the above? I whip up a quick meringue frosting because I don’t want to waste perfectly good butter on this potential disaster.
Over-mixed? Nope. It’s the best cake I’ve made yet. It turns out I’ve been UNDER-mixing my batter all this time. Thank you, ladies of the Home Economics Section, Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station. I could hug you. And/or bake you a cake.