“The Math” – The 3 Rules of a Perfect Cake

by cillefish

I went to the library and found this baking cookbook that’s pretty wildly informative. So far I’ve learned a few things — like that over-leavening a cake deflates it, that Dutch process cocoa can mess up a recipe designed for the normal type because it’s more alkaline, and that you can darken up normal cocoa by heating it up in a saucepan with a little baking soda. Fun, science-experiment stuff.

Orange Cornmeal Olive-Oil CakeThis cookbook explained some basic guidelines (“The Math”) for putting together a good cake using today’s fancypants flour, which holds more sugar and fat than old-style flour. By weight, the rules go:

  • sugar must ≥ flour
  • eggs must ≥ fat
    (butter, shortening, & oil)
  • liquid (eggs, milk, water)
    must ≥ sugar

Not remembering what a tedious pain in the butt unit conversions are (4th grade was a while ago), I decided to use this to tackle an orange olive oil cornmeal cake recipe that had great flavor and a lovely crunchy top, but a too-dry texture—I decided to try The Math on it.

Original Recipe: Orange Cornmeal Cake from Delish.com:

  • 1/2 cup(s) olive oil, plus more for pan
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c sugar, plus 1/3 cup for topping
  • 1/2 c dry white wine, (or orange juice)
  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1/2 c yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • Orange segments, for serving (optional)

Instructions: grease an 8 in pan & preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk together 1st 4 ingredients. Gently whisk in next 5. Pour into pan; sprinkle thickly with remaining 1/3c sugar. Bake 35-40 min, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 20min in pan; finish cooling on a rack. Serve.

Testing it with The Math:

Step 1: Get the ingredient weights:

  • 1 c sugar is about 7 oz
  • 1 1/4 c flour (5.5 oz) plus 1/2 c cornmeal (2.15oz) is just under 7.8 oz
  • 1/2 c olive oil is 3.89 oz
  • 2 eggs: 3.5 oz total
  • 1 c sugar: 7 oz
  • 1/2 c dry white wine or orange juice: ~ 3.7* oz

Step 2: Check it:

  • Does the sugar ≥ flour? 7oz sugar is NOT greater than 7.8 oz flour
  • Do the eggs ≥ fat? 3.5 oz eggs is NOT greater than 3.89 oz oil
  • Does the liquid ≥ sugar? ~7.2 oz liquid (3.5oz eggs + ~3.7oz juice) is greater than 7oz sugar

Specifics on this recipe: The oil behaves differently from butter — it blocks up the edges of the flour molecules so they don’t from gluten quite as easily, and since gluten sucks up water, the oil actually helps keep things moister by leaving more moisture “free.” However, I think the cornmeal swells up more than normal flour, sucking up more moisture, so these 2 ingredients probably offset each other. With that in mind, my recommendations were:

A little less flour (there’s so much sugar on top, I don’t want to add more), 1 more egg yolk (the whites dry things out), and another 1/4 c to 1/3 c juice. The Results: I made 3 variations, and brought the best 2 to work. Everyone liked them both a lot; the best was moister and somehow both fluffier and richer than the original, with just enough density from the extra yolk.

Better Orange Cornmeal Cake:

  • 1/2 c olive oil, plus more for pan
  • 2 large eggs plus one yolk
  • 1 c normal granulated sugar, plus 1/4 to 1/3 c sanding sugar or “washed” sugar for topping (in the pictured cake, I only had the normal stuff. Use only 1/4 cup if you don’t have the sanding sugar)
  • 3/4 orange juice (or dry white wine)
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 1 c all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1/2 c yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • Orange segments, for serving (optional)

Orange Cornmeal Olive-Oil CakeInstructions: grease an 8 in pan & preheat oven to 375°F and place rack at lower-middle. Whisk together 1st 5 ingredients. Gently whisk in next 5. Pour into pan; sprinkle thickly with remaining 1/3c sugar. Bake 35-40 min, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 20min in pan; finish cooling on a rack. Serve.

Note: For a supermoist cake, reduce the flour to 3/4 c, make it an even 3 eggs, and increase the orange juice to 1 full cup. This cake will cook less evenly, so be sure to place at the lower-middle of the oven, turn halfway through, and cook until edges turn a very-dark-toast color.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: