In the first Cake Batter class we started the process of taking apart and examining the original pound cake recipe. The first step, before altering the formula, was to consider the mixing method for the pound cake; traditional creaming versus reverse creaming. After several tests I concluded that the reverse creaming method produced a noticeably softer and more tender cake and is my preferred method for mixing a butter cake. Now we’ll learn about cake batter salt & leaveners.
The testing for the “mixing methods” class adhered strictly to the traditional “quatre-quarts” recipe of equal parts butter, sugar, flour and eggs. The remaining classes in the Cake Batter series will examine each of those ingredients and their respective roles in the recipe.
Neither salt nor leaveners are a part of the basic pound cake formula. I thought the cakes I baked for the mixing methods tests, which used the original recipe, were a little dense and tasted a bit flat. Now we’ll explore how the addition of salt and chemical leaveners can improve the original pound cake. These two ingredients are used in very small measure, but have a major impact on both the flavor and the texture of the cake.
I baked 9 pound cakes to test the effects of salt and baking powder, with wildly varying results.
About Salt in Cake Batter:
To learn general information about the types of salt and how they work in baking, please visit the Baking Ingredients – Salt post. This class will specifically cover how salt works in pound cake batter.
A ½ teaspoon less or more of salt may not make much difference in a pot of soup, but it can make a great deal of difference in cake batter. My testing proved that, for our pound cake recipe, a little salt goes a long way.
As I discuss in the Baking Ingredients Class, Salt is not only a flavor enhancer. Salt also affects the tenderness of a baked good. Salt molecules form strong bonds with flour proteins, causing the gluten molecules to become less mobile, which, in turn, makes the batter tighter and more elastic. This is a desirable trait in a bread dough, but is definitely not desirable in a cake batter.
I baked several cakes to test how salt changes the pound cake’s flavor and texture. All the cakes were made with room temperature ingredients and were baked in identical 9×5 loaf pans at 325°F in a convection oven.
As a control, I first baked a pound cake using only the four original ingredients and the reverse creaming method. Consistent with previous tests, the cake was fairly dense with a soft tender crumb and a slightly flat taste.
For the next test I added a ½ teaspoon of table salt to the batter. The difference between the first and second cakes was really surprising. The cake with the added salt baked up higher due to the stronger gluten in the batter, and had a noticeably more chewy bite. The flavor was better than the first cake, less flat and more well-rounded, but the loss of tenderness was not good. I reduced the amount of salt to ¼ teaspoon for the third test. I found that was just enough salt to improve the flavor, yet keep the tenderness of crumb.
Now that we have just the right amount of salt in the cake, we can move on to leaveners.
About Chemical Leaveners in Cake Batter
Please visit the Baking Ingredients – Chemical Leaveners page to learn all about the science of baking soda and baking powder. This class will discuss the specific effects that chemical leaveners have on pound cake batter.
Improving our Pound Cake Recipe
Based on the rule that 1 teaspoon of baking powder creates enough lift for each cup of flour in the batter, the correct amount of baking powder for our pound cake recipe should be about 1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder. To test the ideal amount of leavening for our pound cake, I baked 3 successive cakes, using 1 teaspoon, 2 teaspoons and 3 teaspoons of baking powder.
The difference between the three cakes was quite striking. The cake made with 1 teaspoon of baking powder was nicely domed with a slightly open crumb. The cake made with 2 teaspoons of baking powder had a lighter, more open crumb and started to flatten a bit at the top, but it was still acceptable. The cake made with 3 teaspoons of baking powder collapsed down the middle because the batter could not hold the excess carbon dioxide. The crumb on cake 3 was rough and spongy. Of the three cakes, I preferred the one made with 1 teaspoon of baking powder. It had a little lightness from the leavener, but retained the traditional pound cake texture.
But wait, there’s more:
It may be hard to believe, but there is yet another factor to consider regarding chemical leaveners. Leavening that is not thoroughly and evenly distributed through the batter will result in a cake with an uneven crumb and scattered tunnels and holes. You may even get an unpleasant bite of raw baking powder. How the leavener is mixed into the batter can make a great deal of difference in the final product.
For the final round of tests I mixed 1 teaspoon of baking powder into the batter in 3 different ways. For the first cake I sifted the baking powder with the flour and then mixed the sifted ingredients together on low speed for a full 20-30 seconds before adding the butter. For the second test I sifted, but did not take the time to premix the dry ingredients before adding the butter. For the third cake I did not sift or premix the dry ingredients. Once again, the difference between the baked cakes was clearly visible even before tasting. The first cake had a nice even crumb, the second cake had a slightly rougher crumb with some holes and the third cake had a rough open crumb with tunnels and holes throughout the cake. Sifting and pre-mixing the leavener is definitely worth the few extra seconds it takes.
After 9 test cakes, here is the revised pound cake recipe. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting better.
In Cake Batter Class #3 we’ll examine that most basic of baking ingredients; flour.
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