People are often asking me baking questions – from people who follow me on Instagram and Facebook to friends and family sending a last-minute message, always in dire need of immediate assistance – how I love them all dearly.
So I thought it may be helpful to create a document of the most commonly asked FAQs and hopefully, it will help next time you have a baking dilemma. I also apologise in advance for getting a bit technical, but in the past, there have been quite a few questions on substituting ingredients and I do feel that I need to explain these to provide a bit of background.
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Why did my cake sink/fall flat in the middle?
I would love to give you only one answer, but there are several reasons why this can happen so best to start eliminating one by one to solve the problem.
- The cake is underbaked. To test – insert a toothpick or cake tester into the centre of the cake before removing it from the oven. If it comes out clean with a few moist crumbs – your cake is done.
- You may have used too much baking powder or baking soda. Always make sure to measure these exactly and to level the top of the spoon.
- Oven temperature may be off. If your oven temperature is too hot the cake may look done but will sink once it starts cooling. Do the toothpick test.
If the cake hasn’t sunk in too much you can easily level the cake layer by cutting the top off.
What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?
Even though they are both leavening agents, baking soda is much stronger and they need different ingredients to help them react.
Baking soda needs an ACID to activate. You will often find baking soda in recipes that call for buttermilk, brown sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, or cocoa powder. Always use the amount the recipe calls for as too much can leave a soapy taste in your baked goods.
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar (dry acid), and sometimes cornstarch. The leavening occurs when the baking powder is mixed with the liquid in the recipe.
The recipe makes 24 cupcakes but I only want 12, can I halve the ingredients?
Yes, you can. I generally advise to only halve or double up once, so meaning you can divide a 24 cupcake recipe by half to get 12, or times a 12 cupcake recipe by two to make 24 cupcakes. More than this (eg. changing a 12 cupcake recipe to 36) and the recipe structure becomes tricky again.
If you have something like an odd number of eggs, it is easier to halve an egg when the white and yolk are mixed. Mix/whisk the one egg separately and divide it into two (using only the half you need). A kitchen scale works great for this, I bought my digital scale from Loot and it’s basically attached to my hand.
Do you have any baking substitution tips?
Let me start by saying that substituting baking ingredients is not as easy and forgiving as with cooking. Everything is precisely calculated and one small change could affect the final result.
That being said, there are some substitutions you can happily use that will yield more or less the same result.
- Things like chopped nuts, herbs, chocolate chips, and flavourings (essence) are very easily substituted with a different variety/spice and won’t affect the final result.
- If you want to make a chocolate version and need to add cocoa, simply substitute part of the flour with the same amount of cocoa
- Buttermilk, yoghurt, and sour cream are all interchangeable and if you don’t have any at hand you can use milk to make your own Simply add 1 tablespoon vinegar (any type) or lemon juice per cup of milk and let sit for a few minutes
- Milk can be replaced by almond, soy, or coconut milk.
Flour, eggs, sugar, and butter/oil is a bit more tricky and better left alone in recipes, but I do understand that it would be impossible (and not very wallet-friendly) to stock every single ingredient when you’re only baking every now and again, so I’ll explain these in more detail below.
Butter vs Oil
Both are known as fats in baking. Butter is a solid fat whereas Oil is liquid fat.
Butter, in general, produces more flavour and can help baked goods rise especially when the recipe calls for the butter and sugar to be creamed together, which aerates the mixture. Therefore swopping oil for butter could result in a denser texture if the rest of the recipe is followed to the book. But saying this, I much prefer the texture you get from recipes that call for oil in cakes as it results in a super moist and tender bake.
You can substitute the one for the other in almost any baking recipe (cookies, cake, bread) although when it comes to pastries and crusts I’d definitely stick to what the recipe asks for.
Generally, work on a ¾ ratio. So if the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, you can use ¾ cup oil. When replacing oil with butter, you can melt the butter down and let cool slightly before adding.
Easy conversion chart (cause no one has time for maths when all you want to do is bake)
|Butter / Baking Margarine||Oil|
|1 tablespoon||2 ¼ teaspoons|
|¼ cup||3 tablespoons|
|½ cup||¼ cup + 2 tablespoons|
|⅔ cup||½ cup|
|¾ cup||½ cup + 1 tablespoon|
|1 cup||¾ cup|
Self-raising flour vs Cake Flour, how do I substitute?
Self-rasing flour is basically plain wheat (all-purpose) flour with added salt and baking powder.
Cake flour has less protein (gluten) than self-raising and plain flour, so it produces a finer crumb for cakes.
As you can see each flour is made up differently to perform a task, and there are so many technical aspects involved which I’m sure you don’t want to be bored with. If you are in a bind and have to substitute, I recommend following the below guidelines to produce a similar texture:
Substitute cake flour for self-raising flour
This substitution will work fine if the recipe calls for between ½ and 1 teaspoon max of baking powder per cup of flour. I do not recommend making substitutions when the recipes also ask for baking soda.
1 cup of cake flour = 1 cup plain flour (replace 2 tablespoons of the plain flour with 2 tablespoons cornstarch to reduce the gluten for a more accurate result)
1 cup of cake flour = 1 cup self-raising flour & omit the baking powder from the recipe (don’t forget the note above, this substitution will only work if the recipe doesn’t call for more than 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour).
Easy self-raising flour
For each cup of self-raising required, mix together 1 cup plain flour + 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder + ¼ teaspoon salt
Can I freeze the leftover cake?
You certainly can, although I do not suggest freezing any cakes covered in cream. Buttercream and cream cheese frostings freeze really well and help contain moisture in the cake.
If the cake is frosted simply place in the fridge for an hour to allow the buttercream to set (this will leave your icing looking pretty). Then divide your cake into pieces (if needed) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap before placing into the freezer (for best results place the wrapped cake into an airtight container or resealable bag). To defrost, simply remove from the freezer and allow to defrost in the fridge. I would remove the plastic wrap before placing it in the fridge to ensure the icing doesn’t get stuck to the plastic wrap when you remove it.
A cake can be frozen for up to 4 months.
Hope this helped. If you have any other questions not mentioned here, or if I’ve rambled on and not explained properly (this is how I am, please don’t judge), feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you asap.