A Ramble on Baking Cakes

I love baking cakes. Something about baking cakes kinda reminds me of, well, science. Not actual, proper science. While yes, there is chemistry involved in baking a cake, it’s not sciency. Sure, I’m taking things and mixing them together, but I’m not really aware of all the chemical reactions going on. Aside from maybe the baking powder reacting and forming pockets of air as it does so.

No, baking reminds me of the sort of silly science you’d do as a kid. Just mixing stuff together to see what works.

Basically doing my own little experiments.

Now, when it comes to cakes, you can kinda just make a cake from the same basic set of ingredients. You want your flour and your sugar, of course. But you also need some wet ingredients and some fatty ingredients. These can vary hugely based on the type of cake you’re making. A brownie generally relies heavily on butter and chocolate. Those jiggly fluffy cakes rely heavily on beaten egg whites. I don’t have time to whip egg whites to stiff peaks though, at least not by hand.

The quantities are important as well. I generally use far less sugar than is normally required in a recipe, since I’m diabetic. However I tend not to really use things like Stevia. While they are better than normal sugar, they’re also really, really expensive. Like, €5 for 100g in some places. I also never use things like Candarel in cakes either. There’s a stark difference between the sweeteners made for coffee and sweeteners made for cooking. Sweeteners for coffee tend to go bitter when baked into a cake.

Butter or oil?

A big part of the question is how to make the cake squishier. Butter is the more traditional choice when it comes to heavier cakes, but oil tends to make cakes lighter. That being said, you need to use the right oil. Olive oil is nice for some cakes, but it does have a very overpowering smell and taste. You can definitely tell when olive oil has been used, compared to other oils. Currently I’m using soya oil, since that’s just what I happen to have. Sunflower oil works too, I guess.

Milk and oil together help compensate for the dairy you’re missing when you use butter. Granted, I’m normally using margarine though, because butter is expensive.

How much flour?

Of course, the biggest ingredient is flour. Normally wheat flour. I generally only tend to have normal white flour in my home, generally because it’s the cheapest. When baking cakes, you’re supposed to use cake flour, which is normal white wheat flour with some cornstarch added to it. It’s generally more airy and less protein-y too. But I never have any of this, so all-purpose flour it is.

But the real winner is self-raising flour. This generally has a raising agent in it already, so you don’t need to add baking powder or anything. That being said, I like to use self-raising flour for pizza dough and garlic bread if I ever have any. Gives you a nice bit of extra fluffiness.

As long as it’s edible.

At the end of the day though, what really matters is whether the cake is edible. My cakes normally are, even if they’re not that sweet. And flavours can go a long way, even without all that sugar. Cocoa and coffee in particular are great for low sugar cakes, since they have strong flavours that stand out on their own.

But that’s what makes it all sciency. I am experimenting with different flavours, different ingredients. And I get different results all the time. However, it’s not true science because I’m not really writing any of this down. I’m just winging it. As Adam Savage so elegantly put it, “Remember kids, the only difference between Science and screwing around is writing it down.” Even if it’s his friend and ballistics expert Alex Jason who originally said it.

Anyway, I’m off to bake a cake now. All this talking about baking cakes has made me hungry.


Medic, also known as Phovos (or occasionally Dr Retvik Von Scribblesalot), writes 50% of all the articles on the Daily SPUF since she doesn't have anything better to do. A dedicated Medic main in Team Fortress 2 and an avid speedster in Warframe, Phovos has the unique skill of writing 500 words about very little in a very short space of time.

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