Some of the most common questions I get usually have to do with the way I make my cakes. Many home bakers find some of my cakes difficult and overly complicated (like the devil’s food chocolate cake or the vanilla chiffon genoise). If you’ve ever wondered why a cake is made the way it is then this page is for you! Keep in mind, there is not only one way to make a cake. The mixing method you choose is your preference – I prefer the whipping method but many people prefer the blending method. Do not let anyone, not even me!, tell you your method is wrong. Some mixing methods are better for certain tasks (cakes made with the whipping method turn into roulades better than blended cakes) while some mixing methods are easier (blending is easier than whipping). Whatever your reason for preferring one method over the other, just make sure it makes sense for you.
Also included on this page are several mixing methods for making desserts other than cakes.
The creaming method is a common mixing method that is used for a majority of baked goods, particularly cakes and cookies. This mixing method starts off by combing the sugar with the fats (usually butter or shortening). This method creates lots of tiny air cells in the fat which is necessary in the final product for volume and tenderness (see physical leavening for more information). The mixer should never be on high speed during mixing – the friction can melt the fat and destroy air cells. After the sugar and fat is creamed properly the mixture will be light in color and airy in consistency.
The eggs should be added after the fat and sugar are creamed properly. The yolks contain an emulsifier which allows fat and water to exist together in the same product without separating. The eggs should be incorporated one at a time and slowly until the egg has been absorbed and mixed in well. Adding the eggs in too quickly will cause can cause the mixture to separate and air cells will be lost. A mixture that has curdled can still be used, just expect a loss of volume and possibly a less tender product (also from the loss of volume). Curdling is more apparent in batter than in finished baked goods because when eggs curdle the proteins shrivel up and water is expelled. Baking cakes and cookies almost always curdles the eggs, but because there is heat the water is evaporated or the water is absorbed by gluten or starch in the flour. Once flour is added to the product the mixture will come back together and may no longer be curdled. To help prevent curdling when adding the rest of the liquid and dry ingredients – add them alternatively.
The blitz method is not a common method in the bake shop because it does not properly incorporate all the ingredients together in a way that maximizes volume. The blitz method is best used when time is a factor or when volume is not important. The blitz method is when all ingredients are added to a bowl and then the batter is mixed until the batter is complete. The blitz method is actually very common in bread baking since one the gluten develops the dough will most likely not absorb any additional ingredients.
Folding is a method of mixing that carefully incorporates ingredients together so that volume is not lost. It is typically used when egg whites or egg yolks have been whipped into a meringue or pate a bombe/ribbon stage. After the eggs have been whipped to maximum volume the dry ingredients are folded into the eggs carefully – this helps prevent the air cells built into the eggs from being destroyed.
Folding is also used when adding whipped cream to lighten creams and mousses such as diplomat cream or chocolate mousse.
Folding is always done by adding lighter into heavier. For example: Meringue is folded into ribbon stage egg yolks, whipped cream is folded into pastry cream. This helps reduce the number of air cells that are destroyed.
Fold in parts: The first step in folding is to add a little bit of the lighter component to the heavier component. Do not add all of the lighter component all at once otherwise you will destroy all of the air cells in the lighter component and reduce the volume of the finished product. Ideally, you want to fold in the lighter component in 3 portions. The first portion should be the smallest and will lose most if not all volume, but the heavier component will be much lighter and will destroy less volume when adding the second and third portions. On the same token, you don’t want to fold in the lighter component in too many parts. By over folding you may end up destroying too many air cells resulting in lost volume – as well as wasting your time.
Fold in carefully: The second step in folding is to use a rubber spatula and carefully turn the heavier component into the lighter component. Do not stir or beat the mixture – you’ll just destroy all the air cells.
The blending method is a common method for making cakes and muffins. Most of the ingredients (including some liquid ingredients) are placed in the bowl and blended together using a paddle attachment. Additional liquid ingredients (melted butter, milk, oil, and eggs) are added and blended in. Compared to other mixing methods, the blending method has more liquid involved. The blending method is most commonly used when making boxed cakes.
One problem you may encounter if you use the blending method is curdling. Curdling happens when too much liquid is added to the product and the fat cannot hold onto it – just like in the creaming method. This can also happen if the batter is under mixed or over mixed. Ideally the mixture should be mixed for one minute on medium to medium-high speed initially. Then once all of the liquid ingredients are added, it is mixed on low speed for another minute.
Commercial kitchens use the blending method as it is very fast and very labor friendly. To help ensure the product comes out correctly and consistently every time bakeshops have a shortening available to them called hi-ratio shortening. This shortening has an emulsifier added to it which helps prevent curdling – even when the batter is over mixed. As far as I know, hi-ratio shortening isn’t widely available (though you can probably find some online) but some restaurant stores may sell some. Hi-ratio shortening gets its name from the cakes it makes – a high amount of water and fat/oil is possible from the shortening. Since the cake can hold on to so much water and fat the cakes are more moist than other cakes. The added emulsifiers also help trap air, when contributes to leavening. Generally the more emulsifiers and the more effective the emulsifiers they are, the more air that be incorporated. Emulsifiers help trap air better because they make proteins stronger and more flexible – which in turn allows them to hold on to air better.
When I was in school, hi-ratio shortening sponge cake was popular to use for wedding cakes and tiered cakes projects because the cake itself was a little denser and firmer than other cakes (such as chiffon genoise) – as well as being very easy to make. Those cakes used an ingredient called liquid hi-ratio shortening which is just like hi-ratio shortening except is mostly liquid at room temperature. Liquid hi-ratio shortening is even better at keeping cakes moist that hi-ratio shortening.
Blended cakes are typically more moist than whipped cakes. If made with hi-ratio shortening, blended cakes will also be superior in volume than whipped cakes.
Cakes made using the whipping method are spongier and lighter than cakes made with the blending method (unless the blended cake has hi-ratio shortening in it. Then they are about the same or blended cakes are superior). These cakes are airy and have larger pockets of air cells in the crumb (the inside of the cake) and tend to be tender or delicate in nature. They are not as common as blended cakes are in the production of wedding cakes since they are so soft.
Typically, the whipping method requires either egg whites, egg yolks, or both (or even whole eggs) to be whipped up into a meringue or pate a bombe/ribbon stage. Then the remaining dry and liquid ingredients are folded carefully (sometimes in parts) into the whipped eggs. Usually if there is both a meringue and a pate a bombe, the dry ingredients and liquid ingredients are carefully added/folded into the pate a bombe and then the soft or medium peak meringue is folded into the pate a bombe. (Stiff peaks are not recommended for cakes because they don’t always fold in well). Remember that folding is used to prevent over mixing and to protect as many of the air cells created during the whipping process as possible. In a true sponge cake, no chemical leavener (such as baking powder) is used and all of the leavening comes from the aeration of the eggs. Many cakes still include a small amount of chemical leaver to help make the cakes taller – sort of a precautionary measure.
Since there is such a high amount of eggs in whipped cakes they can be more flexible than blended cakes. This allows the cake to be rolled into a roulade. The eggs combine with the starch in the flour to create a flexible cake. Oil and syrup can help add to the baked good’s flexibility but is not always necessary – especially if there are a lot of egg yolks in the batter.
As the name implies the combination method is a combination of the creaming method and the whipping method. This method takes parts of each method and incorporates them into one method. Typically, the creaming method donates the process of creaming the sugar and fat together while the whipping method brings a soft or medium peak meringue to the mix. The variety of cakes produced using the combination is wide and varied and includes sponge cakes, pound cakes, and some cheesecakes. Generally speaking, a sponge cake made using the combination method will be more like a whipped cake in texture.
The Devil’s Food Chocolate cake is an example of the combination method.
Puff pastry is a very common dough in the bakeshop and is most commonly used in making breakfast pastries such as apple turnovers, croissants, and danish. Other popular items made with puff pastry include napoleons, palmiers, sacristans, and pithiviers. Puff pastry is also gaining popularity in savory dishes such as spinach and cream cheese filled puff pastry. Croissant dough and Danish dough is yeasted while the other products are made with a non-yeasted dough. Note that puff pastry is not used to make éclairs and cream puffs – this is a common mistake. The dough used to make éclairs and cream puffs is called pate a choux.
One of the most popular stories of puff pastry’s origin is a story of a chef’s apprentice who was making a dough and forgot to add the butter in the beginning. Afraid that the chef would get mad, he took the butter and tore it into tiny bits and pushed them into the dough. He then kept folding and rolling out the dough on top of itself to hide the butter. When the dough baked it puffed up and the chef was so happy with the result he asked the apprentice how he made it.
Of course, this is just a folk tale. According to my Johnson & Wales text book (Baking and Pastry Fundamentals) puff pastry dough was already well-known to chefs in 1311. Marie Antoine Careme is credited for coming up with the block method for making puff pastry.Puff pastry dough consists of two parts: the dough and the roll-in fat. The dough is made of water, salt, butter, flour, and sometimes eggs. Though you can make the dough with all-purpose flour using some bread flour will help the dough be strong enough to handle all the folding and rerolling you will have to do to make the dough. Some chefs will add a little lemon juice or vinegar which helps relax the gluten strands in the dough making it easier to roll out and the dough will shrink/warp less when it’s baked.
The roll-in fat is the most important part of the dough – without it the dough would be flat and tasteless. There are three fats that can be used: butter, margarine, and shortening. The way that puff pastry is leavened is through the roll-in fat which releases air and steam when it is melted at high temperatures. The layers of butter and dough help puff up and separate the layers. Butter provides great flavor and moisture (because of steam) but because it melts at such a low temperature the dough puffs up the least when butter is used. Shortening melts at a much higher temperature so the dough puffs up the most. This is because the structure starts to set up later in the baking process so it can hold up the puffed up layers better and easier. In contrast, butter melts at a lower temperature and the structure is not as strong yet so it may collapse a little after all of the air and steam the butter released is lost. However, shortening does not have any water so only air leavens the dough so the dough is drier. Shortening is flavorless so it does not have as good a flavor as butter – plus because shortening melts higher than body temperature it leaves a waxy feeling in your mouth. Margarine is usually a happy medium between butter and shortening but some margarines available in the grocery store are very squishy and soft even while cold and don’t work well in puff pastry. Most people choose to use all butter or a combination of shortening and butter. In summary, the later the fat melts (the higher the melting temperature) the puffier the layers.There are several different versions of the block method but they are pretty similar. The method I prefer to use is called the three-fold. The dough is rolled out into a large rectangle and the roll-in-fat is spread into a rectangle (this is the “block”) half the size of the dough. The dough is folded like a book over the block of butter – this is the initial fold. The dough is then rested in the refrigerator. After the resting period the dough is rolled out into a long rectangle and folded into thirds. The more evenly it is rolled out the better and when it is folded make sure the edges all line up. Then the dough is rested again and then rolled and folded (this time like a book). Then it is rested again, folded tri-fold again, then rested again, and folded like a book again.
Be sure to rest the dough before rolling it out. The first time the dough needs to be rested is before you add the roll-in fat. This is done at room temperature. The other times you rest the dough is after you have performed the three-fold or book folds. You rest it for 15 minutes in the refrigerator. This allows the dough to rest and the butter to firm up again. The dough needs to rest because as you work it the dough gets taut and tough – like a muscle – and resists being rolled out and shaped. It will just shrink back. However, if you let it rest it relaxes and it can be rolled out much more easily. Do not rest the dough in the fridge for more than 15 minutes or the butter may get too hard and the dough will not roll out correctly and the layers may not form correctly since the butter can crack, separate, and even tear the dough. The exception to this is after the fourth roll where you can refrigerate it overnight. You may need to warm the dough up a little to room temperature if the dough is really hard but it isn’t necessary.This process is very long and labor intensive but it is necessary to create all the layers in the final product. Remember to roll out the dough long ways each time so you aren’t folding the dough the same way each time – in other words the dough should be rotated 90 degrees each time before rolling and folding. To see this method be sure to watch the apple turnover episode. A newer video, the napoleon episode, also demonstrates this method.
Though there are several methods to roll out the dough the process of rolling and folding in the fat into the dough is called laminating. Laminated dough can be yeasted or non-yeasted. Puff pastry is used the name used to describe non-yeasted laminated dough. Yeasted laminated dough is usually named after the product it will be turned into such as croissant dough or Danish dough.
After the dough is shaped into the final shape the dough is baked in the oven at a very high temperature to maximize volume – 400 degrees to 425 degrees. Puff pastry freezes very well in either as a block or as the finished shaped product.
This mixing method is most commonly used to make pie dough, certain kinds of biscuits, and streusel topping. It is a very simple and quick mixing method. The dry ingredients are placed in a large bowl with the fat which is at room temperature and broken or cut into about half inch cubes. Then the fat is cut into the flour using the rubbing method. To do this take some of the flour and fat in your hands and rub your hands together once. This slightly melts the fat, stretches the fat, and mixes the fat and flour together. Do not rub back and forth in your hands as this will just over mix the fat and melt it. Then you rotate the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. The rotating of the bowl is to make sure that you aren’t only working one part of the bowl. This is done over and over again until the fat has been incorporated and the pieces of fat resembles coins.
Long flake is when the butter is still very large, approximately the size of half dollar coins, and will bake into a very tender crust. It is typically used for the top of a pie as it may not hold up well as the pie shell itself. Short flake is the most desirable state and is when the butter is in quarter sized pieces. The crust creates a strong but tender crust and is typically used as either the top or as the pie shell. Mealy is when the fat has been rubbed too much and resembles peas. This dough is tough and has a tendency to warp and shrink when baked. It will also not create a very flaky pastry. This can only really be used as the pie shell but this is the desired state for crumb toppings and streusel toppings.
Once the dough is in the desired state, cold water is tossed into the pie dough until it comes together and forms a ball. Cold water is used to help keep the fat cold and prevent it from melting. Too much water and the dough will be sticky, wet, messy, and may not be as tender. Too little water and it will be brittle and will not roll out properly. If water is collecting in the bottom of the bowl and sloshing around, there is too much water – remove the dough immediately.