Q: Please tell me why the following poundcake is soggy when baked and settles when removed from the oven. I have been making poundcakes for years. I recently purchased a new mixer. Perhaps that has had some negative effect. In an effort to pinpoint the problem, I have also tried four different brands of butter; they all behaved badly. I also bought strictly extra-large eggs, which I use the day after purchase.
Please modify the existing recipe so it works. I want enough batter to fill an angel cake pan.
A: "The Joy of Cooking" poundcake ingredients' list is quite similar to yours. Your recipe, however, has 50 percent more sugar and 30 percent more milk based on weight of flour. This would explain the tendency to collapse. This being a heavy batter, if it contains too much sugar and/or liquid, the flour simply can't hold everything up and the cake settles -- at best. Sogginess is explained by the high sugar content. The sugar dissolves in the recipe's water and forms a syrup, causing the gooey texture.
This recipe -- and "The Joy of Cooking's" -- does not really make a poundcake. The result is really a yellow cake. Poundcakes traditionally contain no added liquid -- just eggs, butter, sugar and flour in equal quantities.
Many, however, prefer the yellow cake version. It's lower in fat, higher in sugar, and stays moist longer. In revising your recipe, I have assumed that you would prefer the moister cake.
A few words about mixers and ingredients: the brand of mixer is not going to make a big difference to your cakes. Just remember to cream the butter and sugar on low speed for at least 10 minutes and to blend in the other ingredients only until the batter is smooth.
Freshness of eggs has little to do with their baking properties. Eggs, whether 2-days-old, 2-weeks-old and 2-months-old, will produce almost identical cakes (provided they were kept refrigerated). If you use extra-large eggs, you are not selecting eggs fresher than eggs graded medium or large. Instead, you are merely adding more liquid than the author of the recipe intended. It is better to stick with large eggs unless told otherwise.
In regard to butter, it's not surprising that four different brands produced the same results. Unless the producers cheat, all the butter they process will conform to federal standard of water content. Cows produce butterfat remarkably consistent in composition, regardless of variation in diet.
I made three additional changes to your recipe. I substituted cake flour for all-purpose. Cake flour makes a more tender texture because of its lower protein content. You can still use all-purpose flour if you want; the cake will be a tad chewier. I also added just a little more baking powder (not so much as "The Joy of Cooking" recipe, which calls for 4 teaspoons). The meringue contributes plenty of air cells to the cake batter anyway. Finally, in the new recipe, some of the sugar is mixed with the egg whites. This tightens the egg white foam, making the air bubbles smaller. The resulting meringue is more stable, folds in without collapsing, and the cake has a finer texture.
YELLOW CAKE (Enough to bake in an angel food cake pan)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened a little
3 cups sugar
8 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 cups cake flour sifted with 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
Cream butter and 2 1/2 cups sugar for 10 minutes on low speed. The butter-sugar mixture should be white and almost double its original volume. Blend in the egg yolks and add the flavors. Add half the flour mixture, blend a few seconds, and then add half the milk. Repeat with remaining milk and flour. Blend only until smooth.
Beat egg whites to soft peaks on high speed. Continue beating, adding 1/2 cup sugar in a slow stream. Beat until meringue forms moderately stiff peaks. Stir a fourth of the meringue foam into the cake batter to lighten it. Fold in the rest, using overhand motions to scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl. Transfer batter to a greased and floured angel food cake pan. Batter should be no higher than two-thirds up the side of the pan.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour. It is done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake and withdrawn has no unbaked batter clinging to it. Let the cake cool in its pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a cake rack and cool completely before icing or serving.
Q: What can be done to minimize shrinkage of flourless cakes (such as nut tortes and flourless chocolate cake) after they are removed from the oven?
A: All cakes are foams, whether they contain flour or whether they do not. When cakes are removed from the oven, heat is rapidly lost and the cake's air cells begin to contract. Flour, which gelatinizes and absorbs moisture from the egg foam, helps to make the walls of the air cells rigid, and flour-thickened cakes are therefore less sensitive to temperature change. With flourless cakes, the walls of the cakes' air cells are still quite flexible when baked. Consequently, the air cells shrink as heat is lost, and the cake also shrinks. You can minimize this in the following ways:
If the recipe has you separating yolks and whites, beating them separately, don't mix all the sugar into the yolk foam. Instead, beat half into the white foam as well. Sugar delays thickening of the white foam, and forces you to beat it longer. The result is a greater number of air cells but they are smaller. Smaller air cells are less prone to collapse.
If you are supposed to separate the yolks and whites, you might consider leaving out two or three of the whites. This increases the density of the cake. It produces a smaller quantity of egg white foams and therefore fewer air bubbles. Fewer air cells means less shrinkage.
When you cool the cakes, leave them in the turned-off oven for five minutes. Flourless cakes are quite moist and won't suffer from the additional time in the oven. The cooling oven buffers the cakes from surrounding drafts of much cooler air.