Learning to be a Better Baker

May 21, 2011 at 9:00 am 4 comments

I am not a great baker. Many people find this odd, since I love chemistry and love cooking. But I simply do not have the patience that baking requires. To get a cake or a cookie or some other sweet treat just right, it requires a lot of precision, accuracy, and attention to detail. I would rather be managing 3 pots on the stove and eyeballing spices and ingredients than precisely measuring and timing my recipe. Luckily, my friend is a much better baker than I am. He is the one who hosted the fantastic dinner party, and outdid himself yet again with these great cakes. It was a great learning experience for me – I picked up some tips and tricks that I can share here – as well as an amazing finished product! I am inspired to try my hand at some more dessert recipes on my own now!


We made two 6-inch vegan chocolate cakes with the recipe from the Flour cookbook. For anyone who lives in Boston, go to Flour bakery and try this cake now. It is very low-fat, containing just a small amount of canola oil, but you would never be able to tell that the cake is low-fat or vegan because it is so moist and fluffy! If you aren’t lucky enough to live near Flour, check out the recipe here. Some tips and tricks for cake baking, courtesy of Vince:

  • Use a kitchen scale to weigh the dry ingredients, since they tend to be compressible and cup measurements can be variable.
  • Also, sift the cocoa powder into the dry mixture, since the powder has a tendency to clump.
  • Make sure that the oven is fully preheated before putting your cakes in, and don’t open once your cakes are in (you’ll let all of the heat out!)
  • Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for a few minutes so that they are cool enough to handle, but don’t let stay in the pan for longer than necessary or you will get stickage.


While the cakes were cooling, we got started on a mixed berry mousse, to fill one of the cakes, and a light meringue, for icing. A mousse can have several variations using cream and eggs, but we kept with a light variation using whipped cream and egg whites. We used frozen berries to make a fruit puree, which added such great flavor to the filling! We used most of the mousse to fill one of the cakes, and saved the rest for later. The recipe we used is at the end of the post. Mousse can be served on its own, or can be frozen in individual dishes for a great ice cream alternative! Vince didn’t believe me that this would work, but I convinced him to let me experiment and the frozen mousse turned out great! Some more tips:

    • When whipping cream for whipped cream, it’s all in the wrist. The idea is to incorporate a lot of air into the cream, and so it is more about a quick, upswing rather than a stirring motion. Plus, keeping the movement just in the wrist makes you tire out less quickly!


  • When whipping egg whites, you want to beat them until they are just stiff enough to make soft peaks, but you don’t want to overbeat them. Once you add the sugar, this will stabilize the egg whites and allow you to beat them further. Then you can continue to beat until you get stiffer peaks.
  • Folding is a good way to incorporate ingredients without losing air. Make a quick cut down the center and gently sweep the ingredients together. You don’t want any compressing motion in order to maintain the body of the mousse.
  • While you can get away with a improvisation and a few basic tools in cooking, equipment for baking is much more important. If you are serious about baking, invest in a variety of pan sizes and shapes, parchment paper, a scale, a candy thermometer, a spatula spreader, a hand mixer, etc. Having the tools makes an incredible difference in the outcome of your finished baked goods.
The meringue icing we made used the same simple syrup and egg white technique. We simply increased the number of egg whites from 4 to 5, and added the flavor we wanted for each cake (vanilla for the berry mousse filled cake and espresso powder for the other chocolate). This will not harden like your classic meringue cookie, but will make for a simple, light and not to sweet icing for your next cake.

IMG_2512 IMG_2517

In the final product, I can take credit for approximately 3 things. I successfully whipped the cream for the mousse. It took me forever and my arms burned by the end, but I whipped that cream! I also came up with the idea to sprinkle the coffee-infused cake with a little cocoa powder for decoration – a brief moment of artistry and creativity. Lastly, I was there for moral support, ingredient grabbing, and assistance. Vince was the master baker – he knows so much about baking techniques, flavor pairings, and is a great cake decorator too! I think I make a pretty good baking apprentice, but am not so sure about flying solo. I am looking forward to experimenting in my free time this summer!


Mixed Berry Mousse
4 tsp (12 g) unflavored gelatin
12 oz frozen mixed berries, thawed and pureed
400 ml chilled heavy cream
4 3/4 oz (135 g) sugar
2 1/4 oz (65 g) light corn syrup
4 egg whites (approx. 120 g)
Strain pureed fruit. Mix gelatin into half of the pureed mixture to let start to form. Whip heavy cream in a separate bowl to make whipped cream. In another bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Meanwhile, over medium heat, melt sugar and corn syrup with 3 tbsp water. Allow to heat until it reaches 235-240 degrees F, called the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer. Slowly drizzle the sugar syrup into the egg whites while beating, but do not let the syrup hit the beaters directly or it will splatter! Once all of the sugar has been incorporated, continue to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in the gelatin-fruit puree mixture. Then fold in the whipped cream, using care not to lose any air. Serve alone, as a cake filling, or as a unique frozen dessert.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide  |  May 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Looks darn good to me!

  • 3. Gluten-free Baking « homemadeadventure  |  June 10, 2011 at 7:44 am

    […] scariest kitchen adventure, in my opinion, is baking. I mentioned this once before, but the precision and accuracy necessary in baking is something I have never preferred and […]

  • 4. Afternoon Tea Fit For a Bride « homemadeadventure  |  August 5, 2011 at 9:08 am

    […] my sister ended up with something closer to pancake batter than scone dough! (Disclaimer: I have mentioned before that I am a cook and not baker! I have to be exact with everything else I do in life, and prefer to […]


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