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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You be the Chef

If you're wondering how that chef at the Waldorf Astoria could have come up with the idea of using mayonnaise in a cake, this post will explain and give you some clues so you can be a creative baker yourself.

First, our chef would have known that mayonnaise is a mixture of oil and vinegar [an acid] that is made into an emulsion by stirring vigorously with an egg. Used in a cake, the only other ingredients you need are flour, sugar, salt and something that releases bubbles to make the cake rise. If you check, you’ll see that our Waldorf Astoria chef used baking soda. He would have known that if you add acid to baking soda, it reacts giving off lots of bubbles of gas. Most recipes call for baking powder, which is just baking soda mixed with some powdered acid that is activated by adding water.

The trick in baking cakes is to trap the gas bubbles while the cake is cooking. If you guessed it is the egg that does that, you were right! You know that when you cook an egg, it solidifies, so in the cake the bubbles released by the soda and acid get trapped by the egg that solidifies around them as the cake bakes. That’s it! Now all you need to know are the quantities of ingredients to put in a cake:

Flour - 2 cups or more depending on Size of Cake [SoC].
Sugar - 1 cup, or about half the amount of flour. Anything sweet will do, like brown sugar, but be careful with honey, corn or maple syrup, molasses etc.
Fat - ¼ cup melted butter or oil or shortening. My mother, of Scottish descent, used beef suet!
Egg - one or two depending on SoC.
Baking soda – 1 ½ teaspoons depending on SoC.
Acid - Here is where you can let your imagination go!. Acids are sour, so you know that lemon, orange, lime, pineapple or tomato juices will work. Yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, etc. are really creamy in cakes, muffins, pancakes etc.
Water - add if necessary to make the batter just loose enough to be fairly easy to stir.

Use common sense and experiment. Lemon or lime juice need watering down, and adjust the amount of sugar depending on taste. Tomatoes need spices but make a wonderful cake. I’ve linked some recipes to online to help you get started.

Be creative, have fun and learn from your mistakes! Hopefully your experiments will be good enough to get eaten. Rie

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