CAKE baking, or rather the baking of good cakes, is an art perhaps, but not necessarily a difficult art. The essentials are to have good materials and to follow carefully the directions for mixing and baking.

Mixing

Accuracy in the proportion of ingredients is absolutely necessary. To insure it, instead of depending on ordinary cups and spoons, no two of which hold exactly the same quantity, it is well to have utensils of regulation size - a measuring cup divided into quarters and thirds, and holding half a pint, a few tea- and tablespoons, a case knife, and several mixing spoons.

For the sake of convenience cakes may be divided into two main classes - sponge cakes, or cake without butter, and butter cakes. In the main, one method of mixing for cakes of one class is followed.

To mix sponge cake: Separate the yolks of the eggs from the whites, and beat the yolks with an egg-beater until they are thick and lemon-colored. Then add the sugar a little at a time, beating constantly. Now beat the whites until they are stiff and dry; add them and the sifted dry ingredients as directed in the recipe. Do this with as few motions as possible, as otherwise the air bubbles enclosed in the mixture will be broken and all previous work undone.

To mix butter cake: Use an earthen bowl for mixing such cakes, and a wooden mixing spoon with slits in it, to lighten the labor of creaming and stirring. Measure the dry ingredients; mix with the flour and sift. Next break the eggs, dropping each into a saucer first in case the whole egg is to be used, so that if a stale egg happens to be among them it can be detected easily and in time. If the whites and yolks are to be used separately, divide them as you break the eggs, and beat both well before using - the yolks until light and the whites until stiff and dry.

Then measure the butter, and if it is too hard to work well, let it stand in a warm place until it has become softened, but not melted. If there is not time for this, warm the bowl by pouring hot water into it, letting it stand a few minutes, then emptying and wiping it dry. Do not let it get too warm, however, or the butter will become oily instead of creamy.

If fruit is to be used, wash and dry it the day before. Dust with flour just before using, and mix with the hand till each piece is powdered, so that all will mix evenly with the dough instead of sinking to the bottom.

Be sure to have all the ingredients ready before beginning to mix. Put the butter into the bowl; work it until soft and creamy, and gradually add the sugar, beating constantly. Next add the eggs, or the yolks, whichever the recipe specifies, and then the liquid. Work in the flour, a little at a time; or, if desired, add small quantities of flour and liquid alternately until the entire amount of each has been used.

Baking

Grease the pans carefully with butter or suet; dust lightly with flour; shake out the flour and pour in the batter. Then lift the pans into the oven.

The essential point, of course, is that the oven have just the proper degree of heat for the kind of cake to be baked. If it is too hot at first, the cake will form a crust on the outside before rising to its full height, and in continuing to rise it will lift the top and break it, thus producing an unsightly loaf. If it is too cool, the cake will either fall, or rise and run over the sides of the pan, making the loaf not only unsightly, but of a coarse texture.

Cake should be watched while baking. If the oven door is opened and closed carefully there is no danger of causing the cake to fall. If the cake browns too quickly, cover it with paper and reduce the heat. Small cakes require a hotter oven than loaf cake.

All cakes except pound cake shrink away from the edges of the pan when done, and in most cases no further test is necessary. Cakes may, however, be tested by sticking a fresh broom straw into the center; if it comes out clean the cake is done.

If the cake cracks open on top too much flour has been used. If of coarse texture the cake has not been well beaten or the oven has been too slow.