Unless you are provided with proper and convenient utensils and materials, the difficulty of preparing cakes will be great, and in most instances a failure; involving disappointment, waste of time, and useless expense. Accuracy in proportioning the ingredients is indispensable; and therefore scales and weights, and a set of tin measures (at least from a quart down to a jill) are of the utmost importance. A large sieve for flour is also necessary; and smaller ones for sugar and spice. There should be a marble mortar, or one of lignum vitae, (the hardest of all wood;) those of iron (however well tinned) are apt to discolour the articles pounded in them. Spice may be ground in a mill kept exclusively for that purpose. Every kitchen should be provided with spice-boxes. You should have a large grater for lemon, cocoa-nut, etc., and a small one for nutmeg-. Butter and sugar cannot be stirred together conveniently without a spaddle or spattle, which is a round stick flattened at one end; and a deep earthen pan with sides nearly straight. For beating eggs, you should have hickory rods or a wire whip, and broad shallow earthen pans. Neither the eggs, nor the butter and sugar should be beaten in tin, as the cold-ness of the metal will prevent them from becoming light.
For baking large cakes, the pans (whether of block tin or earthen) should have straight sides; if the sides slope inward, there will be much difficulty in icing the cake. Pans with a hollow tube going up from the centre, are supposed to diffuse the heat more equally through the middle of the cake. Buns and some other cakes should be baked in square shallow pans of block tin or iron. Little tins for queen cakes, etc. are most convenient when of a round or oval shape. All baking pans, whether large or small, should be well greased with fresh butter before the mixture is put into them, and should be filled but little more than half. You should have at least two dozen little tins, that a second supply may be ready for the oven the moment the first is taken out. You will also want tin cutters for cakes that are rolled out in dough.
All the utensils should be cleaned and put away as soon as they are done with. They should be all kept together, and, if possible, not used for any other purposes.*
As it is always desirable that cake-making should be commenced at an early hour, it is well on the day previous to ascertain if all the materials are in the house; that there may be no unnecessary delay from sending or waiting for them in the morning. Wastefulness is to be avoided in every thing; but it is utterly impossible that cakes can be good (or indeed any thing else) without a liberal allowance of good materials. Cakes are frequently rendered hard, heavy, and uneatable by a misplaced economy in eggs and butter; or tasteless and insipid for want of their due seasoning of spice, lemon, etc.
Use no flour but the best superfine; if the flour is of inferior quality, the cakes will be heavy, ill-coloured, and unfit to eat. Even the best flour should always be sifted. No butter that is not fresh and good, should ever be put into cakes; for it will give them a disagreeable taste which can never be disguised by the other ingredients. Even when of excellent quality, the butter will be improved by washing it in cold water, and squeezing and pressing it. Except for gingerbread, use only white sugar, (for the finest cakes the best loaf,) and have it pulverized by pounding it in a mortar, or crushing it on the pasteboard with the rolling-pin. It should then be sifted. In mixing butter and sugar, sift the sugar into a deep pan, cut up the butter in it, set it in a warm place to soften, and then stir it very hard with the spaddle, till it becomes quite light, and of the consistence of cream. In preparing eggs, break them one at a time, into a saucer, that, in case there should be a bad one among them, it may not spoil the others. Put them into a broad shallow pan, and beat them with rods or with a wire whisk, not merely till they froth, but long afterwards, till the froth subsides, and they become thick and smooth like boiled custard. White of egg by itself may be beaten with small rods, or with a three-pronged fork, or a broad knife. It is a very easy process, and should be continued till the liquid is all converted into a stiff froth so firm that it will not drop from the rods when held up. In damp weather it is sometimes difficult to get the froth stiff.
* Hickory rods, spaddles, etc. can be obtained by bespeaking them at a turner's.
Apple-corers are sold by tinners.
The first thing to be done in making cake, is to weigh or measure all the ingredients. Next sift the flour, powder the sugar, pound or grind the spice, and prepare the fruit; afterwards mix and stir the butter and sugar, and lastly beat the eggs; as, if allowed to stand any time, they will fall and become heavy. When all the ingredients are mixed together, hey should be stirred very hard at the last; and (unless there is yeast in the cake) the sooner it is put into the oven the better. While baking, no air should be admitted to it, except for a moment, now and then, when it is necessary to examine if it is baking properly. For baking cakes, the best guide is practice and experience; so much depending on the state of the fire, that it is impossible to lay down any infallible rules.
If you bake in a Dutch oven, let the lid be first heated by standing it up before the fire; and cover the inside of the bottom with sand or ashes, to temper the heat. For the same purpose, when you bake in a stove, place bricks under the pans. Sheets of iron without sides will be found very useful for baking small flat cakes. For cakes of this description, the fire should be brisk; if baked slowly, they will spread, lose their shape, and run into each other. For all cakes, the heat should be regular and even; if one part of the oven is cooler than another, the cake will bake imperfectly, and have heavy streaks through it. Gingerbread (on account of the molasses) is more apt to scorch and burn than any other cake; therefore it should be baked with a moderate fire.
It is safest, when practicable, to send all large cakes to a professional baker's; provided they can be put immediately into the oven, as standing will spoil them. If you bake them at home, you will find that they are generally done when they cease to make a simmering noise; and when on probing them to the bottom with a twig from a broom, or with the blade of the knife, it comes out quite clean. The fire should then be withdrawn, and the cake allowed to get cold in the oven. Small cakes should be laid to cool on an inverted sieve. It may be recommended to novices in the art of baking, to do every thing in little tins or in very shallow pans; there being then less risk than with a large thick cake. In mixing battel that is to be baked in small cakes, use a less proportion of flour.
Small cakes should be kept closely covered in stone jars.
For large ones, you should have broad stone pans with close lids, or else tin boxes. All cakes that are made with yeast, should be eaten quite fresh; so also should sponge cake.
Some sorts may be kept a week; black cake much longer.