Use none but the best materials, and all the ingredients should be properly prepared before commencing to mix any of them. Eggs beat up much lighter and sooner by being placed in a cold place sometime before using them; a small pinch of soda sometimes has the same effect. Flour should always be sifted before using it. Cream of tartar or baking powder should be thoroughly mixed with the flour; butter be placed where it will become moderately soft, but not melted in the least, or the cake will be sodden and heavy. Sugar should be rolled and sifted; spices ground or pounded; raisins or any other fruit looked over and prepared; currants, especially, should be nicely washed, picked, dried in a cloth and then carefully examined, that no pieces of grit or stone may be left amongst them. They should then be laid on a dish before the fire to become thoroughly dry; as, if added damp to the other ingredients, cakes will be liable to be heavy.
Eggs should be well beaten, the whites and yolks separately, the yolks to a thick cream, the whites until they are a stiff froth. Always stir the butter and sugar to a cream, then add the beaten yolks, then the milk, the flavoring, then the beaten whites, and, lastly, the flour. If fruit is to be used, measure and dredge with a little sifted flour, stir in gradually and thoroughly.
Pour all in well-buttered cake-pans. While the cake is baking care should be taken that no cold air enters the oven, only when necessary to see that the cake is baking properly; the oven should be an even, moderate heat, not too cold or too hot; much depends on this for success. Cake is often spoiled by being looked at too often when first put into the oven. The heat should be tested before the cake is put in, which can be done by throwing on the floor of the oven a tablespoonful of new flour. If the flour takes fire, or assumes a dark brown color, the temperature is too high and the oven must be allowed to cool; if the flour remains white after the lapse of a few seconds, the temperature is too low. When the oven is of the proper temperature the flour will slightly brown and look slightly scorched.
Another good way to test the heat, is to drop a few spoonfuls of the cake batter on a small piece of buttered letter paper, and place it in the oven during the finishing of the cake, so that the piece will be baked before putting in the whole cake; if the little drop of cake batter bakes evenly without burning around the edge, it will be safe to put the whole cake in the oven. Then, again, if the oven seems too hot, fold a thick brown paper double, and lay on the bottom of the oven; then after the cake has risen, put a thick brown paper over the top, or butter well a thick white paper and lay carefully over the top.
If, after the cake is put in, it seems to bake too fast, put a brown paper loosely over the top of the pan, care being taken that it does not touch the cake, and do not open the door for five minutes at least; the cake should then be quickly examined, and the door shut carefully, or the rush of cold air will cause it to fall. Setting a small dish of hot water in the oven, will also prevent the cake from scorching.
To ascertain when the cake is done, run a broom straw into the middle of it; if it comes out clean and smooth, the cake will do to take out.
Where the recipe calls for baking powder, and you have none, you can use cream of tartar and soda in proportion to one level teaspoon-ful of soda, two heaping teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar.
When sour milk is called for in the recipe, use only soda. Cakes made with molasses burn much more easily than those made with sugar, Never stir cake after the butter and sugar is creamed, but beat it down from the bottom, up and over; this laps air into the cake batter, and produces little air cells, which cause the dough to puff and swell when it comes in contact with the heat while cooking.
When making most cakes, especially sponge cake, the flour should be added by degrees, stirred very slowly and lightly, for if stirred hard and fast it will make it porous and tough.
Cakes should be kept in tight tin cake-cans, or earthen jars, in a cool, dry place.
Cookies, jumbles, ginger-snaps, etc., require a quick oven; if they become moist or soft by keeping, put again into the oven a few minutes.
To remove a cake from a tin after it is baked, so that it will not crack, break or fall, first butter the tin well all around the sides and bottom; then cut a piece of letter paper to exactly fit the tin, butter that on both sides, placing it smoothly on the bottom and sides of the tin. When the cake is baked, let it remain in the tin until it is cold; then set it in the oven a minute, or just long enough to warm the tin through. Remove it from the oven; turn it upside down on your hand, tap the edge of the tin on the table and it will slip out with ease, leaving it whole.
If a cake-pan is too shallow for holding the quantity of cake to be baked, for fear of its being so light as to rise above the pan, that can be remedied by thoroughly greasing a piece of thick glazed letter paper with soft butter. Place or fit it around the sides of the buttered tin, allowing it to reach an inch or more above the top. If the oven heat is moderate the butter will preserve the paper from burning.