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May 11, 2009

Lessons Learned: Is All-Purpose Flour Really All-Purpose?

You know that saying about, "The best-laid plans of mice and men??" Well, yesterday my best-laid plan resulted in a baker's lesson learned.

My contribution to our Mother's Day dinner was to be dessert, and I thought it would be nice to make something special from my Gram's Recipe Box. Only problem was, I really hadn't tried very many of her cake recipes to know what would be good, nor did I have a ton of time to start experimenting. I needed to make something relatively quickly with the ingredients I had on hand.

Mrs. Boehler's Whipped Cream Form Cake caught my eye. It was a pretty basic recipe, dated May 1924 -- and as I read it, I had images of a light, airy white cake that would be nice served with whipped cream and berries. I had all the ingredients on hand (or so I thought), so I proceeded with great optimism. After all, a recipe from 1924 that's still around in 2009 had to be pretty good, right?

I whipped the cream, beat the eggs, added the sugar and vanilla -- and then paused when I got to the line that said add 1 and 3/4 cup cake flour. What follows is the stream of thoughts that went through my mind over the course of the next hour.

While Preparing the Batter
Hmmm....cake flour? ....Is that different than all-purpose flour? ...No, cake flour is just what they called it back in 1924.....right?...Why would they call it 'All-purpose' flour if it couldn't be used for all-purposes? will be fine.

After Putting into Tube Pan looks fine....batter tastes good....hmmm....batter doesn't really fill the tube pan. worries, it will rise when it bakes.

30 Minutes Later

Why isn't this cake rising at all? ....hmmmm, maybe cake flour has some kind of leavening agent in it?

As the Oven Timer Was Buzzing didn't rise very much...Cake tester comes out clean so I guess it baked ok....Good Lord this cake weighs a ton. I think I better stop at the grocery store and pick up an Angel Food cake....arghhh...that's what I get for trying something new.

Well, I did stop at the store to pick up an Angel Food cake, but Mrs. Boehler's recipe wasn't a complete failure. Everyone who tried it agreed that the flavor was good -- some even liked the consistency that was like an extra-dense pound cake or slightly under-baked shortbread.

Lessons Learned

1. In retrospect I probably should have realized that a recipe that called for 1 cup of heavy cream would be a heavy cake -- whether that cream is whipped or not.

2. I also should have taken 2 minutes to slow down and investigate the difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour. It turns out that there is a difference (although I'm still not sure what it is) --but it turns out, the fix is a breeze. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of cake flour and you only have all-purpose -- you just need to reduce the amount used to 7/8 cup. How easy is that?

3. Even when your recipe is botched you can never go wrong when whipped cream and mixed berries are a part of your dessert!

Stay tuned tomorrow for the actual recipe -- and later in the week for other great "in the kitchen" substitutions.


Chow and Chatter said...

great post we all learn fro this experiences I can think of heaps of things gone wrong in my kitchen !! tomorrow it will rock

Manic Mother said...

Cake flour has corn starch in it, you can make it by mixing 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour with, 1/4 cup cornstarch. Or so I have heard, I just spotted it at the grocery store , it was w/ the cake mixes not the flour.

Lauren said...

Yeah, I just try to laugh about the mistakes -- and usually it's not a big deal -- but it was a bummer to not have top-notch treat for mom. :(

It's an interesting thing about the whole cake flour/ all-purpose flour/ corn starch thing. I located a "substitutions" list, which is where I got the susbstitution that I listed -- but the same list says you can substitude 2 Tablespoons of flour for 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch?? I think I need a degree in logic to figure this out -- but I think that would make sense for what you suggested as well.

Very interesting -- I never realized it was all so related! Maybe if I had ever taken a cooking or baking classes -- it would make more sense, but I'm a trial and error girl!

Thanks for visiting!!