Continuing with my Side-by-Side Baking series, this month I chose to look at two ways of making a genoise cake, specifically using the gentle heat of a bain marie whilst beating the eggs and sugar together to ribbon stage compared to a batter made without any heat.
If you’re new to Only Crumbs Remain, you may be wondering what my
Side-by-Side Baking series is all about. Basically, it’s an ongoing
series of posts where I look at the effects certain techniques and food
products have on given bakes. More often than not, and I certainly
myself here, we are shown how to make, say a Victoria Sponge,
but with little understanding of why we may be folding in the flour so
gently and what would happen to our cake if we didn’t. This series is
designed to experiment with and highlight such techniques and products
with a view to appreciating why we carry out them out. So for instance, last month we looked at curdled cake batters, but I’ve also looked at resting Yorkshire Pudding batters before baking, folding in flour by hand against that folded in with a spatula, butter quality in cake batters and the all-in-one method against the traditional creaming-in-method.
These bakes are designed to focus upon one aspect of baking (or even
ingredient) to see if we can make our bakes even better or even if there
are some, dare I say, short cuts we can take to achieve a good result.
Therefore, in this series there will always be at least two separate
batches baked in these comparisons to allow me, and you as the reader,
to literally compare them Side-by-Side.
So, as I’ve already mentioned, for this month’s comparison bake I chose to look at two different ways to make a genoise sponge cake, to determined if there is a method which produces a cake with a better rise and with more aeration.
The prompt for this bake came some months ago, though if truth be told it was over 12 months ago, when my mum celebrated her 65th birthday. To mark the occasion we made her an Apple & Cinnamon Genoise Cake, which by the way was absolutely delicious and was the perfect cake to round off her birthday.
|Apple & Cinnamon Genoise Cake|
In looking for the correct ratio of ingredients for the genoise sponge cake I noted that there seemed to be two different methods mentioned for beating the eggs with the sugar. Some recipes described beating the two ingredients in a bowl suspended over a bain marie, in much the same way as we melt chocolate, whereas others made no mention of the gentle heat and simply said to beat the eggs and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer or with hand held electric beaters.
So, the purpose of this Side-by-Side Baking comparison is to look at two batches of genoise cake; one prepared over a bain marie and the second without the assistance of heat. The aim is to identify if there is a better method for making a genoise, if the difference between the two bakes is worth any extra effort and if there is any difference in the time required to achieve the ribbon stage.
|Lemon Mousse Cake made with Genoise Sponge|
If you’re unfamiliar with a genoise cake, it is a beautifully light sponge which gets its name from the Italian city, Genoa. It is used in many patisserie bakes and is made with eggs, sugar, plain flour and a little melted butter. The rise and lightness of the cake comes from the eggs having been made with plain flour and no baking powder or bicarb. This cake is actually quite similar to a regular sponge mixture which we use for swiss rolls, though the genoise differs with the addition of a little melted butter, which brings a slightly longer ‘shelf life’ as well as making it a moister and tastier bake. The sponge can easily be flavoured, such as with lemon, orange or chocolate, and the cake filled and decorated. This time I created a rhubarb & custard genoise cake, it was amazingly delicious!
Genoise cakes are actually relatively quick to make with only a couple of steps – that is unless you’re beating them by hand with a balloon whisk which will obviously take considerably longer! The eggs and sugar are beaten together for a number of minutes until the mixture reaches the ‘ribbon stage’. This simply means that the mixture is thick enough for the beaters to leave a trail (or ribbon) of the batter on top of the mixture. The baker should be able to write the figure ‘8’ with the ribbon before it sinks back into the mixture. At this stage the melted butter is poured down the side of the bowl (so as not to deflate the batter had it been poured in the centre) and the flour sifted in. The ingredients are then folded in before being baked.
There’s no denying it, a genoise cakes demand a lightness of touch, and as a result some home bakers avoid making them. But, please don’t let that put you off making one, they’re really not that difficult.
At this point it may be worth linking to another of my side-by-side baking comparisons which saw the flour folded into a simple Victoria batter by hand compared to a spatula. The hand folding was quicker (effectively due to thinking of the hand as five spatulas rather than one) and resulted in a lighter bake. As working quickly is important when making a genoise, or even a sponge cake, the hand folding technique was applied in this particular comparison bake too.
This month’s comparison bake saw two genoise cakes made, with the aim being to identify if there is a better method for making a
genoise, if the difference between the two bakes is worth any extra
effort and if there is any difference in the time required to achieve
the ribbon stage.
Like with all of my side-by-side bakes, I aim to go about the bake
fairly methodically and perhaps a little scientifically aiming to keep
each batch identical in terms of how the batter was created, the ingredient weights, and how it was then
baked. In theory the only differences to the bakes should be those
outlined in the two batches above. So each batch:
At first thought, as soon as the second genoise cake had been removed from the oven, it seemed clear that this bake, which had been prepared over the bain marie, had risen noticeably more during the bake. However, I was comparing a sponge cake which was fresh from the oven against a cake which had been cooling for about 40 minutes. It’s worth noting that this type of cake does deflate very slightly during the cooling process, and so I needed to employ a little patience and compare them once both cakes were completely cold!
Once both cakes had cooled for about an hour, they were transferred to the same cooling tray to be compared side-by-side. At first glance there wasn’t an enormous difference in the height, but on closer inspection it seems that the first cake (which had been prepared without the aid of heat) had deflated slightly more than the second genoise cake. There were clearly more crinkles and wrinkles, in my mind, evidence of some deflation. Also, the second genoise looked ‘fuller’. Both of these points I think you can pick up from the image below.
However, we didn’t identify any note able difference in the crumb once they had been sliced into.
The second note-worthy point is the time each batter took to reach ribbon stage. The first batch which had been made on the work surface without the use of heat saw me beating the eggs and sugar together for nine and a half minutes. Where as the second batch, prepared over the bain marie, took a couple of minutes less time, requiring seven minutes of beating.
And if you’re wondering how I finished our cake, flavour wise, then check out the recipe for Rhubarb and Custard Genoise Cake, with a hint of orange for extra deliciousness!
The result of the two batches raises the question as to why the use of a bain marie helps to produce a better genoise bake. In many ways the answer is similar to the curdled cake batters comparison. James Morton, in his book How Baking Works, explains that ‘at high temperatures the proteins in eggs unfurl much easier allowing them to capture larger volumes of gas.’ He goes onto say ‘this is why you shouldn’t use eggs straight from the fridge because cold hampers their expanding properties. You want them to be warm enough to maximise volume without cooking the eggs.’ Others have suggested that the heat of the bain marie stabilises the mixture which may perhaps explain why batch 1 (the one prepared without a bain marie) deflated a little.
The process of beating the eggs and sugar over a bain marie with electric beaters requires as certain amount of care. The electric beaters need to comfortably reach the work area without being over stretched (a task which may require an extension lead depending upon the location of the socket points!) and of course the baker needs to keep the bain marie steady whilst beating so as not to knock the pan of hot water over.
The safety practicalities may mean that the possible over stretch of the beaters to the bain marie makes it an unsuitable method for some bakers. However, there are some alternative ways to achieve good results.
It’s been quite some time since I last shared a Side-by-Side Baking post, in fact it was way back on the 9th August. Metaphorically speaking there was certainly a thick layer of dust on them when I dug them out, think Miss Havisham of Great Expectations and you probably won’t be far wrong! As I mentioned in my end of year review post it’s a series I want to continue here on Only Crumbs Remain not least because it allows me to learn why certain techniques, for instance, are employed in baking.
Now, I have two warnings about this post. Firstly this post is a little bit lengthy so you may want to grab a pot of tea or coffee before settling down to read! And, secondly, there is a little bit of science in this post (after all, baking in the school setting wasn’t once called ‘Domestic Science‘ for no reason!). I’ve aimed to keep the technical stuff to a minimum, especially as I’m not the greatest scientist (you should see my face when Mr E tries to explain the bending of timespace – and yes, those conversations do happen!), and so I’ve linked into several internet articles should you want to read more detail from the author’s particular slant.
If you’re new to Only Crumbs Remain, you may be wondering what my Side-by-Side baking series is all about. Basically, it’s an ongoing series of posts where I look at the effects certain techniques and food products have on given bakes. More often than not, and I certainly include
myself here, we are shown how to make, say a Victoria Sponge,
but with little understanding of why we may be folding in the flour so
gently and what would happen to our cake if we don’t. This series is designed to experiment with and highlight such techniques and products with a view to appreciating why we carry out them out. So for instance, I’ve already looked at resting Yorkshire Pudding batters before baking, folding in flour by hand against that folded in with a spatula, butter quality in cake batters and the all-in-one method against the traditional creaming-in-method. These bakes are designed to focus upon one aspect of baking (or even ingredient) to see if we can make our bakes even better or even if there are some, dare I say, short cuts we can take to achieve a good result. Therefore, in this series there will always be at least two separate batches baked in these comparisons to allow me, and you as the reader, to literally compare them Side-by-Side.
So our first foray into our baking comparisons this year is to look at
why a cake batter splits / curdles when eggs are added, can it be rectified, and to ask if it really matters or if it affects the final bake.
The prompt for this baking comparison came from one of my recipe books, How Baking Works (and what to do when it doesn’t) by James Morton (I’m sure you recall him as the young Scottish GBBO constestant in series 3 who was training to be a doctor.) As the title implies, his book is far more than a recipe book. If you’re unfamiliar with it he goes through the step by step process of making chocolate brownies, macarons, biscuits and so on and explains why we carry out certain steps and even offers troubleshooting guidance if the bake fails. In his chapter for cakes he goes through the steps for the classic creaming method. He explains that the eggs need to be added to the creamed butter and sugar one at a time and went on to say that ‘curdling has been shown not to affect the final rise‘!
When I read this I was somewhat surprised. Not only because just about every cake recipe we read on line and in many tangible recipe books suggests adding a spoonful of flour with the last egg (in order to prevent, or remedy, any split / curdled batter) but also because the darling queen of baking herself, Mary Berry, has probably pulled a few faces at split batters on GBBO in the past!
Now, as a keen home baker I could make an educated guess as to why this happens though I couldn’t be completely sure (after all, this series allows me to learn some of the science behind baking alongside you). And so I carried out a search on the internet and read a few interesting articles, which I have linked to.
Almost every article I came across explained that when making a cake batter we are creating an emulsion, so basically a liquid suspended in another. In a cake batter emulsion the water from the butter and egg white is suspended in the fat of the butter and egg yolk. The problem occurs when the emulsion becomes ‘fat in water’ rather than ‘water in fat’.
But why does the ‘fat in water’ emulsion happen? John Whaite’s article in The Telegraph (another GBBO contestant) is very readable and explains that it’s all to do with the differing temperature of the ingredients. He says that due to the temperature differences between the eggs and the creamed butter and sugar it is difficult for the fats to blend with the water. An article by Ask Peter says that butter sets at room temperature, so when the eggs are added it cools the mixture prompting the butter to set, making it look as though the mixture has curdled. So having all of the ingredients the same temperature helps create the emulsion, Serious Eats recommends having all of the ingredients around 21℃ / 70℉.
Well, during my reading every article has endorsed ensuring that the fat and sugar are beaten well until light and fluffy, scraping the mixture down from the sides of the bowl regularly, and then adding the eggs gradually (just as you would when making a mayonnaise emulsion!). Using Mainly Spoons elaborates on this further by explaining that a well beaten butter and sugar mixture will be able to hold more liquid (ie the eggs).
Another common recommendations is to add a spoonful of your weighed flour into the batter when you notice it curlding and then continue beating, or even, as Nigel Slater states, with every addition of egg! However John Whaite’s article in The Telegraph (linked to above) doesn’t recommend this as he says it doesn’t resolve the issue, it simply ‘hides’ the curdle by thickening the batter and absorbing the liquid. He also suggests the beating of the flour with the egg will stimulate the gluten in the flour resulting in a denser sponge. And as we found in our first Side-by-Side bake, a gluten free flour certainly makes for a lighter cake!
John Waite, and one or two others, recommend we ignore the split batter as it will remedy itself in the oven anyway, and yet Asian on-line recipes suggests curdled batters hold less air and so won’t rise as much, they go onto suggest dipping the base of the bowl into warm water and then whisking to create a light consistency (sadly a tip I came across after I carried out my comparison bake). A contributor called Xinue in this forum suggests to warm the cracked lightly beaten eggs slightly over a double boiler (bain marie) as this is said to help with the emulsion process.
Well, this is the crux of the question really. Does it remedy itself or does it impair the rise during the bake? I have to admit that ordinarily I don’t worry when my cake batter splits, as often happens, and simply continue with my recipe. I don’t even bother putting a spoonful of the weighed flour into the mixture. But could I be making better cakes and cupcakes by addressing the curdle, or even preventing it from happening in the first place?
I carried out four bakes to look at the effect a curdled batter has on Victoria Sponge cupcakes. The batches were:
Like with all of my side-by-side bakes, I aim to go about the bake fairly methodically and perhaps a little scientifically aiming to keep each batch identical in terms of how the batter was created and then baked. In theory the only differences to the bakes should be those outlined in the four batches above. So each batch:
Well to be honest I was quite surprised by the level of quality between the four batter emulsions. Not only was there clear visual differences in the state of the actual batters, but the cupcakes themselves seem to have fared differently during the actual bake. It really was something I wasn’t expecting giving that many bakers suggested that the curdled / split batter problem would sort itself out in the oven anyway!
As you can see from the collage of batter images, below, there is quite a difference between the four mixtures (I do apologise for the blue hue in the images – I’d used a flowery blue cloth beneath the bowl not realising the there would undoubtedly be a blue hue to them!)
And the baked cupcakes identified…..
and sliced in half….
This batch was made with a cold egg straight from the fridge. It was undoubtedly the worst batter I have ever made. In fact I would ordinarily abandon that batter during a normal baking day! The emulsion was definitely very wet as the egg simply wasn’t blending with the creamed butter and sugar at all well. You may be able to see a pool of liquid (circled), this was in addition to the expected curdled / split appearance. The batter was clearly showing the undesired ‘fat in water’ state. The baked cupcakes themselves did in fact rise, though the level of rise and the quality of the sponge itself was clearly affected. The bake is visibly fairly dense with a close crumb in comparison to the other three bakes.
This batter saw the egg which had been stored at room temperature used and no attempt at resolving any curdling with flour was made. This is how I usually make my cake batters. As you can see from the image, the mixture certainly looked creamier than that of batch one with no pools of liquid, though it had clearly still curdled / split. Once baked as a cupcake, the sponge had risen more than that of batch 1 and looked more inviting with a clearly more open structure.
This mixture again used an egg at room temperature but a spoonful of the measured flour was added with the last addition of egg. The batter is again improved to that of batch 1 and 2, but if you look closely the mixture is still curdled. As for the cupcake itself it has clearly risen, but we felt that the rise was slightly less than that of batch 2, although the profile of the cupcake does look appealing.
In this batch the egg was very gently warmed in a double boiler until it felt neither warm nor cold when tested with my finger. Clearly the aim wasn’t to actually cook the egg, but simply to warm it through. It was amazing how well the warmed egg combined with the butter and sugar to create a beautifully smooth emulsion. I must admit, though, that if you look very closely to the bottom side of the mixing bowl there is still some evidence of curdling, but it was far greatly reduced compared to the other batter mixtures. As for the resulting bake, well I think this certainly speaks for itself. It is by far the better cupcake across all four of the batches. It rose beautifully and, although I sliced into the cake whilst it was still a little warm, it definitely looks the most appealing. It was the most enjoyable to eat too.
I must admit I was slightly disappointed with how batch two (the one with the room temperature egg and no flour added at the beating stage) fared. This is usually the method I adopt and usually (though not exclusively) it produces a better looking cupcake than it did in this bake.
I we think we need to go back to how John Whaite and Ask Peter explained the reasoning for a batter curdling here. They basically put it down to the temperature of the ingredients, specifically that the eggs are too cold. Bearing in mind that we have had quite a cold snap here in the UK our eggs, even at room temperature, are still going to feel a little chilly. And that temperature difference would no doubt be highlighted more so when added to a creamed butter and sugar mixture which would have created a certain amount of heat during the 10 minutes of beating, even though only by a comparably small amount. But those differences can, and clearly do, have an effect.
It’s also perhaps interesting to consider where we find our eggs in the supermarkets and local shops. They’re always on a shelf somewhere near the baking ingredients rather than being in a chiller cabinet alongside the creams and butters.
As I mentioned in our recipe for Vegan Chocolate & Cherry Cupcakes, heat allows the proteins within an egg to unfurl, allowing the batter mixture of a cake to rise and ‘leaven’. Therefore it could be suggested that batch 4 was more successful as the unfurling had had a head start by the gently heating of the beaten egg. The other three batches would possibly have seen the cake batter set in the oven before the egg proteins had completely unravelled. I may well be wrong here, but it’s certainly room for thought!
I know I shall certainly be warming the egg gently over a double boiler in the future, particularly when the weather is chilly!
It’s been some time since I last shared a Side-by-Side bake, so wanting to remedy that I donned my pinny and gathered my taste testers together.
For those who may be new to Only Crumbs Remain, my Side by Side Baking series compares similar bakes with a view to achieving better results. The focus of the actual comparison depends upon the bake itself; it may
look at the rise achieved in a sponge, the crumb of the bake, specific ingredients, or perhaps
the ease of a technique. So far we have compared gluten free flour against regular self raising flour in cupcakes; the creaming-in method against the all in one method when making sponges; the effects of resting yorkshire pudding batters; two different pikelet recipes; three different methods of infusing tea flavour into a sponge batter; and the impact butter quality has on sponge bakes. All of this couldn’t be done without my small group of ‘volunteer’ taste tasters who are briefed on the nature of each comparison bake before trying the samples.
This particular Side-by-Side comparison looks at two different methods of folding flour into a cupcake batter. It was inspired by August’s edition of Asda’s free magazine, ‘Good Living‘, which I picked up during a recent shop. As you may know, James Martin is the new face of Asda, helping them to promote good family food and straightforward bakes. In the magazine are numerous recipes and tips shared by the Yorkshire pro-chef himself.
One of those tips is on page 43 of the August magazine, where James shares ‘Granny’s secret to the perfect sponge‘. He explains that the secret to a great, fluffy, light, sponge is by combining the flour into the beaten egg and sugar mixture by hand. Literally by hand, so no need to dig out any fancy kitchen gadgets! He goes onto say that “the minute you add the flour, the mixture starts to collapse, so you want to mix it as quickly as possible. If you think of your hands as five spatulas, it’s much faster“.
Although I’ve often seen pro pastry chefs use their hands rather than kitchen gadgets, I personally have never tried this particular technique (well, I’m not a pro-chef, just a keen home baker 🙂 ). So, being a huge fan of James Martin’s baking I decided to give it a go, and what better idea than to compare it against a sponge using the folding technique I usually adopt. In recent years I’ve tended to favour using a spatula to fold our flour into a batter, though as a youngster I was taught to use a metal spoon.
Although James Martin talked about using this technique when making fat free sponges (ie swiss roll type of
sponge), I decided to carry out this
baking comparison with a commonly used cake mixture, the Victoria sponge, wondering if the same theory
would apply. So, in this Side-by-Side bake I shall compare two cupcake batters, one
with the flour folded in with a spatula and the other folded in by hand.
I made two
separate batches of the Victoria sponge batter. Both batches used the same quality of ingredients and they were made using the creaming in
method. The sponge was unflavoured and undecorated
to allow my volunteers to focus upon the sponge rather than being detracted with a frosting. The first batch was made and
baked before starting the second batch so as not to potentially affect the raw batter
waiting for oven space. The muffin tray was positioned in the same part
of the oven for both bakes. Each cupcake weighed the same and were baked at the same temperature and the for the same period
of time. Different patterned paper cases were used for the two different bakes, thus preventing them from being muddled up.
Given that James Martin encouraged us to think of our hand as being five spatulas, I splayed my fingers during the folding and mixing process rather than keeping my fingers together to create just one utensil. Although it didn’t occur to me to time the actual folding-in process in both of the batters, this method certainly did seem to be quicker which surely is a good thing. Not only would the batter retain more air but the gluten in the flour (unless you’re using a gluten free flour of course) isn’t being activated helping to create a lighter bake. This method also allowed me to ‘feel’ when the consistency of the batter was ready, rather than judging it through a plasic or metal utensil. The slight negative point to this mixing process is the obvious messy nature, but given that the folding-in literally only takes 10-15 seconds your hand can soon be washed leaving them pristine again.
‘volunteer’ taste testers were assembled, including myself. I
explained to each of my tasters the principal behind this side-by-side
bake and asked them to simply identify which cake they found to be lightest. The
identity of the specific cakes wasn’t divulged to
the tasters to prevent them from being unintentially influenced, so my tasters sampled them blind, so to speak. Only I knew which cupcake was which.
To be honest I was quite surprised by the results. We ended up with 50-50 split; 2 preferring the cake made with the flour folded in with a spatula and the other two preferring the mixture which was hand folded. Both mum and I preferred the sponge which had been hand folded. We both commented that the cupcake was lighter both in the eat and visually when the crumb was inspected (although there was no visual difference between exterior of the cakes). Mum described her preferred cake as smoother. Despite the split in opinion, I shall certainly use this method again in future bakes. The benefits of this folding in method may be more noticeable when making a fat free sponge, such as a swiss roll, which James referred to in his short article….I may have to investigate further 😉
Prep time: 15 mins Cook time: 20 mins Total time: Yield: 3