A little tenderness
I love my KitchenAid, LOVE it, but for cakes, I try to use it just to incorporate the ingredients so they are wet and there are no visible lumps; I mix a good portion by hand. I am especially careful once I’ve added the flour not to over-mix. Overmixing/overbeating a cake causes the gluten to become stronger, something you don’t want because it makes your baked goods too tough. The only time you want to really strengthen the gluten is when you are making dough for breads.
The Secret of Moist
Search for cake recipes with buttermilk or sour cream in them; these two ingredients make cakes tender and moist. Did you know we use low-fat buttermilk in every cake we make?!
Use the Best Ingredients and Equipment
Using the best ingredients and equipment doesn’t necessarily mean using the most expensive. In some cases, yes, but often times, not so. My go-to for advice has always been Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen; they are the Consumer Reports of Cooking and Baking, my Bible. I’ve learned that you don’t have to use real vanilla extract in baked goods, that Hershey’s Cocoa is highly recommended in taste tests by their relentless judges. They are relentless in testing kitchen gadgets, pans, ingredients and equipment. It was in Cook’s, for instance, that I learned that the OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Pro 12-Cup Muffin Pan ($24.99) was the muffin tin to use, not the luxury brand at nearly twice the price. I find the best gadgets, by far, are also made by OXO. They are cleverly designed and they speed your process along considerably if you use the right tool.
Weigh & Measure First
Weigh and/or measure every ingredient and have each one out in clear bowls before you start. The French call it Mise en place ([mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) and it means "putting in place" or "everything in its place.” It refers to the setup required beforehand and is often used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients. You can find clear and inexpensive light weight bowls at Bed Bath & Beyond or other home goods stores. Make sure you buy very small bowls, too, for vanilla, salt and baking soda/powder and other smaller quantity items. That way if your own hungry monkey interrupts, or you get a call or the doorbell rings, you won’t waste ingredients; it’s the worst when you can’t remember if you added the baking soda in or if you put in four or five cups of flour.
Parchment is the best invention ever. Thankfully, it’s now sold in grocery stores. I use parchment to line every single pan. If you are making your own cakes, butter the bottom of your pans, then place a piece of parchment cut out to the size of the bottom of the pan. Then, butter and flour the top of the parchment, too. Your creations will come out of the pan perfectly every time.
Italian Paper Baking Molds
Okay, these are honestly the best thing ever made for bakers! You simply pour your batter into these molds—no butter, no flour, no mess, and no work—and, best of all, no mistakes where the batter gets stuck to the bottom of your pan. And they are elegant, too. You can find tons of shapes and sizes online—I buy mine from PartySource in New York. Check them out at: http://www.apartysource.
Darker Colored Pans
I generally don’t like baking in darker-colored baking pans (dark-colored pans conduct more heat and tend to over-cook baked goods at recommended temperatures). There is no need, however, to get rid of them — simply reduce your oven temperature by 15 – 25 degrees. Every oven varies, so it’s important to experiment.
When making your own banana bread use bananas that are ripe, well spotted, but never black. Throw away black bananas as they have begun to break down or you won’t get that wonderful, fresh banana taste.