How do you feel about dry cakes? Yeah really, you don’t hear someone come back from a party and announce that they really enjoyed that lovely dry cake with crusty edges that needed to be washed down with a litre of electrolyte water. Ugh.
I’m hoping to get some more cake recipes up soon – specifically gluten free cakes that are suitable for cake decorating. And several of the gluten free cakes that I make are chocolate mud cakes, which require long, slow baking to create a lovely dense and moist cake with no nasty crusty edges.
Not long after I started baking mud cakes I read on the glorious internets about baking strips – which insulate the cake and prevent the outside from over-baking before the centre is set. You can buy ready-made baking strips, but these are quite narrow and are better suited to shallow cake tins. But if you make your own they are the perfect height for 3″ high cake tins, and can protect cakes that rise above the level of the tin.
The baking strips I use are made from aluminium foil and damp paper towels, but there are several different techniques, one of which is using strips of old towels (my friend Rachel has a picture of these on her Flickr page).
The foil-and-paper-towel strip is not a new technique by any means, and people have slightly different ways of making them. This is how I do it, and since I’ll be suggesting using these for my recipes, I thought I’d put together a tutorial with all the info in one place.
Another useful trick to prevent over-browning of a cake is to make a little foil ‘lid’ to protect the top of the cake. You can either use this right from the start of baking, and it will help your cake rise more evenly (and possibly prevent you from needing to level it) or you can slip it on later in baking if you check the cake and it looks like it’s getting a bit dark. I used to just place a flat piece of foil on top of the cake, but the fan in our oven would blow it off (usually landing right on the bottom of the oven, which then required tongs to fish it out without burning myself). Then I realised I could form the foil around the base of a cake pan, and make a perfect little foil hat to adorn the tin and protect the cake from the sun. Er, oven.
So I’ve rolled all of this into one tutorial, from quickly and easily lining your cake tin, making a foil lid and foil baking strips. Making the strips adds a little extra time to the baking process, but is so worth it to avoid trimming off half of your cake to get rid of the dry bits!
Non-stick baking paper
A large knife
(You’ll want to get your tin lined and baking strips made before you start mixing your cake batter.)
If you’re making a foil lid then do this first, before lining the tin. Take a square of foil plenty large enough to cover the tin and fold over each of the edges of the foil.
Place it over the upturned cake tin and press down to form the foil over the tin.
Remove the lid from the tin and set it aside for later. Or wear it so that the aliens can’t read your thoughts while you bake. Whatever floats your spaceship.
Now to line the tin…
Start by measuring out piece of baking paper long enough to fit around the circumference of your tin. (Tip: If you are lining two tins that are different sizes, make the strip long enough to fit the larger tin, and when you split the paper into two then you can trim one piece down to fit the smaller tin.) Tear off another piece of baking paper big enough to fit the base of the tin.
Take the longer piece and fold it in half lengthwise. Run your fingernail along the fold. Slide the knife between the two sides and slide it along the fold to cut it. You’re basically just using the knife to split the paper along the fold. If you are only lining one tin then set aside the other length of paper for next time.
Try not to cut yourself. And more importantly, try not to take too much notice of my scary pale zombie hands.
Draw around the base of the tin onto the smaller piece of baking paper. Fold the circle into quarters. If you have trouble seeing the lines to line them up, try placing the paper onto a white or light coloured surface, the pencil lines should show up better. Cut along the line and unfold the circle.
Spray the tin with oil.
Place the long strip of baking paper into the tin and unroll it around the sides of the tin, adjusting it up or down as necessary.
Spray the overlapping end with oil to adhere it. Place the circle of baking paper on the bottom of the tin and smooth out any air bubbles.
To make the baking strips, tear off a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the tin with a 10cm or so overlap. Tear off (or cut) two strips of paper towel the same length.
Fold the foil in half lengthwise and then unfold.
Lay one strip of paper towel on top of the other and fold in half lengthwise. Roll or fold them up, then saturate the towels with water and squeeze them out very lightly, just until they no longer drip all over your bench and/or floor.
Lay the towel along one side of the foil, and fold the other side of the foil over. Fold the edges in (trim or fold the paper towels if they stick out too far, you should be able to fold the foil over at least once.)
Fold over the top edge of the foil, and then fold it over again to seal. We’re done folding now, promise. It’s not origami….
Place the baking strip with that folded edge on the bottom and facing towards the tin, and wrap the strip around the tin.
Pull the strip tight and secure in place with the metal clips. (Note: if you are lining a square tin the concept is basically the same, but you will need to crease the strips at the corners. Make sure you crease it all the way up above the tin – if your cake rises above the edge of the tin then the strip will help it keep it’s shape).
Run a finger around the top of the strip to smooth out any lumps and bumps. If your cake rises above the level of the tin then it may take on any odd shapes the strip makes.
Snip the top edge of the strip in a few different spots around the tin, this lets a little of the steam out as the moisture in the paper towels evaporates and stops the strips from puffing out due to trapped steam, and distorting the top of your cake. Trust me on this one, it took me a few wiggly cakes to realise it.
Now you can make your cake batter and fill the tin. If using the foil lid then place this over the top just before putting the cake in the oven.
Ok, ok, it looks a little ridiculous, like the Tin Man is baking Dorothy a birthday cake, but I’m sure Dorothy hates dry cake almost as much as tornadoes and will appreciate the effort!
You can re-use the strips more than once, just carefully open up the foil and either re-wet the same paper towels or replace them with fresh ones.
If the strips dry out completely during cooking and start smelling burnt, then you can remove them before the cake is done – they will have done most of their job protecting the cake by the time they dry out. If you suspect the cake has a lot longer still to bake then you can put new strips on, or re-wet (or replace) the paper towels in the strips – just use oven mitts to remove the hot metal clips, and let the strips cool a bit before you handle them! (And the cake should go back in the oven while you refresh the strips).
I love these strips for my mud cakes, but I also use them when I’m baking rich fruit cakes for Christmas. Traditionalists would probably be completely horrified that I don’t line my fruit cake tins the ‘proper’ way with layers of brown paper or newspaper, but this way you can avoid that gawd-awful smell of burning newspaper. And really, who wants to smell that for three/four/five+ hours while a cake bakes?!
Just quietly, I much prefer to sniff the brandy…
As always, if you have any questions you know where to find me (hint: the comments below are a good place to start looking, I don’t camouflage well. It’s the ginger hair, I suspect.)