Cake from scratch: need help to make lighter, less dense

With holiday season coming up, it will be the first time in 15 years that I am not hosting Thanksgiving. The thing my brother decided that I should bring is our family’s hazelnut cake. I’ve always liked the flavor of the cake, but always kind of felt it was heavy and dry and like I needed a gallon of milk to drink with it. Just to make things easier for you and me to figure this out Oma is refusing to allow me to post the recipe for easy diagnoses.

I stumbled my way through figuring out pancakes from scratch and found them lighter when I added equal amount of baking soda and baking powder. Looking over the recipe, there’s a lot less soda (1/4tsp soda, to 3tsp powder), and no pinch of salt. (doesn’t one of them need the salt to react?)

Also I’m more of a cookie baker, but i do know that adding pudding mix is supposed to make things moist, how would I try that out? substitute the sugar for the pudding, add a little more milk? Thanks for all your help, guys.

My old chef type friend always substituted orange juice (even watered it down!) for milk to make his cakes and muffins lighter. I tend to go for low (.5%) fat milk for the same result.

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got - oh, unless there’s dried fruit! You can soak the fruit overnight in the same juice you’ll use or in strong tea. That should add moisture without wetting the mix too much and making it heavier.

Post the receipt and we’ll have a go .

Dude, you haven’t seen my grandma when she’s mad. She can hold a grudge.

Cake flour tends to make a cake lighter than all purpose flour since it’s got less gluten.

Can you tell us what’s in it, without giving us the amounts of each? That would at least give us a starting point – we might be able to suggest a different kind of fat/dairy/what-have-you. That said, it’s going to be near-impossible to really help without seeing the recipe, because we won’t be able to say, “Oh, the ratio of item a to item b is totally off. Try adding more a.”

Also, check out the book Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher. She explains a lot of the “whys” of cooking/baking and you might find the perfect solution!

Even better, Shirley just published a new book called Bakewise!

If you find your cake tough you may be beating it to much. You likely over bake it too if it’s dry. Fat content also helps make it moister. Try a different recipe, because the one you have may be dry and dense.

Well, it would be FAR more helpful if we had a recipe, or at least a list of the ingredients that you’re working with. If it’s a hazelnut cake, then I take it you’re using ground hazelnuts? Those kinds of cakes do tend to be dense by nature. Adding more moisture doesn’t necessarily mean adding more liquid–most of which will evaporate during the baking process, and too much means you could end up with a gooey mess. Moister cakes have a higher fat ratio, and in trying to get more lift out of a cake, a rich dairy addition like sour cream or at least a full-fat plain yogurt, which also gives the addition of acidity, which with the baking soda in your dry ingredients, will give the extra chemical leavening boost you might need.

But, since I don’t know exactly what you’re working with (except that you have baking soda & powder in the mix), I don’t what other tweaks to suggest.

I don’t know why this works, however, when I take the cake out of the oven and put it in the freezer for 1/2 hour it is much lighter than just letting it cool at room temperature.

How old is your baking powder and soda?

Does your recipe require creaming eggs, sugar, and/or butter? Are you creaming the mixture well enough?

Are you sifting the flour? I dump the aproximate amount of flour into a bowl, whisk it, then spoon it into the measuring cup and level it off over the bowl.

Are you bending down and looking at the liquid measure marks at eye level?

Baking does not forgive wonky ovens. Put a thermo in yours, set it to 350, and check it after 30 minutes and 45 minutes.

If all else fails, top the sliced cake with some brandied fruit - peaches work great - and some whipped cream. That’s what our cooks who make historic dinners do with cakes made with 19thh-century recipes, which tend to a slight dryness and heaviness.

If all else all else fails, cut the cake up in cubes and layer that in a big bowl with scoops of ice cream. Instant trifle.

You meant to do that.

Wow, you get busy with the weekend, and you end up on the third page., I use my oven enough to know where the hot spots are, and temp is usually accurate, plus yes everything is sifted and fresh (not new to baking, just to cake from scratch :)).

OK. I used cake flour per percypercy’s suggestion, didn’t beat it too much thanks to Harmonius Discord, (I used the enamel beater thing instead of the wire whisk), and used 2 tsp powder, and 3 tsp soda, plus a pinch of salt, (but I forgot to put in freezer like **Reepicheep **said).

The test muffin came out tasting good (very slight aftertaste of powder, will adjust next time), and much lighter/less heavy and less dry than the original, but the color is strange, somewhat orangey. I will have to wait until Thursday to tell you if the big cake came out OK.

Thanks everyone for the great suggestions (and the ones to refresh the leftovers). I’m going to see if the library carries that baking book.

That’s not baking powder you’re tasting, it’s baking soda…that’s WAY too much. Generally you typically use 1/4 of the soda that you use for powder. If you use them in a 1:1 ratio, you’re putting in too much, and it looks like you used them in an even worse ratio than that.

The original asked for 3 tsp soda, and 1/4 tsp powder. I used 3 tsp soda and 2tsp powder. (I don’t taste it when I do the pancakes at equal ratio.) It’s probably an over 80 year old recipe.

So you’re saying proper ratio the next time around would be 3 tsp powder and 3/4 tsp soda? (I didn’t want to experiment too greatly. It’s not a cheap cake to make, hazelnuts are around 7-8 bucks a pound once shelled)

My suggestion would be to do a search for other hazelnut cake recipes and see where they differ from yours. That will allow you to maybe diagnose the problem.

I’d venture to say that the recipe somehow got things reversed. Baking powder contains a good deal of baking soda to begin with, and you’re adding a load more of it with all that soda.

Howver, googling some hazelnut cake recipes shows that it does appear to be a 1:1 ratio of soda to powder for that particular recipe. Probably because there is something acidic in the recipe that acts to neutralize it.

So, you should probably ignore everything I said previously. I think the cake flour will help the most, as will the reduction in mixing. Too much mixing will make quickbreads like cakes, muffins, and pancakes very tough and dry.

You might have some luck contacting Shirley Corriher directly. leads to a link of I’ve heard many radio interviews with her and she seems just the sort who’d help you out if she has time.

Does the cake contain eggs? If you’re up for a bit of work, try separating the eggs and mixing only the yolks into the batter. Then, at the last minute, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold the batter into the whites. Immediately pour the mixture into the cake pan and bake. This will definitely produce a lighter cake. You need to be careful to fold the batter into the whites, rather than just mix it in - otherwise you’ll collapse the foam.

I’ll second percypercy’s suggestion to use cake flour.