The most popular and best-known type of cake is the butter or shortening cake. These are the classic layer cakes, the cakes you associate with birthday parties and festive occasions, loved for their moist sweetness and high-stacking layers filled with delicious frostings, covered in creamy icing and topped with decorations.
What makes butter or shortening cakes different from other varieties of cakes is they have more fat (butter, shortening, or oil) in relation to the number of eggs used. Making a good butter cake isn't difficult, but you do need to know how to correctly mix the ingredients together to produce a silky batter that includes the right amount of air. Butter cakes rise from the air whipped into the batter as well as from the addition of baking powder or soda.
Cake flour is generally recommended when you bake cakes. It really does make a difference with the final product, and you can freeze the flour (labeling it first) if you don't use it often.
Because the fat is the essential ingredient in butter cakes, selecting the best fat for your purposes is critical. Many professionals say unsalted butter is the best choice. Salt was originally added to butter as a preservative, but with modern refrigeration the salt is no longer needed. If you bake without it, you have more control over salt content of your foods. If, however, you have only salted butter on hand, don't worry -- it won't affect the flavor of your cake.
An often forgotten ingredient in good butter or shortening cakes is air. Solid vegetable shortening is great for incorporating air into the batter, which gives added volume to cakes and makes them softer and spongy. Solid vegetable shortening is the densest and will cream better than any other fats. Unfortunately, the flavor is not as rich as if you were to use butter (or even margarine), which can be disappointing. Butter flavored shortening will add some of that delicious butter flavoring to your cake. In all the butter/shortening recipes, feel free to substitute half shortening and half butter to get the best of both ingredients. Do not overmix the batter, too much air will cause large air pockets in the cake. After filling the cake pans with batter, gently tap the pan on the countertop to release the larger bubbles before placing the pan in the oven.
If you find your cakes continually come out with a domed center, decrease the flour in your cake recipe by 1/4 cup and spread the batter from the center to the sides of the pan. Domed centers are caused by thick batters cooking the edges first, allowing the centers to continue to rise higher than the sides. Using Bake Even or Magic Cake Strips will also prevent the dome on the cake. This allows the cake to bake at an even temperature. This strips are first soaked in cold water then attached to the sides of the cake pan. They are available in the cake decorating section at retailer such as Walmart, JoAnn Fabrics, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, or Meijers.
A well-prepared butter cake is moist and has a tender crumb. For the best results, make sure the fat you choose is softened. Shortening is ready to go from the can, but if you choose butter, you'll have to let it soften. If the butter yields slightly to your touch, but it's still solid and not melted, it's just right. If you have to press hard, it's still too cold. Let it sit out for 15 more minutes and test again. If the butter is melting inside of the wrapper, it's too soft; place it back in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to harden slightly before using. Butter taken directly out of the refrigerator should be ready to use in 20 to 30 minutes.
If you are pressed for time and need your butter to soften quickly, cut the butter into 10 to 12 pieces and leave it at room temperature. It will be softened and ready to use in about 5 minutes.
Another method for speeding up the softening process, is to place the butter on a saucer and place under a table lamp. The heat from the bulb will slowly heat the butter without melting it. Just remember not to leave it there too long!
The proper technique for preparing butter cake batter is to have all the ingredients at room temperature. Cream the butter, shortening or butter/shortening blend with the sugar until light and smooth. If you use an electric mixer, begin on medium-low speed and then increase to medium speed. This will allow air to be incorporated into the fat without overheating and melting it -- this is important to keep in mind when working with all-butter cakes. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, followed by the dry ingredients, oftentimes alternated with the liquids to keep the batter creamy and smooth. The cake batter should be poured immediately into a greased cake pan and placed in the oven. Do no allow the cake to sit too long in the pan before baking it. Bake and -- voilà -- you have cake!
If you cake falls in the oven, cut it into chunks and dip it in a chocolate fondue. The texture will be uneven, but that won't matter. Or you can use the cake for a custard bread/cake pudding, in a parfait, in a trifle or to make cookies.