There are various ways of combining the ingredients for shortened cakes, but all are based on what is called the conventional method. Properly executed, it produces a tender cake with a light, delicate texture.
The ingredients for the recipe should be measured ahead of time and brought to room temperature, particularly the fat and eggs. If the eggs need to be separated, however, it's easier to do so as soon as they are removed from the refrigerator.
Use Solid Fats
Hydrogenated vegetable shortening, butter, margarine or a combination of these solid fats may be used in cake baking. Shortening produces cakes with a fine texture; butter or margarine contributes flavor and color. Begin by beating the fat with an electric mixer at medium speed until it is smooth and creamy.
The sugar should be added gradually (Step 1), beating well until the mixture is light and fluffy, eight to 10 minutes. Halt the creaming process, however, if the fat begins to melt from too much physical action.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula throughout the batter-making process to ensure even mixing. Continue using medium mixing speed--high speed will warm the ingredients too quickly.
Eggs (or egg yolks) are added next (Step 2), one at a time, beating well after each addition. Any flavorings, such as vanilla, are also added at this point. Again, the beating should be halted before the fat becomes extremely soft and the mixture appears curdled.
Sifted dry ingredients are added one-third at a time (Step 3), alternately with two additions of liquid (Step 4), so you begin and end with the dry ingredients. By adding the flour in smaller amounts, it's incorporated quickly and prevents the batter from being overbeaten.
The batter is now ready to be poured into pans prepared as instructed in the Aug. 10 Back to Basics column. Future columns will be devoted to baking and frosting shortened cakes.