Lack of confidence causes panics, and panics cause failures.
My job, then, is to build up your confidence. On paper that isn’t easy, but one thing I must say first of all is don’t feel you have to be too much of a perfectionist. I’ll admit that a crater, 3 inches wide and 2 inches deep, in the middle of a cake is a bit worrying, and if it really is that bad you probably didn’t have the right tin. However, slight imperfections honestly don’t matter. Always remember that home-made cakes are full of good things, and if they don’t happen to look like first-prize winners they will still taste good, and that’s what it’s really all about. Anyway, here are a few tips on points that sometimes cause panic.
Is it cooked? Basically there are three ways of telling: (i) if it shrinks away slightly from the side of the tin, (ii) if the centre feels springy when lightly touched with the little finger, and (iii) well, I have some reservations about this one. It is the skewer test which goes something like this: if a skewer is inserted in the centre of the cake and comes out clean – the cake is cooked. This is all very well, but if you happen to stick the skewer straight through a cherry, date or other sticky ingredient how can it come out clean? So my advice is to take this into consideration when using the skewer test.
There are other suggestions like ‘if you can smell the cake’, but I’ve often been able to smell a cake when it’s only half-cooked! Likewise, ‘if you can hear sizzling noises’, but that is equally unreliable. On the whole I plump for the first two methods of telling when a cake is cooked – emphasising once again that ideally you should leave it alone and not hike it out to have a look too early on.
Why has it sunk? Often the cause of the problem is related to what was said above, that is, the cake has been tested too soon and the centre dips because it has been touched too early. If however it is the fruit or cherries that have sunk, that usually means the mixture is too slack.
To sum up on these points, I’d like to say that on the whole what’s wrong with a cake is usually more likely to be what’s wrong with the recipe. If you follow tried and trusted recipes to the letter, you shouldn’t really have any problems. However, if you deviate, then you’re on your own!