It's been some time since I last shared a Side-by-Side bake, so wanting to remedy that I donned my pinny and gathered my taste testers together.
For those who may be new to Only Crumbs Remain, my Side by Side Baking series compares similar bakes with a view to achieving better results. The focus of the actual comparison depends upon the bake itself; it may
look at the rise achieved in a sponge, the crumb of the bake, specific ingredients, or perhaps
the ease of a technique. So far we have compared gluten free flour against regular self raising flour in cupcakes; the creaming-in method against the all in one method when making sponges; the effects of resting yorkshire pudding batters; two different pikelet recipes; three different methods of infusing tea flavour into a sponge batter; and the impact butter quality has on sponge bakes. All of this couldn't be done without my small group of 'volunteer' taste tasters who are briefed on the nature of each comparison bake before trying the samples.
This particular Side-by-Side comparison looks at two different methods of folding flour into a cupcake batter. It was inspired by August's edition of Asda's free magazine, 'Good Living', which I picked up during a recent shop. As you may know, James Martin is the new face of Asda, helping them to promote good family food and straightforward bakes. In the magazine are numerous recipes and tips shared by the Yorkshire pro-chef himself.
One of those tips is on page 43 of the August magazine, where James shares 'Granny's secret to the perfect sponge'. He explains that the secret to a great, fluffy, light, sponge is by combining the flour into the beaten egg and sugar mixture by hand. Literally by hand, so no need to dig out any fancy kitchen gadgets! He goes onto say that "the minute you add the flour, the mixture starts to collapse, so you want to mix it as quickly as possible. If you think of your hands as five spatulas, it's much faster".
Although I've often seen pro pastry chefs use their hands rather than kitchen gadgets, I personally have never tried this particular technique (well, I'm not a pro-chef, just a keen home baker 🙂 ). So, being a huge fan of James Martin's baking I decided to give it a go, and what better idea than to compare it against a sponge using the folding technique I usually adopt. In recent years I've tended to favour using a spatula to fold our flour into a batter, though as a youngster I was taught to use a metal spoon.
Side-by-side baking, comparing two techniques of folding in flour.
Although James Martin talked about using this technique when making fat free sponges (ie swiss roll type of
sponge), I decided to carry out this
baking comparison with a commonly used cake mixture, the Victoria sponge, wondering if the same theory
would apply. So, in this Side-by-Side bake I shall compare two cupcake batters, one
with the flour folded in with a spatula and the other folded in by hand.
How I went about the Side by Side baking comparison.
I made two
separate batches of the Victoria sponge batter. Both batches used the same quality of ingredients and they were made using the creaming in
method. The sponge was unflavoured and undecorated
to allow my volunteers to focus upon the sponge rather than being detracted with a frosting. The first batch was made and
baked before starting the second batch so as not to potentially affect the raw batter
waiting for oven space. The muffin tray was positioned in the same part
of the oven for both bakes. Each cupcake weighed the same and were baked at the same temperature and the for the same period
of time. Different patterned paper cases were used for the two different bakes, thus preventing them from being muddled up.
Comments about folding in by hand.
Given that James Martin encouraged us to think of our hand as being five spatulas, I splayed my fingers during the folding and mixing process rather than keeping my fingers together to create just one utensil. Although it didn't occur to me to time the actual folding-in process in both of the batters, this method certainly did seem to be quicker which surely is a good thing. Not only would the batter retain more air but the gluten in the flour (unless you're using a gluten free flour of course) isn't being activated helping to create a lighter bake. This method also allowed me to 'feel' when the consistency of the batter was ready, rather than judging it through a plasic or metal utensil. The slight negative point to this mixing process is the obvious messy nature, but given that the folding-in literally only takes 10-15 seconds your hand can soon be washed leaving them pristine again.
'volunteer' taste testers were assembled, including myself. I
explained to each of my tasters the principal behind this side-by-side
bake and asked them to simply identify which cake they found to be lightest. The
identity of the specific cakes wasn't divulged to
the tasters to prevent them from being unintentially influenced, so my tasters sampled them blind, so to speak. Only I knew which cupcake was which.
To be honest I was quite surprised by the results. We ended up with 50-50 split; 2 preferring the cake made with the flour folded in with a spatula and the other two preferring the mixture which was hand folded. Both mum and I preferred the sponge which had been hand folded. We both commented that the cupcake was lighter both in the eat and visually when the crumb was inspected (although there was no visual difference between exterior of the cakes). Mum described her preferred cake as smoother. Despite the split in opinion, I shall certainly use this method again in future bakes. The benefits of this folding in method may be more noticeable when making a fat free sponge, such as a swiss roll, which James referred to in his short article....I may have to investigate further 😉
How do you fold your flour into your cake batter? Have you ever tried hand folding?
- 50g Butter, unsalted
- 25g Golden Caster Sugar
- 25g Caster Sugar
- 1 Egg, lightly beaten
- 50g SR Flour
- 1 tbsp Milk
2. Make the sponge. Place the soft butter and sugars into a good sized bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon or electric beaters until very pale and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the milk. Sieve the flour into the mixture. Use a spatula, large metal spoon or your hand with your fingers splayed to fold this in gently. 3. Fill the muffin cases. Using a teaspoon, fill the cases with the batter mixture. You're aiming for them to be half to two-thirds full. You may decide to weigh each muffin to ensure equal sizes. Each will weigh about 62g.
4. Bake. Place the muffin tray in the centre of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. You may need to rotate the tray after 15 minutes of baking. Once baked, remove from the oven and place on a cooling tray.5. Decorate as desired. Once the cupcake sponges are cold decorate your bake as desired, perhaps with a water icing, butter cream or a chocolate glaze.6. Enjoy 🙂
Prep time: 15 mins Cook time: 20 mins Total time: Yield: 3