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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Let them eat cakes from scratch

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Columnist

 •  Get a taste of the real thing

Got cake box? Probably not.

A cake box, back in the 1920s and into the 1950s, was where the cake lived. —as routine a piece of kitchen equipment as a bread box, the recipe box and the ice box. And there were always cakes. From scratch. In layers. With frosting.

As I research "The Island Plate," The Advertiser's 150th-anniversary cookbook to be published later this year, I'm struck by how differently the home cook views cakes today. If we plop a mix into a 9-by-13-inch pan, poke some holes in it and pour a tub of melted frosting over it, we have to work hard to keep from strutting around the kitchen.

But I love cake so much that, reading about those cake box days, I burn with envy — not so much envy of those eating the cakes as those baking them. A cake is such a satisfying and beautiful accomplishment.

That's why I was very excited when I came across "Cakes from Scratch in Half the Time: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Bake Cakes Forever," by Linda West Eckhardt (Chronicle Books, 2005). This 196-page trade paperback offers Eckhardt's tricks for getting a from-scratch cake into the oven in streamlined fashion. My experiments have convinced me that she's got some good ideas. These include:

  • Bring ingredients to room temperature before mixing. Soften butter, cream cheese or other refrigerated ingredients in microwave on low; immerse eggs in hot tap water.

  • Also before mixing, place oven racks in center, pre-heat oven, and prep cake pans with Baker's Joy nonstick spray instead of laborious and messy greasing and flouring.

  • Measure before mixing; gather mixing bowls, small dishes and measuring equipment. Place butter or shortening in largest bowl or bowl of stand-up mixer. Measure liquid ingredients in order of use. Measure and mix or sift dry ingredients together. Measure flavoring ingredients.

  • To hasten baking and assure a flat-topped, uncracked cake, use old-fashioned, inexpensive shiny baking pans and set the oven to 400 degrees. (I was skeptical, but this does work. Just check that your oven is properly calibrated — mine was 25 degrees hotter than the controls indicated.)

  • With cakes in oven, set timer and do NOT peek until minimum cooking time has elapsed.

  • While cake bakes, bring out cake racks and cake plate and make frosting, again gathering ingredients, bringing to room temperature and measuring before starting.

    Cookbook orders taken: Orders for my upcoming cookbook, "The Island Plate: 150 Years of Recipes and Food Lore from The Honolulu Advertiser," are being taken now at www.honoluluadvertiser.com and at our information desk (605 Kapiolani, 8:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m. weekdays; 525-7620).

    Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.