* Measure all ingredients carefully, using dry measuring cups for dry ingredients and liquid measures for liquids. A seemingly small amount of variation in the amount of an ingredient can make a big difference in the outcome of a cake.
* Measure flour and other dry ingredients by spooning them into a heap in a dry measuring cup, then sweeping off the excess with a knife. Never pack dry ingredients down.
* Overbeating makes cakes tough and causes them to collapse, because it overworks the protein in the flour, known as gluten. Always fold or stir batter just until the mixture is blended.
* To beat egg whites to maximum volume, start with eggs at room temperature. You can warm them up quickly by placing them in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in a large bowl. Be careful not to get any of the egg yolk into the whites, and make sure the bowl and beaters are squeaky clean. Any trace of fat from the yolk or other ingredients can prevent the whites from whipping.
* Begin beating the whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed. Beat the egg whites until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar. Beat until the whites are shiny and thick and soft peaks form, then bend over gently, when the beaters are lifted, about 4 minutes more. Do not overbeat the whites or they may become dry and break down.
* Folding is an important technique in baking cakes and desserts. When folded correctly, a batter is blended in such a way as not to deflate it. To fold egg whites into a batter, begin by scooping up a small amount of the beaten egg whites with a rubber spatula. Place the egg whites on top of the batter. Holding the spatula with the curved side of the blade toward the bottom of the bowl, cut down through the center of the batter and scoop up some of the mixture over the whites. Rotate the bowl a quarter-turn and repeat, cutting down with the spatula and scooping the batter over the whites. Repeat, turning and scooping, and occasionally scraping the side of the bowl, until all of the ingredients are blended and there are no streaks.
* When blending whipped cream into desserts or adding nuts or other solid ingredients into a cake batter, you should fold the ingredients carefully together to maintain the texture of the batter.
* Before preheating the oven, position the oven rack so that the cake will cook evenly. For big, deep cakes, place the rack about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the oven. For layer and other shallow cakes, place the rack in the center of the oven.
* Unless they contain creamy fillings, most cakes stay fresher longer at room temperature. Rather than covering them with plastic wrap that may allow moisture to form and make the cake sticky, I cover most cakes with an inverted bowl. Just be sure that air cannot get in. The bowl protects the appearance of the cake better, too.
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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