Some cakes look better than others, and some cakes taste better than others – but the best cakes are the ones that are both attractive and tasty.
Specific criteria can be used to judge cake quality. A hundred years ago was the heyday of local fairs. Almost every community – both large and small – held an annual fair where people could showcase their baked and canned goods, farm produce, and livestock. Women (and it usually was women in 1920) enjoyed competing to see who made the best cake. A blue ribbon and maybe a small amount of prize money were the official rewards – but the real reward was the bragging rights. Score cards that listed various criteria such as flavor, lightness, and appearance – and the maximum score for each criteria – were often used to judge the quality of cakes.
In addition to formal judging of cakes, cakes are regularly informally judged by the individual who baked them and the people who eat them. Is this a good cake? Why isn’t it as tasty as some other cakes? . . .
And, when a cake isn’t perfect, a good cook often tries to figure out exactly what went wrong, so that the next cake is better. Here is some hundred-year-old advice for troubleshooting cake problems:
The Quality of Cake
Desirable cake is tender and light, but of fine grain. The quantity of eggs, sugar, fat, and moisture affects these qualities. Too much sugar makes a cake of coarse grain and of waxy or tough texture. On the other hand, a cake containing too little sugar is not as fine grained as one having “just enough.”
A cake in which there is too much fat is crisp or crumbly, – i.e., it will not hold its shape. Too little fat may make it tough in texture. Generally, the more fat a cake contains the smaller the quantity of moisture needed.
Many eggs without a proportionate quantity of fat and sugar produce a tough cake. The toughness occasioned by eggs, may be offset, of course, by the tenderness produced by fat. It is a most interesting study to compare cake recipes. Some are well proportioned, others could be greatly improved by variations in the quantity of ingredients.
The flavor of a cake is largely affected by the proportion of ingredients in a cake. For the sake of economy, however, certain ingredients, especially fat and eggs, must be decreased even though texture, grain, and flavor are sacrificed. The matter of wholesomeness must also be taken into consideration.
School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta C. Greer
27 thoughts on “Measuring Cake Quality”
I learned something. I didn’t know that too many eggs could lead to toughness. It occurred to me that even following a recipe, the size of eggs could make a difference. Very small or very large eggs probably mean a different result.
The best cake, of course, is the one that’s on the kitchen counter. I’m reminded of something I read long ago, probably in Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book. She was musing over the tendency of some cookbooks to offer ways to use ‘leftover cake,’ and declared, “There is no such thing as ‘leftover cake.’ There’s either cake, or there isn’t. If there isn’t, make another.”
Yes, egg size could make a difference. Recently at the store where I shop they only had “jumbo” eggs. I decided to pass on them, and waited until my next shopping trip to buy eggs, because I was worried that the jumbo eggs won’t work well in recipes.
Love the quote from the I Hate to Cook Book.
Thanks for posting these. They remind me of my grandmother’s 1906 Scottish Home Economics (aka cookbook). I often refer to in comparing recipes to today’s.
It’s fun to compare old recipes with modern ones. It’s nice to hear that you enjoyed this post.
I entered the county fair pie contest many years ago. My pie looked delicious (to me) and was a delicious peach -rhubarb. The pie that won was a cherry pie with pie crust that was white and looked like it was made from play-doh! I was very disappointed because the organizers selected the pies (8) that would be judged by the panel of celebrities. Afterward the TV weatherman saw me retrieving my pie and asked for a piece since he thought it looked better than any of the ones he tasted. I counted that as a win!
I’d call that a win, too. A peach-rhubarb pie sounds wonderful.
I think it’s great that according to the chart, flavor by far trumps everything else!
Appearance and presentation are important, but at the end of the day taste is what I really care about.
I guess we just eat our mistakes and don’t worry about perfection.
Works for me. I’ve made lots of imperfect cakes that were darn tasty.
I proudly have the red ribbon for second place for my raspberry jam. Here the town fairs still have very competitive baking contests.
Congrats! Some of the fairs around here are also very competitive.
I love this and that appearance rated lower. I am sure we all had a slice of a beautiful cake that was not good.
How true – there are some beautiful cakes that don’t taste very good.
I don’t think they pay much to wholesomeness on “The Great British Baking Show”.
Pay much attention, that is.
The show probably has other priorities.
After reading this … now I know why I prefer making cookies and pies! Cakes never were my strong point in cooking except for zucchini cake with cream cheese icing. I think the zucchini must correct all my mistakes.😁
mmm. . . I love zucchini cake with cream cheese icing. I’ll have to make one this summer when I have a plethora of zucchini.
I’m not much of a cake fan. There’s no there, there . . . as they say. If I do eat cake, I prefer one that is heavy and dense, not light and fluffy. So there you go.
There are some wonderful rich, dense cakes. This is making me think of some of the decadent chocolate cakes that restaurants sometimes served.
I’ve always avoided baking for some reason.xxx
It’s never too late to take up baking. 🙂
What is your favorite cake recipe? The Sunshine Cake looks like a winner to me and will definitely be trying that recipe!
hmm. . . I like many of the recipes, but Sunshine Cake with Orange Frosting is definitely one of my favorites. It is a delightful citrus-flavored sponge cake. Another favorite is Blueberry Buckle (Blueberry Coffee Cake).
Sounds like some good choices! 🙂