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