I’ve been meaning to put up a post on this mixing method for quite some time. But lazy me, I’ve never gotten around to it. Reader Tim recently encouraged me to get after it, since he wanted to know the difference between my yellow cake recipe and some of the more standard yellow cake recipes that employ the creaming method. If the creaming method is the “go-to” method for most cake bakers, why turn around and do something so odd and suspicious?
The short answer is: texture. But let’s back up a bit and talk about what exactly the “one bowl method” is. It’s a mixing method that’s used mostly for cakes, though I also employ it in my cake doughnut recipe (not much of a stretch, is it?). In a nutshell, it involves mixing the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer, then adding the softened fat plus a little of the liquid. All that is mixed together until the dry ingredients are well coated with fat. Then the remainder of the liquid goes in along with the beaten eggs and flavoring and…done! It’s a little like the biscuit method, but with more thorough blending and more agitation.
Like the biscuit method, the one bowl method eschews any actual bubble-making. Whereas the creaming method relies on the tag-team effort of both mechanical and chemical leavening, the one-bowl method is an all-chemical affair. And indeed, most one-bowl method cakes call for a good deal more baking powder than standard cake recipes. Despite that, they don’t have a taste that’s any more “chemical” than a creaming method cake.
So then what does the one bowl method accomplish? As I mentioned, it coats the dry ingredients — notably the flour — with fat. This has the effect of severely limiting the amount of activated gluten in the batter (the gluten molecules can’t get hold of one another with a coating of fat in the way). Indeed you usually beat the heck out of one-bowl method batters in order to GET some activated gluten. A cake needs at least a little structure, after all. Otherwise it wouldn’t rise at all.
Those of you who already understand the role gluten plays in baked good can probably already see what the upshot of this method is. It creates a cake that’s melt-in-the-mouth, almost fall-apart tender. Severely limited gluten begets a cake you barely have to chew at all. It’s moist, it’s silky, it’s rich on the tongue.
So if the one bowl method gives you a result that’s that wonderful, why doesn’t everybody use it for cake? Well because one bowl cakes are a little dense for some people. Also, one bowl layers, being as tender as they are, are terrible for stacking. Oh you can make a layer cake out of them, but even with wooden supports, one-bowl method cake layers start to collapse under their own weight after three stories or so.
So the next time you’re at a wedding, look closely at the cake. Is it tall and sculpted? Then the layers are probably creaming-method layers: sweet and light but probably also rather tough. If the cake is wide and low, the layers were probably made via the one-bowl method. You’re in for a richer, more silky experience. Which is better? It’s an individual judgement call. Though I talk a good game about not being “into” very moist cake, I prefer the tenderness of a one bowl method cake. ‘Course I won’t turn down creaming method cake, either. Have any handy?