Baking a cake without a recipe proves harder than anticipated

March 14, 2019 — by Megan Chen, Callia Yuan, and Jayne Zhou

On cooking shows like Masterchef, participants are often asked to make a dish without being given a concrete recipe or list of ingredients. Although we aren’t anywhere close to being master chefs and don’t have much cooking experience, we decided to try baking a cake without a recipe.

We got the idea from an episode of the Try Guys on Buzzfeed in which they attempted to bake a loaf of bread from memory and experience, or lack thereof.

After watching the video and seeing their successes and problems, we devised a plan to create the perfect vanilla cake without using a recipe.

We expected that between the three of us, we would have enough experience to bake a solid, edible cake. Two of us had previously baked cakes using the first recipes Google could find online, but it had been over a year since those attempts.

Our plan was to combine our knowledge from cooking videos on Facebook and common sense to figure out the essential ingredients of a cake. Although we were confident in our ingredients, we disagreed over measurements, which most likely led to the odd taste of the cake.

We settled on using flour, butter, eggs, baking soda and powder, sugar and vanilla extract, and with our ingredients listed out, we began attempting to figure out the ideal way to combine them.

First, we mixed together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder in a bowl. We didn’t want to waste too many ingredients and so decided to only make a mini 6 inch cake, adding just one cup of flour, half a cup of sugar and a teaspoon of both baking soda and baking powder.

Next came the wet ingredients: We softened one stick of butter in the microwave, put it in the bowl of dry ingredients and stirred. We also poured in an unknown amount of milk until the mixture wasn’t too flakey and put one egg in before preheating the oven.

Baking the cake was much harder than expected. Using our limited knowledge on baking a cake, we collectively decided 400 degrees Fahrenheit was an appropriate temperature. We set a timer for 15 minutes so we could check on it and make sure it didn’t burn and then add more time after. After leaving it in the oven on 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, we discovered that the outside had become dry and crispy but the inside was still soft and uncooked. Still holding on to hope, we reduced the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and put the cake back in for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes, we could see that the cake was fully cooked in the center by inserting a toothpick; the top wasn’t burned either, to our surprise. The cake had reached a golden brown color on the outside, which seemed promising. With such basic ingredients, our cake couldn’t taste that terrible, right?

Our prediction was more or less accurate; the cake tasted like a worse version of a madeleine, but the gritty texture and bitterness kept us from finishing it. Although it was a fun experience testing our knowledge, we’re probably going to stick to recipes from now on.

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