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I haven't baked anything for over a decade. But the other day I decided to have a go at doing a Victoria sponge. As a result, I now have lots of questions. But I'll try to keep things focused.

All the recipies I've found are slightly different, but they all say essentially the same thing: Measure identical quantities of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Cream the butter and sugar together. Sift the flour, beat the eggs. Alternate between adding egg and adding flour until everything has been added.

The recipe suggests cooking for 20 minutes at 180°C. A similar recipe for fairy cakes suggests cooking for 8 to 10 minutes at 180°C. (Presumably fairy cakes, being smaller, cook through more quickly.)

So far, so good. The only trouble is... the cooking times seem to be miles off.

I tried cooking a large sponge. After 20 minutes, I pulled the tray out of the oven to take a look. The surface was dry, but given the way the whole cake was rippling, it was clearly just a thin skin over a fully liquid centre. The cake was actually cooked after a about 1 hour and 20 minutes. In other words, it took about 4 times longer to cook than the recipe says.

Similarly, when I made fairy cakes, they cook roughly an hour to cook.

Obviously cooking times are a guideline. All sorts of variables affect how long a given item will actually take to cook. But is it usual for something to require 4x as long as the recipe says? What might cause that?

(In case it matters, this is a gas oven. It's not fan-assisted or anything. And I'm placing the tray near but not at the top.)

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Gas ovens are generally the least reliable temperature-wise. Get an oven thermometer and check your oven is actually at the required temperature. My electric oven is always 30ºC under what I set the dial to. –  ElendilTheTall Jul 18 '12 at 12:40
    
Where is the heat? If it is heating from below only (very bad constellation for cakes), and you are baking in the upper part, you are keeping the temperature way too low, even in case your temperature setting is correct (which usually isn't the case, see also Elendil's comment). –  rumtscho Jul 18 '12 at 16:14
    
@rumtscho Small gas flame at the back of the oven, at the bottom. –  MathematicalOrchid Jul 18 '12 at 17:11
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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

A couple things:

  • Unless the recipe (or experience) says otherwise, place items in the middle. Putting something higher in a conventional (non-convection) oven should make the top cook quicker than the bottom. This may account for the top drying out when the rest isn't done yet.
  • As @ElendilTheTall says, check your oven temperature. Your oven is probably running much lower than it should be. On most ovens, you can adjust the dial so its right.
  • Make sure you're using the same size (and material) pan as the recipe. Thicker cakes take longer to cook, and some pan materials are slower than others.

I looked up several recipes, and all gave times under 30 minutes.

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OK. We have a thermometer somewhere. Plus, using the middle shelf should let me watch the cake without needing to open the door, which I gather is a "bad" thing to do. –  MathematicalOrchid Jul 18 '12 at 17:06
    
@MathematicalOrchid well, every time you open the door, you let heat out. This heats up the kitchen even more, definitely a bad thing in the summer :-) If you're doing it often, the oven will struggle to maintain its temperature, which will result in the gas being on constantly, and probably burn the bottom of the cake. –  derobert Jul 18 '12 at 17:10
    
OK, so clearly you don't want to be flapping the door constantly. But some sources I've read suggest that opening the door even once will "instantly" ruin the cake. Is that actually true? –  MathematicalOrchid Jul 18 '12 at 17:12
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@MathematicalOrchid Maybe on some very finicky recipes. The sudden loss of heat can cause collapse. But if a cake were that delicate, I'd expect it to randomly fail half the time anyway. Assuming you're gentle with the door, peeking once or twice isn't really a problem. –  derobert Jul 18 '12 at 17:25
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You say "skin over a fully liquid cake". When I make sponge, the batter is never really liquid - it's heavy, gloopy, it oozes over the bottom of the cake pan. If your cake mix is really liquid, maybe you have too many eggs in it.

I use three eggs for 125g each of butter, sugar and flour (and my sister tells me off for making it too eggy). It cooks in about 20-25 mins at 180C.

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Theoretically this could be a problem. In this case, the OP states that he follows a traditional recipe of 1:1:1:1 ratio, so less eggs than you (you can calculate with 55 g per M size egg, 60 g per L size). –  rumtscho Jul 20 '12 at 15:05
    
@rumtscho: The OP's description of the recipe didn't seem to match their description of the batter, which is why I mentioned it. I agree, the traditional "pound cake" recipe has less egg in it than mine. –  TarkaDaal Jul 20 '12 at 15:18
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Maybe the recipe is ment to be two cakes? A lot of sponge cakes call for the batter to be divided into two tins and sandwiched together at the end. That will dramatically change the cooking time. Ps. fairy cakes are like cupcakes or small muffins

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The baking instructions might have been geared toward a convection oven or some other kind of specialty oven. Things tend to bake much more quickly in a convection oven.

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Did they have those in the 1940s? I thought they were a fairly recent invention... –  MathematicalOrchid Jul 18 '12 at 17:03
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