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So, over mixing batter forms gluten, which in turn hardens the cake. Fine.

The problem is that I don't want lumps in the cakes, and the above statement prevents me from fine mixing the batter. So, is there something which I can add to the batter (more milk?) to make the outcome soft despite Gluten?

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    Instead of diving right into recipe development, you might try some proven cake and pastry recipes first, such as what you would find in the Joy of Cooking. As you follow the instructions, think about why the choices are being made. Eventually the reasoning behind the techniques will start to become apparent, and you can fill the details in with the science. – Sam Ley Feb 26 '12 at 3:57
  • @SamLey Please read my comment on Aaronut's answer. Internet is full of cake receipes, how to know which is proven? :( Ah? Joy od cooking is website's name? – Aquarius_Girl Feb 26 '12 at 5:36
  • Joy of Cooking is a very widespread general cookbook in the US. And finding trusted recipes can be tough, but general methods are: buy well-known cookbooks with tested recipes, find food bloggers you like (pictures generally provide some evidence the recipe works), or go with well-reviewed recipes on big sites like allrecipes. From what you've said, I'm not sure exactly what your problem was, but if you carefully follow a good recipe, you should be fine. If you want to try to diagnose this failure, maybe show us the recipe and describe what happened in another question? – Cascabel Feb 26 '12 at 7:47
  • @Jefromi Actually, the recipe said - do NOT mix finely, so I made very less efforts in mixing. – Aquarius_Girl Feb 26 '12 at 8:08
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    It sounds like you barely mixed the batter at all. Yes, you should see lumps in the batter, but pea-sized lumps, not golf balls. When the recipe says not to overmix, it just means don't mix it all the way into a smooth slurry. – Aaronut Feb 26 '12 at 13:03
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Milk won't help you - it's mostly water, and gluten develops from flour (more accurately, specific proteins in flour) and water.

The way to reduce gluten development is to incorporate more fat into the batter. Lipids are hydrophobic and will prevent further hydration of the glutenin.

Using a lower-protein flour will also help. If you're not already using cake flour, the reason it's called cake flour is because of the lower protein content.

That being said, have you actually tried leaving the batter coarse? Just because the batter is lumpy does not mean that the cake will have big lumps. The entire mixture is wet, so unless you leave huge lumps of dry flour in the batter, you won't end up with a lumpy cake. There's a difference between "don't overmix" and "don't mix" - you're supposed to mix enough to incorporate, just don't try homogenize it.

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    +1. Sugar also inhibits the formation of gluten. – Sam Ley Feb 26 '12 at 3:55
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    Gluten would cause the cake to 'chewy' not wet. Not, you don't need to mix it fast to avoid gluten, just mix it till its incorporated like that said. – rfusca Feb 26 '12 at 6:14
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    @Anisha - gluten and wet cake are unrelated. Wet cake would come from vastly undermixing or underbaking. – rfusca Feb 26 '12 at 6:44
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    @AnishaKaul: Overmixing, like overbaking, will give the cake elasticity due to gluten development, much like a regular bread texture. Cakes are supposed to be moist, and increasing the fat will generally make it more so. If you prefer a completely dry texture, I guess that's fine, but most people don't, and most recipes are geared toward not drying it out. However, if you have actual "wet" spots and "dry" spots then you probably misinterpreted the phrase "lumps" and didn't actually incorporate the ingredients properly; a cake is supposed to be moist, but still uniform. – Aaronut Feb 26 '12 at 12:56
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    Sugar has a similar effect as fat, as @SamLey says, but it must be added to the wet ingredients, not dry. – Aaronut Feb 26 '12 at 12:59
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Acid inhibits gluten formation, so it's possible that incorporating an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice will tenderize the cake.

This will definitely force you to experiment and adjust your recipe, however, since the acid will also interact with other ingredients, most notably leavening.

More acid means more reaction with baking soda/powder, which might lead to a collapsed cake (if too much carbon dioxide is produced before the batter has time to set up in the oven).

It will also, obviously, have an effect on flavor. Given enough of the acidic ingredient, its own flavor might even become too prominent.

It should be noted, though (as Aaronut already mentioned) that cake batter just needs to be mixed until all the ingredients are combined. As long as you have no pockets of dry ingredients, your cake should bake perfectly well.

  • btw, your answer was quite helpful. Can't select two answer unfortunately, but. – Aquarius_Girl Feb 26 '12 at 10:55
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Heat can also denature the proteins that form gluten. Toasting the flour and/or adding boiling hot liquid at some early phase of mixing are both known to have a perceivable effect (not AFTER the gluten is developed - heating that will cook the finished gluten just as it will happen in a bread).

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Time. You can try adding time.

So, one of the things mixing really needs to do is equalize the moisture - mix the dry into the wet ingredients, so the batter is (mostly) uniform instead of pockets of drier flour in swimming in liquid. Mixing the ingredients about does this quite well, but it can also develop gluten if you mix it too much or too fiercely, which seems to be the problem you're having.

Letting the wet ingredients sit with the dry should let everything get moist and hydrated before you finish mixing it, and so the same amount of mixing should end up with a more uniform product - especially if you stir together roughly, let it sit for the lumps to moisten, then finish mixing into a fairly smooth batter.

It is also a lot easier to mix ingredients if everything is closer to the same consistency, like adding two dry or two moist ingredients together - and after absorbing a bit, the flour should be looser and moister, the liquids should be thicker because some has absorbed into the flour, and everything should stir together much more smoothly instead of sliding past each other. You may still get little lumps, but they should be little wet lumps of batter that will smooth out with heat and time while baking, not big pockets of dry flour that would leave the finished cake lumpy and wet and undermixed... and certainly not overdeveloped gluten to make the cake tough.

It's worth noting that gluten is not the enemy, by the way. It gives some structure and helps catch the bubbles that make your cake rise. You don't want a lot, granted, if you want a cake that's soft instead of chewy - but if having none was better, cakes made with actual gluten-free flours would be so much more popular than (wheat) cake flour. Also, it actually takes some doing to develop serious gluten (lots of proteins sliding past each other and snagging), so smoothly mixing your batter to a mostly uniform consistency and avoiding lumpy cake shouldn't be a problem, spending a lot of extra mixing time furiously trying to smooth out every little lump may be too much.

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