Calling all baking experts!
March 29, 2007 3:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm baking a cake on short notice. How should I substitute vanilla essence for vanilla extract? More importantly, the cake pan is a different size than is called for in the recipe, so how long and hot should I cook it?

The cake is a nice, simple Stir Crazy/Cowboy Cake, but I only have vanilla essence, not extract. This vanilla essence is made from real vanilla...I think (it's 41.5% ethanol and .8% caramel, and is the only vanilla commonly sold in Japanese supermarkets, if that helps). This link should have a correct substitution for flavor, but what about lost liquid volume? Can I just add more water/coffee to make up for it?

Also, the recipe calls for a 9x13x2" pan, but all I have is a 9" round, 1.5" deep pie pan. If I dump in enough batter to fill the pie pan, about how much should I lower the temperature and cooking time?

If this seems too nitpicky for such an easy cake, it's because I really don't know how to cook beyond boiling water and following simple recipes to the last detail. Clear, specific answers are much appreciated!
posted by Drop Daedalus to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If 2 drops of "essence" = 1/2 tsp extract, and your recipe calls for a tablespoon (3 tsp) of extract, you need 12 drops of "essence." The change in liquid volume is insignificant to the results you'll obtain, but throw in a coruple extra teaspoons of water/coffee, if you like.

The temperature of the oven should be as directed, else the cake may not rise properly. The smaller volume you'll be baking will cut the time somewhat, as a guess I'd say 20-25 minutes. You can tell if a cake is done generally by putting a toothpick or a knife into the center. When your probe comes out clean, the cake is done.
posted by paulsc at 7:08 AM on March 29, 2007

If the '2 tsp Soda' refers to baking soda or a carbonated beverage, don't 'dump in enough batter to fill'. Underfill the pan by 1/3 so there's room for the batter to rise.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:36 AM on March 29, 2007

Don't alter the temperature. You can substitute two 9-inch round pans for a 13 x 9 inch pan without a problem. Or one in your case.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:53 AM on March 29, 2007

You know what? I think the Japanese "essence" is the same as pure vanilla extract, and you should use the amount as directed. (See what your linked page refers to as British vanilla essence.) I just made angel food cupcakes using the Japanese stuff and they were great.
posted by QueSeraSera at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2007

I think this goes without saying, but don't fill the pan all the way up! Fill it about 3/4. Otherwise your cake won't bake properly and you'll have batter all over the place.
posted by Atom12 at 8:25 AM on March 29, 2007

Those small differences in liquid volume and pan volume won't affect your results significantly. Proceed as directed, but remember that cooking times are always approximate, and oven's temp can be as much as 50-60°C different from the temp you set on the dial, so you'll just have to keep an eye on it. When the top isn't real glossy and the batter doesn't jiggle when you tap the pan, you're pretty close. Be careful trying the knife in the center trick, because you can make the cake fall. A toothpick is better, but it's even better to just learn what it looks like when it's done.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:13 AM on March 29, 2007

You can also carefully touch the cake in the center...if it springs back, it's done. If a dent remains, it needs a little more time.
posted by cabingirl at 9:59 AM on March 29, 2007

Best answer: IAAPB (I am a professional baker), and here's my advice to you. It's a little over-cautious, but I think that's only safe (since you're not an experienced baker and you don't know your oven very well).

Cake directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the following substitutions in the recipe:

- Use 1 teaspoon (not tablespoon) of the vanilla essence.
- Add 2 extra teaspoons of cold water or coffee (making a total of 2 cups + 2 teaspoons).

Mix up the recipe as directed. When it comes time to fill the pan, fill it up only 2/3 of the way. Reserve the extra batter.

Put the cake in the oven and turn the timer on for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, check the cake:

- Test 1: does the top still look glossy or liquid? If so, it's not done.
- Test 2: does it jiggle when you tap the side of the pan? If so, it's not done.
- If it passes Test 1 and Test 2, take it out of the oven and stick a toothpick or wooden skewer in the middle. Does it come out clean? If not, it's not done.

If it's not done (and it almost certainly won't be), then put it back in the oven for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, test it again as described above. If it still isn't done, put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, test it again as described above. If it still isn't done, keep checking it every 5 minutes until it's done.

And a final note: if, while you're checking it, you notice that the edges are done before the middle (this is very common in home ovens), you can wrap some aluminum foil around the outside of the pan and fold it over the top. Adjust the foil so that it shields the edges of the cake (without touching the cake surface) but leaves the middle exposed.

Special muffin addendum (if you're feeling ambitious):

- As soon as you've put the cake in the oven, take the leftover batter and pour it into greased muffin tins. Only fill them up about 2/3 of the way.
- If you don't have enough batter to fill all 12 tins, fill the empty ones about 1/2 full of water.
- Put your muffins in the 350-degree oven and set (another) timer for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, check them for doneness (just like the cake). If they're not done, keep putting them back in for 5 minutes at a time until they're done.

Note: If you're not able to make the muffins right away, just throw away the batter -- don't save it for later. Because of the baking soda/vinegar combination, it must used fast. If you save it for later, it won't rise in the oven, and your baked goods will turn out flat and soggy.
posted by ourobouros at 10:49 AM on March 29, 2007

Because it's not so explicitly mentioned, a 9x13 pan is usually considered equivalent to 2 9" round pans. I'd recommend filling one with half the batter, baking, then letting the pan cool, removing the cake, then baking the other half of the batter. This would let you do a layer cake if you feel so inclined, or just do the idea for cupcakes if you'd rather.

Also, I wouldn't trust the instructions at all to leave the pan ungreased (especially if you really have a pie tin with sloped ridges, rather than a cake pan, which is straight-sided). Grease the pan lightly with shortening if you have it, then spoon in a tablespoon or so of flour, and tip/shake the pan to sift flour all over. Trying to remove cake from an ungreased pan will make you sad.
posted by artifarce at 11:46 AM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice! The consistency of the cake turned out a little odd, but it tasted fine. I'll keep the muffin idea in mind for future attempts.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 6:43 AM on March 31, 2007

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