- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

For most singles or twosomes, baking a cake means tearing open a package and following the directions. Baking, according to the excuse, is too time-consuming a craft for just one or two.

Linda West Eckhardt is out to eliminate all obstacles to making a delicious cake from scratch. Even if you’re time-pressed or trying to avoid kitchen temptations, Miss Eckhardt will motivate you.

The long-time baker is a master at getting to the heart of what makes a recipe successful, so you get great results in less time.

Cakes are her current crusade, and she has two tips to pass along: Bake at a high temperature and in shiny aluminum pans.

“I met a baker from a supermarket a couple of years ago and asked how he got consistent fine cakes. He said to bake at 400 degrees for a better crust and better crumb,” says Miss Eckhardt, author of “Cakes From Scratch in Half the Time” (Chronicle Books).

The temperature is 50 to 75 degrees higher than in conventional recipes. According to Miss Eckhardt, the lower temperatures traditionally have been used because they’re foolproof.

“Home cooks weren’t trusted to not burn the cake,” Miss Eckhardt says. The higher temperature actually yields better results, according to the cookbook author.

Professional bakers like the higher temperature because they can shave 10 minutes or more off each cake. You can, too.

Temperature is half the secret. The second is the pan. “Shiny aluminum gives you layers you can sail across the room. They’re light without a hump in the center,” Miss Eckhardt says.

As for having more cake than you need as part of a small household, the author also has an answer for that: “Cakes freeze very well because of the high fat content. You can make a cake and freeze half.”

If you’re still wary about baking, try the mocha fudge chip pudding cake from Miss Eckhardt’s book. This gooey, rich dessert is foolproof and addictive.

Mocha fudge chip pudding cake

1/4 cup (½ stick) soft, unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ cup half-and-half

1 cup sifted cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

½ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, divided

1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

13/4 cups freshly brewed espresso or other strong coffee

Vanilla ice cream

Place butter in a glass bowl and microwave on high until melted, about 45 seconds. Remove and add vanilla and half-and-half. Stir and set aside. Sift flour, baking powder, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and 1/4 cup cocoa powder into a bowl.

Toss in chocolate chips and walnuts. Pour in butter mixture. Mix well with a rubber spatula. Spray a 9-inch square pan with an oil-and-flour nonstick spray. Spread the (crumbly, not wet) batter into the pan. Combine brown sugar, remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and remaining 1/4 cup cocoa powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle over cake batter.

Pour hot espresso or coffee over sugar layer. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until top is set and bottom mixture is bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Makes 6 servings.

Note: To serve leftovers, spoon into a bowl, partially cover with plastic wrap, and heat in microwave on medium for 30 seconds or longer to desired temperature.

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