Banish Dry Cake With This Easy Pastry Chef Trick (2024)

POV: You spend four hours baking a three-layer cake for your best friend’s birthday. You and your friends are all gathered around the dining room table in awe of your culinary attempt. You cut slices for everyone and dig your fork in, only to find out your cake is firm and dry because you’ve overbaked it. You look at the rest of your piece of cake sitting on your plate in disappointment and embarrassment, while your friends eat in awkward silence.

Let’s avoid this entire situation. Let me introduce you to the cake soak. The technique itself involves a light brushing of a flavorful liquid over the cake’s surface after it’s baked. When you do this, the cake integrates moisture and flavor, and the sweetened liquid helps preserve the cake’s freshness, so a slice can taste just as delicious a couple days after baking. The cake soak can be a solution for overmixed, bland, overbaked cakes, or an upgrade to any go-to recipe that you thought couldn’t get any better.

The technique is used by professionals like the award-winning pastry chef of New York’s Flora Bar and Café Altro Paradiso, Natasha Pickowicz, who adds a prosecco soak to her cake layers, and cookbook author Claire Saffitz, who uses a honey almond syrup to perk up layers of brioche in a tarte Tropézienne in Dessert Person. And in French home baking, this technique is completely classic.

In her new cookbook, Gâteau, Aleksandra Crapanzano features an array of easy French cake recipes that showcase this technique in all its glory. Crapanzano shares that as a kid growing up in Paris, she would go to pâtisseries after school and see tall slices of five-layer genoise cake with buttercream. “I never intended to make them professionally, but I was always struck by how incredibly moist these layers were, even if they sat cut all day,” she says. Crapanzano shares that those cakes were able to maintain their moist interior with the help of the soak, and she describes cakes as a “blank canvas” before you brush it with paint to create something special.

Banish Dry Cake With This Easy Pastry Chef Trick (1)

Gateau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes

by Aleksandra Crapanzano

You can use any number of flavorful liquids for this, including milk, coffee, fruit juice, alcohol, and most commonly, simple syrup. And Crapanzano suggests that if you’ve ever made a co*cktail with a simple syrup, you’re practically an expert at this technique. The process of cake soaking includes heating up a combination of liquid and sweetener, letting this thicken, and then infusing this amalgam with flavor. You might tinge the syrup with juice, zest, tea, herbs, liquor, or spices. Crapanzano points to the endless possibilities, including saffron, rose, Earl Grey, orange blossom, and many more.

In Crapanzano’s Gâteau au Chocolat-Menthe, chocolate genoise cake is soaked with a fresh mint–infused syrup. Crapanzano explains that genoise cakes are actually intended to be somewhat dry and simple in flavor because the cakes are a “vehicle for infusion” as opposed to being a stand-alone. The soak, then, really becomes an integral component of the cake. Crapanzano’s book also features a plain genoise brushed with a cassis soaking syrup and topped with a crème de cassis Chantilly. But genoise isn’t the only cake that loves a soak: She also shares a yogurt cake drizzled with a mixture of Grand Marnier and orange juice.

While the art of the cake soak is easy to pull off, it’s important to get the temperature of the liquid just right. Once your liquid is gently heated, let it cool before applying the soak. Crapanzano advises never introducing anything with a scorching-hot temperature or it might alter the structure of the cake.

Banish Dry Cake With This Easy Pastry Chef Trick (2024)
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