It’s a question I get asked a lot, do good quality ingredients make a difference? the simple answer is yes, but saying that if its homemade regardless of the ingredients you use, it will always be far better than shop bought and mass produced.
Firstly, you will know what is in your homemade cakes, they won’t contain lots of chemicals, E numbers and preservatives, I know that means they won’t last as long but lets be honest when does homemade cake last long in your house anyway, it certainly doesn’t last long with my gang.
There are always 2 good reasons for using good quality ingredients, the first being the taste and the success of your bake and the 2nd supporting local food suppliers. For examples using a good quality dark chocolate for a chocolate brownie recipe with give you a better result than a cheaper lower percentage chocolate.
Staple ingredients such as flour, sugar, butter and eggs are a good start to look at. I’m lucky enough to have a local supplier of eggs who keeps a flock of free roaming hens and delivers eggs to me on my baking days, so they are hours old rather than a few weeks. You can always tell a cake that has used very fresh free range eggs, the sponge will be a lovely yellow colour rather than pale looking. Using fresh eggs gives a really moist cake with a much better texture. I know not everyone will have a handy egg man like me, but most of us live not too far away from a farm shop or do a little research as there is probably someone in your area who delivers eggs. I you change one thing, eggs is what I would go with.
Moving on the dry ingredients, there is an array of flours on the market and it can be hard to work out what is best. I buy a flour that has been pre-sifted or a flour that is especially formulated for sponges. If you are lucky enough to live near a flour mill, they will often produce a cake makers grade flour but a brand such as McDougalls or Homepride both produce pre-sifted flour.
Sugar is somewhere you can really make a difference, for cakes you generally use caster sugar which has a finer grain than granulated sugar. There is also another big difference with sugar, and that is whether it is made from beet or cane. For baking cane sugar is best by far, the refining process has much less stages and is a purer sugar. Most sugar packs will say if it is cane sugar but certain brands use cane such as Tate and Lyle whereas Silver Spoon use beet sugar.
Margarine, it doesn’t make a huge difference on the quality you use, but butter for the buttercream does, I use Lurpak unsalted butter, it is a lot more expensive but once you taste buttercream made with Lurpak you will taste the difference, it doesn’t have that sickly sweet taste and makes a much lighter and fluffier buttercream.
Any cakes where I need jams, curds or fresh fruit I buy local, not only does it taste far better than mass manufactured products but I’m supporting local businesses and food suppliers, so a win win. All my fresh berries during the summer come from a local PYO farm so from plant to cake within hours, you can’t get fresher than that.
My advice is not to try to make all the changes at once, focus on one ingredient. Also try different brands just because someone likes a particular product you might have more success with a different one. Baking is all about experimenting and recipe testing is a huge part of my job.
So going back to my original question, do good quality ingredients make a difference? yes they certainly can. I hope this helps and you will see the difference in your cakes.