Baking Tips and Tricks…

16Sep07

Baking can be quite overwhelming at first. When you start getting into it, you may burn a few lots of cookies, a cake or two may come out a bit flat or it just doesn’t taste right. I first started baking when I was around 13 and it’s taken me a while to get the hang of it. After years and years of experimentation and many, many, many disasters, I’ve been able to learn a few nifty tips to make it all an easier, and enjoyable, process. I still do have my bad days when things fail miserably, but it’s all a learning curve. The more you bake, the better you become!

I am in no way a baking expert or culinary genius, but I’ve listed a few pointers which might help in making you (yes, you!) a better baker!

EQUIPMENT

  • Necessary equipment: assorted tins/trays, measuring cups/spoons/jug, scales, spatula, whisk, sieve, non-stick baking paper, mixing bowls, cooling rack.
  • Non-stick baking pans tend to create a darker crust on cakes. Best to use these tins for cheesecakes, especially springform ones. Non-stick muffin trays are excellent too.
  • For cakes and slices, I use aluminium baking tins, I find they conduct heat better and work best.
  • Look after your equipment, especially your appliances. They will last longer!

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INGREDIENTS

  • Don’t be a tightarse. Use the best ingredients you can buy and you will notice a difference in taste! I always use good quality chocolate (not the nasty compound stuff), fresh spices, fresh fruit (the only approved frozen fruits are berries), fresh eggs and always buy the nuts on the day I need them.
  • Use vanilla extract, not its unwanted cousin: vanilla essence. Vanilla beans are the even better option, but are very expensive (I only use them when I have cash to splash). Extract is good enough.
  • Use caster sugar, not the regular sugar you use in your tea/coffee. Caster/superfine sugar is more refined, dissolves more easily and doesn’t create that grainy texture.
  • Use butter. Never margarine. Only butter. Unsalted. Full-fat. Artery hardening. Cholesterol increasing. Always. Mmmm, butter…

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PREPARATION

  • Always read a recipe in full before attempting to put it all together, making sure you have the correct equipment and ingredients.
  • All ingredients should be at room temperature before you begin (this mainly applies to butter and eggs – unless you keep your flour or sugar in the fridge. You freak).
  • You must always sift your dry ingredients to avoid lumps.
  • A spatula is your best friend. Regularly scrape the sides of the bowl during mixing.
  • If you are time-poor, you can soften butter in the microwave. Cut it into large chunks and blitz it in the microwave on 15 second bursts on medium-power. You want it soft, not melted!
  • It can be tricky spreading batter into a tin when the baking paper is sliding about (this occurs when there is not enough grease holding the paper in place. If it’s too late to add more grease (i.e. half the batter is already in the tin), use wooden clothes pegs to hold it in place while you spread (just don’t forget to remove them when you place it in the oven!)
  • If using berries in baking, dust them with a spoonful of flour before adding to the mixture. This helps to prevent bleeding into the batter.
  • When mixing, gently fold the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. You don’t want to lose all that precious air which makes your cake rise.
  • When trimming pastry, use smooth, downward strokes with your knife (as my best pastry friend Bec used to tell me, “Be graceful, Linda. Be graceful”).
  • Always grease and line your baking tin. I prefer to use canola spray and non-stick baking paper and this works well for round tins, square/rectangular tins and trays. For odd shaped tins such a muffin tray, I use paper liners. For a ring, Bundt or Kugelhopf tin, I grease with butter and dust the insides with flour (if it is a chocolate cake, I would replace the flour with cocoa powder).

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BAKING

  • Always preheat your oven (no-one likes a cold oven).
  • When placing the prepared tin/tray in the oven, position it as close to the centre of the oven as possible. This allows optimum air circulation.
  • Always use a timer when your baked goodies are in the oven. A few minutes too long can result in burnt cookies or tough cake! (I’ve been there before!)
  • If your cake is ready, the sides should have slightly shrunk from the edges. Also, test your cake by inserting a skewer in the centre . If it comes out clean, it’s ready!
  • Cookies are tricky ones. It entirely depends on the recipe, but if you like them chewy, remove the cookies from the tray as soon as they are out of the oven. If you like them crunchy, bake them for a bit longer and leave them on the tray to cool.
  • Remove cookies from a baking tray with a fish slice so that you don’t break them in transit.
  • Always cool your cakes on a wire rack. Depending on your recipe, if you leave the cake to cool in the tin, it may go soggy.
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One Response to “Baking Tips and Tricks…”

  1. 1 tangela

    “All ingredients should be at room temperature before you begin (this mainly applies to butter and eggs – unless you keep your flour or sugar in the fridge. You freak).”

    I actually keep my flour in the fridge (or freezer, if there’s enough space) because I’ve read that it’s good for long term storage…


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