The secrets of successful baking
26 Oct 2017
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Simple-to-follow tips and advice for making your cakes turn out perfectly time after time.
Lining the tin
Some cake mixes are loose and can run; others may burn and many will stick. Lining solves all these problems.
To save time and hassle use silicone baking liners, which actually protect cakes better than traditional baking parchment. They come in all shapes and sizes and are really worth the investment as they can be washed in a dishwasher and used repeatedly.
Try Bake-O-Glide, from good cookshops or from bakeoglide.kitchen
Flour tips for a light sponge
Always sift the flour. Recipes don’t always bother specifying this (often because there’s not enough space on the page), but if you want a light, airy cake then sift the flour using a fine sieve or sifter.
Use the best eggs
It pays to buy the best-quality eggs you can afford – rather than skimping and buying the cheapest because you think no one will notice. In a very simple recipe such as a sponge, good ingredients make all the difference and quality eggs, preferably free-range, produce a more flavoursome result.
When adding eggs to a mixture it’s best to beat them gently with a fork first.
Break them one by one into an empty bowl rather than into the main mixing bowl itself – that way it’s easier to remove any unwanted yolk/white or shell.
Then add them slowly in to the cake mixture to prevent curdling (splitting). If the mixture does curdle, add a little flour. Curdling won’t affect the taste but may make the cake a bit heavier and grainier.
Know your oven
Some ovens have hotter backs than fronts, some cook faster on the right than the left, so get to know your oven. Temperature gauges can be unreliable, too, so learn to understand yours.
Always preheat the oven to baking temperature before putting in your cake.
A fan oven is hotter than a standard oven, so reduce the recipe temperature given for a conventional oven by 20C.
Be careful when opening and closing the oven door: slamming can cause cake collapse. And avoid doing so when a bake is rising.
Take ingredients out of the fridge
Unless a recipe states that you should start with something chilled – butter, for example – ensure all ingredients are at room temperature. This is particularly important with eggs. If you want to warm fridge-cold eggs, simply put them in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for ten minutes.
Soften butter in a microwave if necessary on low for 10-20 secs, cutting it into small cubes first.
These are a boon but over-mixing can spoil a cake. Don’t whisk too fast for too long. Whisking adds air but over-whisking breaks the bubbles, leading to a heavy cake.
Let bakes cool gently on a wire rack, allowing air to circulate. Cooling them too quickly spoils the texture.
Testing to see whether the cake is done
When it’s ready, a bake often comes away very slightly from the sides of a tin. Very gently press the top – it should have a little give but feel firm. Insert a metal skewer into the centre of a cake. If it comes out clean the cake is done – bear in mind, though, that the test may be less reliable with a cake containing fresh fruit or other moist ingredients.
Run out of self-raising flour?
Self-raising flour is plain flour with added baking powder. If you’ve run out, simply add 2 level teaspoons baking powder to 225g (8oz) plain flour.
Butter or margarine?
Butter is best in a cake mixture but margarine does give airy bakes. If using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the flour.
Using oils in cake recipes
Some recipes – carrot cake, for example – call for a vegetable oil. Always be careful about which you use. You don’t want to actually taste the oil, so avoid using extra virgin olive oil. Oil-based cakes are heavier.
The secret to successful scones
Few recipes will tell you this, but when cutting out your scones from the dough make sure not to twist the cutter. Instead, pull the cutter up straight. Twisting the dough prevents a successful rise. Before cutting, dip the cutter in flour to prevent it from sticking.
Some cakes, such as Christmas cakes, last well. Other lighter cakes tend to taste better eaten soon. It is worth investing in a proper cake carrier if you need to transport them.
For a cream-cheese frosting, use a good-quality cream cheese. Do not over-beat or the frosting will become too wet.
Which type of sugar
Use caster, not granulated, as the smaller grains dissolve faster, helping to preserve the precious air bubbles.
Trouble shooting 1
If the top of your bake is burning but is not ready to come out of the oven, gently lay a sheet of baking paper or foil over the top.
Trouble shooting 2
If the top of the cake has cracked (from too high an oven temperature), turn it over or ice over the cracks. No one will know.
Trouble shooting 3
If the middle of a cake has fallen, fill it with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
Simple scones recipe
- 225g (8oz) self-raising white flour
- 1 level teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 40g (1½oz) cold butter
- ¼ pint milk
- 1 beaten egg or extra milk
Preheat the oven to 220C/200fan/gas 7 and butter a baking tray.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
Add cold butter cut into small cubes and rub between fingertips until the mix is like breadcrumbs. Then add milk and mix to create a soft dough.
Roll the mixture out to 2cm (¾in) thick, then cut out scones with a 5cm (2in) cutter. Brush tops with beaten egg or milk .
Bake for 12 or so minutes until risen and tops are golden. Cool on a wire rack.
If you’ve no time and no inclination to bake from scratch, you can still have fun conjuring up cakes with grandchildren. Indeed, you will seriously impress with this cheat!
Buy two or three simple chocolate sponge cakes, a couple of tubs of ready-made chocolate fudge icing and some small sweets to decorate (Smarties, Jelly Tots etc).
Pile the cakes one on top of another, sticking them together with some icing. Then spread a good thick layer of icing all over the cake stack. Leave this rough or smooth it down, whichever you prefer. Then decorate with sweets. Couldn’t be simpler.
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