I love to bake. Endless meal preparation wearies me, but baking I could happily do all day. Whilst some endeavours are a tadge tricky, much of baking consists almost entirely of reading instructions and following them closely, but I am very often asked by very clever friends how I have managed to make something, which really was no more taxing than an upper key stage 2 comprehension exercise.
Experience does make things easier, of course, though: here are a few things that, if you’re new to baking you might not know and may be of use.
- Different bakers use different ways of knowing when something is cooked – my mum listens to her cakes (literally, not metaphorically) and swears she can tell this way, others use a cake tester – I pretty much just always press the centre of the top lightly with my finger and see if it springs back. If it does, then it’s done. This won’t work for things that don’t rise, like brownies or cheesecakes: in these cases you’ll have to assess the wobble and hold your nerve. Remember hot things will carry on cooking for a little bit even when out of the oven, so err on the side of under- rather than over-.
- Greasing the tin is really important, don’t miss it out. Butter, Stork or a flavourless oil can all be used, or this magical spray. I love it. Sometimes the tin will need to be lined instead (the recipe will tell you). If it’s something that’s going to look fancy, then you’ll have to carefully measure and cut out the paper to fit the base, and maybe the sides too. If it’s something a bit more ‘rustic’ (rough and ready: i.e. everything I ever make) then scrunching up the greaseproof first and then smoothing it into the shape of the tin will work fine and is much easier.
- If you don’t have self raising flour in, you can easily make it from mixing 2tsps of baking powder into every 150g of flour you’re using. If baking is likely to be a rare occurence, then keeping just these in will save room in your cupboards.
- Cream should be very cold to be whipped. If you overwhip it – the work of a second’s distraction – it can often be rescued by splashing in a tiny amount of milk and whisking it in gently.
- Most recipes will advise using good quality chocolate. Those classier than me may be appalled, but I use Aldi chocolate that is 30p for a 100g bar in practically everything I make and nobody has ever complained (to my face). I pretty much always add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of coffee powder to the mix, which seems to bring out the flavour. Using lovely Lindt chocolate certainly won’t do any harm, but it’ll really ramp up the cost.
- Stork, or other home brand baking margarine, indeed, is perfectly fine in sponges. I imagine there’s stuff in it that’s less good for you than butter, but it will taste fine and generally gives a lighter result. It’s super handy because it doesn’t need to be softened before use and keeps for ages in the fridge. Don’t even consider using it for biscuits, flapjacks or brownies though; anything where the taste of the butter is a feature. Just don’t.
- Cake tins can be expensive, but now, there is a better selection than ever at really good prices. TKMaxx is good for a wide variety, should you have a hankering for a Bundt mould or a madeleine tin, but for basics, check out places like Home Bargains. I recently bought a Jane Asher tin from there for about £4 and the quality was not noticeably poorer than those I paid about £12 for in Lakeland.
- I love my stand mixer but they’re expensive and take up a lot of space in the kitchen. If you’re contemplating any sort of regular baking I would suggest getting a hand mixer. The Independent reckoned this Bosch one was the best buy (approx £30) but you could get something decent for about £20. For undertakings such as buttercream or meringue it will save a lot of arm ache and limit disappointment.
- Generally, ingredients should be at room temperature before starting. I whizz milk in the microwave for 30 secs or so – you can do this with butter, but it’s a risky business. Putting it into a sandwich bag in some warmish water can work. Eggs, likewise, without the need for the bag. Cream cheese will need to be left out on the worktop for a few hours.
- Golden syrup and black treacle are devilish to work with. Putting the tin or squeezy bottle into some hot water and using a measuring spoon coated in a flavourless oil are the best advice I can give. I think you’ll pretty much have to accept that the treacle tin will leave a trail of sticky brown rings in its wake for the rest of its life.
If you fancy trying baking something very straightforward, check out these posts:
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