I do a lot of baking. It’s therapeutic, satisfying, relaxing, and the results are a lovely thing to give to people to make them feel special. The Great British Bake-Off has got lots of people interesting in baking, but for some reason, lots of people still seem to struggle with it! So I thought I’d share some of my tips to make life a bit easier in the kitchen. If you have any great tips to add to the list, leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list!
1. Use tin liners to save the bother of greasing tins
These are a godsend. Rather than faffing around greasing your tins using kitchen roll and butter, you can buy tin liners of all shapes and sizes from the ever-briliant Lakeland. This enables you to lift the cake straight out of the tin, with none of the trauma of bits of it sticking to the tin.
2. A well-stocked cupboard
I’ll cover this in a separate post, but for now I’ll just say that it’s a good idea to keep a well-stocked cupboard so that you always have ingredients to hand for impromptu baking. Staples include different kinds of flour and sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, vanilla essence and so on. In the fridge, unsalted butter is my most-used ingredient.
3. Read the recipe in its entirety first
Before making a recipe for the first time, read it through from beginning to end. This will alert you to anything that can be prepared in advance to make the process easier – such as taking butter out the fridge to give it a chance to soften up before creaming it with sugar for a Victoria sponge.
4. Invest in a good set of scales
You have to be very precise in baking. I use these beautiful old balancing scales, which work surprisingly well. Electronic ones are fine too, of course.
5. Invest in some measuring spoons
This is vital because teaspoons, dessert spoons and tablespoons come in all different shapes and it’s impossible to be precise, especially when you’re not sure how heaped it should be. Use measuring spoons for greater precision for things like baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, as even a little too much or too little of these substances can change the result quite dramatically. For example, a little bit too much baking powder and your banana bread will spill over the side of your tin! I also have measuring cups for recipes that use US measurements.
6. If the recipe says use butter, use butter
Do not attempt to substitute butter with Flora. I have tried it and the result was a dismal failure! For some reason it produces a runnier cake mixture which then doesn’t rise properly, and you end up with a horrid soggy mush.
7. Have assorted sizes of Tupperware containers in your cupboards at all times
How many times have you baked something and then realised you don’t have anywhere to put it? Tupperware containers are a very useful addition to your kitchen cupboards. For loaf cakes, I invert my Tupperware container so that the cake sits on the lid and the main container acts as the cover.
8. Always melt chocolate in a separate container over boiling water
Don’t melt chocolate straight in the pan, unless you’re mixing it with milk. Put it in another dish and put that dish over a pan of boiling water and you’ll get a much smoother result.
9. There are some things in the recipe that can’t be messed with
As already mentioned, baking involves being precise with certain quantities, so it’s often harder to be casual with ingredients like you can be in other cooking. The secret lies in knowing what you can and can’t mess with in a recipe. For example, it’s fine to leave out nuts, fruit etc if you don’t like them, but never mess with the quantities of flour, eggs, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda or the proportion of dry to wet ingredients.
10. Always set the timer for less time than it says on the recipe
When you bake regularly you’ll get to know your own oven, but until then, it’s highly advisable to set your timer for significantly less time than it says in the recipe to avoid burning your baking. If the recipe says 15 minutes, set it for 10 and see how it’s looking. You can often tell just by looking whether it’s done or not, but you can also test cakes with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean but it’s had five minutes less than the prescribed time, it’s probably done. Similarly, if it has been in the oven for the full amount of time, but clearly isn’t done, keep it in longer and keep checking on it until it is. It’s just common sense really, but cooking times trip up a lot of amateur bakers.
11. Make notes in your cookbooks
I highly recommend annotating your cookbooks so that you learn from previous attempts. For example, if you found that in your oven, the cook time was an hour while the recipe says 45 minutes, write it down or you will probably forget, and it’ll be like starting from scratch every time. If you experiment with ingredients, write down the results so that you know what works well and what to avoid next time.
Do you have any baking tips to share? If so, leave a comment below and I’ll add them to this list!