As we are slowly emerging from the coronavirus lockdown, I'm wondering how you've all been getting along. With all the extra free time on your hands I know that many of you have been baking at home and judging by some of the pictures I've seen and the questions I've received, a few of you have had some very mixed results so I thought it would be helpful therefore if I made this blog post all about helpful tips and tricks.
This collection of tips and tricks is made up of suggestions that happen to work for me, that I have either learned from the pros, read in books, or figured out along the way (and am still learning - because we never stop learning, right?). I can say that implementing these steps completely changed my life as a baker, and I thought it would be helpful to share. I hope that even one of these tips will help you along too. Since it’s a rather wordy post, I’ll get straight to it, but feel free to print this list off for reference or download them in a PDF file by clicking on the link below.
1. Ingredients for cakes should usually be at room temperature (take out of fridge approximately 60-90 minutes before needed).
2. “Milk” typically means homogenised.
3. To create a replacement for buttermilk, add half a teaspoon of white wine vinegar for every 120 ml of milk.
4. Weighing ingredients with a digital kitchen scale is the most accurate method for baking.
5. Eggs separate best when cold, but whites whip best when at room temperature.
6. To bring cold eggs to room temperature quickly, you can put the whole eggs into a bowl of lukewarm water (not hot) for 30 minutes.
10. When creaming butter and sugar, get the mixture very pale yellow and fluffy – this will take several minutes (around 5). If you warm a pyrex bowl with hot water, dry it and place the upturned bowl over the plate of butter this will also help to speed up the process.
8. Unless otherwise stated, use unsalted butter for cake recipes.
9. Incorporate dry ingredients together with a whisk before adding wet ingredients.
10. When creaming butter and sugar, get the mixture very pale yellow and fluffy – this will take several minutes (around 5).
11. Always start and end with dry ingredients when alternating with wet ingredients (e.g., 3 dry additions, 2 wet).
12. Don’t overmix once dry ingredients are added. Just mix on low speed until incorporated.
13. Be careful with your sugar–too much can cause a dark crust (one of several possible causes), too little can cause too light a crust or tough texture. See this post for more information of sugar in baking.
14. Watch your flour – too much can cause a cracked top (one of several possible causes). There is an in-depth look at different types of flour here.
15. Beat egg yolks with a fork before adding to batter.
16. The baking pros always crack their eggs by rapping them on a flat surface or the inside wall of a mixing bowl. This avoids small bits of jagged shell getting forced inside the egg, which can puncture the yolk and leave tiny, annoying bits of shell to fish from the bowl. If you do get a bit of shell in your bowl, use a larger piece of the shell left in your hand to scoop it out; the sharp edge of the egg shell will break the surface tension and make it easier to scoop out the stray shell. Another trick is to wet the end of your finger with water and you should be able to slide the piece of shell out of the bowl. Make sure your hands are perfectly clean first of course!
It's also best to crack eggs into a smaller bowl, separate from your actual mixing bowl. This makes it easier to scoop out the stray bits of shell, and also helps prevent having to start completely over if you accidentally break a yolk that you needed left whole — throwing away one broken egg is better than tossing a whole mixing bowl of ingredients.
If you don’t manage to get all the bits, don't worry as they are, in fact, edible (bet you didn't know that!) so no harm will come to you, and they should sink during baking, so you can turn the baked cake over when cool and retrieve them. More information on the role of eggs in baking here
17. A pinch of salt brings out the flavours in sweet baked goods.
18. When folding, you should always add the lighter of the two mixtures on top, using a gentle folding motion, to avoid deflating batter.
19. When mixing egg whites for meringue, wipe all utensils and bowl with vinegar or lemon juice on a paper towel before they come in contact with the egg whites (including the mixer whisk attachment). Any trace of grease, will likely jeopardise your meringue.
20. If you are using a plastic bowl to make meringue or royal icing, scald your bowl with boiling water with a little washing up liquid added. Swish around with a washing up brush to remove any traces of grease.
21. Keep an extra set of rubber spatulas that you use strictly for meringue and royal icing or scald as above before use.
22. Use the electric mixer’s splash guard for liquidy batters – that’s what it’s for!
23. If incorporating more than one flavour into a batter or icing, always start with vanilla as vanilla enhances most flavours.
24. For evenly-baked cakes and no-fuss assembly, bake “layer-by-layer.” This means if you’re baking a 3 layer cake, use 3 of the same size/shape pan, and bake 3 shorter layers at the same time.
25. Use a small offset palette knife to spread batter evenly in your pans. Don’t fill more than half to two thirds full. Three quarters at the most.
26. Get a separate oven thermometer for an accurate temperature reading – most ovens are slightly outside the temperature stated on the regulator. Adjust your oven regulator or baking time accordingly.
27. Always wait for your oven to reach the correct temperature before putting cakes in the oven.
28. Keep cakes away from the sides of the oven, and if possible a few inches away from each other when baking more than one at the same time.
29. Use the middle shelf unless otherwise stated in your recipe.
30. Typically, when in the oven, cakes are nearing done when you can smell cake in the kitchen. Sounds weird but you’ll see!
31. Leave cakes in the oven when testing for “doneness.” When a skewer comes clean from the centre of a cake, it’s done.
32. Don’t overbake! This is one sure way to end up with a dry cake.
33. Let cakes cool in their tins on a wire rack until the tins are cool enough for you to handle before turning out onto the rack.
34. Remove cupcakes from the tin immediately, placing individual cupcakes on a wire rack to cool.
35. Once completely cooled, wrap cake layers in cling film if you are not going to fill and ice them straight away.
36. Cakes 'handle' better and have improved flavour and texture if they are left to 'settle' overnight.
I hope you have found these tips useful. There's probably some things that I've forgotten to include so don't forget that I'm always on hand to help out if you need me.
And If you are back at work now and don't have time for baking any more then why not let me do it for you? With the current restrictions on parties and celebrations due to the coronavirus pandemic I've added a range of smaller cakes to my website shop, and you can pay online too with credit card or PayPal. Simple!
Sharing the cake love!