Baking Aid: 8 Tips and Tricks for Baking Beginners

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Oh Mary Berry, she makes it look so easy. However as every baker starting out knows, it’s not always as simple as it seems. The science behind it is crucial and improvising is NOT an option.

I’ve spent the better half of my baking life searching for tips and advice on the internet and fellow bloggers sites, and I’m forever grateful for what I learnt from them. So if you’re new to baking or have had issues in the past and you’re not sure why, here are my 8 Tips and Tricks every baker should learn before cracking those eggs.

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Read the recipe in full

Beginner or expert, rushing through any recipe is strongly ill-advised. I’ve touched on this previous in my 5 Baking Mistake to Avoid post, but mistakes are often made most when you’re starting out so it’s a point just as appropriate for this one.

Understanding the recipe and the steps you need to take in advance means you’re better prepared in the long run and can plan your day accordingly. There are many bakes out there that will ask you to chill a mixture or dough in the fridge overnight and believe me finding this out on the day a bake is due is infuriating.


Don’t cut corners

There is a valid reason why cooking is an ‘Art’ and baking is a ‘science’. With art you can improvise and experiment with varying results, however science is strict and instructions must be followed if you want to avoid catastrophe. It therefore goes without saying that in baking you cannot cut corners. Don’t try to rush through the recipe, give yourself enough time and more to complete it. I allow an extra hour to ensure I can get the best out of my bakes and I always need it.

The same applies to ingredients. It’s always recommended that you use the best quality, even if its flour.  Don’t scrimp and save with the cheapest kind, after all the quality of your ingredients affect the overall quality of your final bake.


Test your ingredients

When you’re new to baking, I really recommend trying out new types of ingredients such as sugars and flour so you can get to know which types and brands you work best with. Yes believe me, different brands can create completely different textures and it’s up to you to decide which is your favourite. Once you have an ingredient you trust, stick to it. You’re investing a lot of your time and money into the bake so there’s no need to test anymore when you have a winner.


Measure and prepare all ingredients and tools in advance

“The more prepared I am, the less I fear”

As imaginative child, who loved watching cooks on TV, baking became an immediate opportunity to host my very own cookery programme. Authenticity was key so I would weigh out each ingredient and prepare them into little bowls, before talking my imaginary audience through the steps. I always wonder whether it was this that ignited my love of organisation as to this day I still prepare myself for a bake this way.

This way of working, especially for somebody starting out, is a tip I cannot advise stronger. For obvious reasons, having everything laid out in front of you reduces risk of omitting it all together, or realising mid way through a bake that you’ve ran out of eggs. Secondly, it speeds up the process having everything ready in advance. And finally, yet perhaps most importantly, when you’re new to baking, being prepared suddenly makes the whole process less daunting


Use room temperature ingredients such as butter and eggs

Such a simple tip, yet to this day I still occasionally forget to get my butter out of the fridge to soften prior to baking. It’s not something to be taken lightly though as using room temperature ingredients when a recipe calls for them is an absolute must. We don’t tell you just to make life more annoying, there is actually a science behind it, and that science is the difference between a perfect or average bake.

The Sciencey bit

It was James Morton in his book “How Baking Works”, who taught me the proper science behind baking, and I will forever be grateful as knowing the science of baking is what makes you a baker.

Beyond flavour fat has several roles in baking and the first is in the ‘creaming’ method AKA mixing fat with sugar. Thanks to their sharp edges, sugar acts like tiny little knifes that slice through the butter to create little air pockets. When heated these air pockets expand and voila, your bake rises. If butter is cold during this process, the sugar cannot cut through it effectively to make those perfectly aerated pockets we love so much. No air pockets = no fluffy baked goods.

But how do I know what room temperature butter looks like?

Room temperature butter should be soft to touch but not melted or overly greasy. If you can crush it between your fingers with ease, it’s perfect.

Eggs are another ingredients that is imperative to use at room temperature. We love eggs in the same way we love sugar because their high protein content give us air when beaten or whisked. I won’t go deep into the science but basically, these proteins are naturally tight, but when beaten loosen up and form air bubbles. It’s these air bubbles that expand during baking to give cakes and meringues there lightness, but when the egg is cold the proteins will coil together tighter making it harder to create any air. Warmer eggs are much more generous in their air giving and it’s vital we keep it that way. Contrary to popular belief keeping them in the fridge doesn’t necessarily keep them fresher for longer either.


Prepare your tins

It’s clear being prepared is rather key to baking success, but being organised and in control isn’t the only reason. When it comes to your baking tins, preparing them in advance is important as any mixture containing Baking Powder or Bicarb of Soda must get into the oven as soon as it’s combined.

The raising agent in the mixture begins working from the moment it comes into contact with any of the wet ingredient. Leaving it on the side much longer than is necessary will affect how much rise you get you out of it, so to ensure it can reach its full potential it should go into the oven once it’s ready.

Lining tip: Use baking parchment as it’s non stick so will easily peel from your bake once cooled. Additionally if you’re baking a large cake for a long time, it’s advised to wrap some parchment around the edge of the tin and tie it in place with some string to ensure the edges don’t burn while the middle is still cooking.


Preheat your oven

I cannot stress the importance of this tip enough as placing a bake into a cold oven will affect how it cooks overall. If the recipe suggests preheating the oven, be confident there is a reason for that and don’t ignore it.


Don’t forget to time

I’ve mentioned this before, and as a victim of one of two burn outs you’ll understand why I will continue to do so till my dying breathe. There is nothing worse than spending hours preparing a bake only to ruin it at the end because you forgot to set your timer, so for the love of god SET THE TIMER.


 

Top 5 baking mistakes to avoid

TOP 5 BAKING MISTAKES

In my opinion, one of the most misunderstood hobbies is baking. Unlike cooking, where chefs can experiment with relatively dier consequences, in baking if you try to diverge away from the recipe and simply “make it up as you go along” the results will rarely be successful.

As more bakers rise into stardom, more of us are inspired daily to get into our kitchens and create. Whether baking beginners or daily indulgers we’re all busy making something, and Instagram and Bloglovin are with us all the way to prove it.

However, social media show us the successful bakes. Very rarely do we ever see the failures, which is fine, I understand, but it’s important we’re all accepting that these failures happen, and perhaps even more importantly, show that we’re not ashamed of them.

If you encounter a disaster in the kitchen, don’t be hard on yourself.  Baking is a science, it’s not easy and mistakes are sometimes inevitable. I am by no means an expert, in fact I’d still class myself a beginner as there are so many bakes I’m yet to make. However when I do bake what I’m confident with, believe me mistakes still happen. Sometimes it’s my fault, and I’ll put my hands up and admit that, other times, it’s an environmental factor like the weather outside, or because I’m using a new oven. These things are sadly out of my control.

“The moment you take the time to understand just why sugar and butter are so important is the moment you become a baker”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that being a beginner or expert doesn’t even come into it as some of the best bakers in the world have been known to have a bad day in the kitchen. What is important though is understanding what the mistakes are, as by being aware of them means you’re more inclined to avoid them.

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Below you will read my Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Baking and these apply to almost every bake I know. I hope you find these useful so please do let me know what you think in the comments below.

Happy Baking.


Rushing through the recipe 

A mistake I made most often when starting out was rushing through the recipe and not actually taking the time to read the steps. I was so focused on the end result that I forgot to understand and learn the process. It’s the latter stage that I truly believe take you from one level to the next. The moment you take the time to understand just why sugar and butter are so important is the moment you become a baker.

Not all recipes are laid out in chronological order so reading it through prior to getting started may highlight something vital. There have been times where I got all prepared for a bake, only to read  half way down that I needed to chill the mixture in the fridge for 24 hours and let me tell you that sucked!!


Measuring Incorrectly

Ahh the lazy baker. Don’t be ashamed we’ve all been there. That little voice tells us that we know what we’re doing, because we’ve made this 20 times already. “I know what 200g of sugar looks like”, “What does a little extra flour matter anyway?”, “That 20g over on the butter isn’t that big a deal right?” WRONG. Nobody knows what 200g of sugar looks like, add a little extra flour to a brownie and you have a cake, and add too much butter to a cake and you have a sinking, shrinking grease muffin. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you struggle with scales or heaven forbid you find yours broken, check out this article on GoodtoKnow.co.uk  which converts all grams to cups.  Oh and also make sure you have your own set of Measuring Cups for this moment.

Not preheating the oven


Forgetting to preheat the oven isn’t the biggest mistake you could make, but forgetting to do so is not an efficient use of your time, especially if you’re being timed. The time it takes for your oven to preheat will obviously depend on whether you’re using a fan or gas oven as well as the heat you’re preheating it to, but on average it takes a fan oven 10 minutes to reach 170 degrees C.

Sometimes a recipe will ask you to preheat the oven mid-way through a bake, and this will be because your creation may need to rest prior to going in the oven. Others however ask you to do so straight away so it has reached the desired temperature at the exact time it needs to be baked. Take cake for example, there’s a good reason preheating the oven comes first as raising agents get to work straight away. Therefore to ensure a good rise, your cake mixture should go into the oven the moment it’s ready.

BONUS TIP FOR CAKES:

Never open your oven mid bake. Letting a sudden rush of cold air into the oven will cause it to deflate and sink. I always wait till 5 minutes before my timer to check.


Not timing your bake

Ovens do vary so it’s important to get to know the oven you’re working with, or at the very least ensure you’re watching your bake more consciously as it cooks. Regardless of all this, timing your bake accurately is a huge must in my opinion and I speak from experience. On quite a few occasions I’ve forgotten to set the timer on a bake only to realise half way through and guess what time I had left. On these occasions, when removed from the oven, although my cake tester came out deceivingly clean, my cakes sunk.

Some bakes require more attentive timing than others, such as macarons, however timing everything with equal attention is always recommended. If you tend to walk away from the kitchen during baking, use the timer on your phone so you always have your eye on the time.


Impatience – Not letting it cool down or rest

Perhaps my biggest vice and one that catches me out more than too often is impatience. Letting your cakes cool before icing or storing, and leaving your macarons to rest and form feet before going into the oven are two huge examples, but there are many more. Not many people realise the importance of being patient as surely “Once it’s baked nothing can go wrong?” Think again. Take cupcakes for instance, not letting them cool fully before storing will cause the heat inside them to condensate and peel away from the cases. It’s at this point that they also form a sticky top and potentially shrink. So many disasters from a single mistake.

It can take up to 4 hours or longer for bakes to fully cool so if you can’t control yourself, leave the house or start a Game of Thrones marathon to keep yourself occupied.


I hope you’ve found these useful. If you have any more examples of mistakes you know to avoid please share in the comments below.

Baking Aid: Top 10 Basic Baking Essentials

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Baking in all its beautiful glory can be very intimidating whether you’re a beginner, or advanced. I’m by no means advanced but like to think I have made and overcome enough mistakes in my baking life to have some wisdom to share in hope of making your baking lives that little bit easier.

To many of you what I share may seem like obvious facts, but, we learn from each other and you never know hidden beneath the obvious may shine a revelation. More importantly I want this series to encourage and inspire baking beginners to get in their kitchens, so without further ado, welcome to “Baking Aid”

When I moved out of my family home in 2014 and settled into my little flat in Surrey, I was left with the daunting yet exciting task of filling my empty kitchen with brand new baking equipment.

With baking such a huge part of my upbringing I was leaving behind a kitchen full of tools we had collected over the years, so in haste and anxiety my immediate reaction was to replicate everything immediately. Reality sunk in the moment I realised I only had one kitchen drawer in a kitchen that felt crowded the moment a second person stepped foot inside.

With this I had to sit down and deliberate over what tools and equipment I needed to buy immediately, and to be honest I was completely intimidated by it all. After some time however I came to conclusion that I didn’t need the fancy tools straight away, in fact most recipes only call for a limited amount  of equipment, or as I call them “The Essentials”. For 6 months I managed with those essentials and by the time a recipe that called for a new tools came along I had organised my kitchen to be able to accommodate them.

Whether you’re a baking addict, or it’s something you are looking to simply dabble in, below you will find all the essentials you need to create perfect cakes, cupcakes, cookies and traybakes.


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Mason and Pyrex mixing bowls


My mason bowl is one of my favourite tools to use when I’m not using my KitchenAid. I love being able to beat or rub together butter and sugar for cookie dough with my own hands and a large mason bowl is the perfect partner for that. The large rim around the edge also keeps anything from spilling.

I own at least 12 pyrex bowls in a mixture of different sizes and I use almost all of them with every bake.  I use them to weigh each of my ingredients when preparing for a bake, and as a cake decorator they come in handy when colouring icing and batter. The smaller bowls are also perfect for holding small ingredients like spices, and as they are heatproof they’re perfect for melting butter and chocolate.

Measuring jug


You cannot measure liquid out accurately without a jug so they are an absolute must. However aside from the obvious they are also super useful for whisking eggs or pouring milk into a batter.

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Spatula


One of the most important tools I rely on is the spatula. Unlike the wooden spoon a spatula will scrape out large quantities of batter or buttercream with ease meaning no waste. Look for one like this that is sturdy, otherwise you will find that it bends with weight of heavy batter which isn’t at all helpful.

Whisk


One of the cheapest tools in my kitchen drawer, yet the one I use most often. A large whisk is perfect for blending big quantities of liquid ingredients and gently folds sugar into beaten egg whites without deflating them.

Cake Tester


It took me a long time to get a proper cake tester, yet it wasn’t until I finally got one that I realised just how important they are. When baking cakes one of the vital stages is checking that it has baked through. Testing this requires poking something sharp through the cake to see if it comes out clean. My ‘something sharp’ used to be a knife, but this just left a unslightly slash in the top of my cake so after a while I stopped doing it. Big mistake. My cakes thereafter were either under baked, resulting is a sinking centre or slightly over baked so they went dry.

As much as I like to think I have a pretty good ‘sense’ of when my cake is fully baked, nothing tells me better than when it’s been tested. You can find most cake testers in leading supermarkets or baking stores, but as a Lakeland advocate I recommend getting a cute cupcake one like mine here.

Off-Set palette knife


An offset spatula is your best friend when it comes to smoothing cake batter, frosting cupcakes, and loosening cakes and bar cookies from their pans. The smaller size will be used more often, but when you want to frost cakes a much large size gives you a smooth, more professional finish.

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Spoons/Cups/Scales


The beauty of this internet is that we can find recipes from every corner of the globe. As a proud Brit I am passionate about baking in grams however many US recipes will give you the ingredients in cups. Quite often depending on the recipe I will convert the cups into grams and weigh it out, however occasionally if it’s a bake I’m not familiar with I will use the cups to be sure I’m following the recipe letter by letter. When buying cups and spoons, look for ones with clear easy to read measurements on the handles.

With scales while the old-fashioned do make your kitchen beautiful I cannot recommend digital ones enough as they allow you to measure ingredients out to perfection.

Regardless of what you use, it is SUPER important to weigh everything out accurately as it can make all the difference between perfect and utter disaster.

Baking Parchment


Baking parchment will be your best friend in the kitchen, especially when it comes to baking cakes. Lining your cake with parchment paper allows it to bake more evenly and protects the edges from catching. It also saves you from tin removal disasters which I am forever grateful for.

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Baking Tins/Trays


My weakness when it comes to baking is tins and trays. There are so many to choose from I literally want them all. Take a step back however and you’ll find you only need 4 key styles; two 6inch or 8inch sandwich cake tins, a cupcake tray, a brownie tray and a flat baking sheet. If I had to push it to 5 I’d add in a loaf tin for good measure. Lakeland do such an amazing range of bakewear. Their premium range is made from heavy duty carbon steel that is oven safe up to 240°C so it will never twist, warp or bend. They’re also super space-saving and when stacked neatly nest inside each other. Shop here for yours.

Cooling Racks


Every baker needs a cooling rack and they are handy for more than just cooling. Aside from the obvious, once my bakes are cool I use the rack to decorate my cakes or cookies so that any unwanted drips fall away leaving me with the perfect decoration.