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.
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.