With the Great British Bake Off final airing this week, interest in baking reaches its peak. Baking brings back fond memories for many people, learning to bake alongside their Granny for example. It can sometimes seem like a much more difficult process than cooking is. You have all that extra measuring, extra precision and extra steps. However, our tips will help you streamline your baking and make it a regular feature in your kitchen again.
I know all about how daunting baking can seem, I decided to bake my own wedding cake… A great idea in theory, but in reality, with a month to go to D-Day, this Bride-to-Be was starting to panic! However a cake did appear on the day itself; so believe me, if I can produce something that looked semi-decent, anybody can. I’m going to share with you today the tips and gadgets that really took the stress out of it for me.
Organisation is key
If I learned anything it was that you need to organise yourself first and bake second. Select a recipe that you can manage, if you are new to baking, keep it simple with something like Lemon Drizzle Cake. Read the recipe, then read it again! Preheat the oven, and gather all of the utensils that you will need. Make sure the bowl is clean and dry and make life easier by having a set of measuring spoons at hand. These are great for small measurements and one utensil I wouldn’t be without in my kitchen. Before you tackle a project check if you need any special tools. There’s no point in being halfway through and realising you need a specially shaped tin or that you are out of cupcake cases!
Do you have all of the ingredients you need in the cupboard? If you are stuck for one ingredient, remember that some ingredients can be interchangeable…
For example: If you only have plain flour, that can easily be turned into self-raising with the addition of baking powder. Or if you are out of buttermilk, add lemon juice to regular milk as a subsitute.
Before you start, have all of the ingredients out on the counter and have them all measured. Get yourself a good weighing scales for extra precision. This Vision Electric one is the one I use, and it’s nice enough to leave out on the counter-top.
Another thing I like to do which helps me get organised, is to have all the ingredients separated and ready in the order that the recipe calls for them. This is especially important for a big bake, like a celebration cake or the Christmas Cake. This way you can be sure you have everything to hand and time spent at this stage will be saved later when you aren’t searching for caster sugar in the back of the cupboard while the air falls out of your carefully whipped egg whites!
Top tip: Take your butter out of the fridge at least an hour before you begin, microwave softened butter can lead to a greasy bake. Not a good look!
Tools of the Baking Trade
The right tools are essential in making sure that your baking is a success. In all Meadows & Byrne stores, we have a great selection of baking trays and tins to suit almost any recipe you can imagine. So you need never be without the correct size.
You also need the right utensils, I prefer silicone or wooden for my baking as you can always be sure that this won’t scratch your non-stick tins when filling. We have a great online utensil bundle to ensure all of your needs are catered to. This has all the utensils you would ever need to bake with and all are dual purpose.
A proper rolling pin is an essential tool and more so if you like to bake pastry. These need to be kept cool to achieve the perfect finish. Always refrigerate your pastry dough, even for a short time to allow the butter to harden up slightly. Handle it as little as possible to ensure the heat from your hands doesn’t start to melt the butter. Another trick is to invest in a marble rolling pin. Not only do these look fabulous out on display, but their colder temperature will help keep that pastry perfect every time.
Top Tip: Get an oven thermometer. All oven temperatures can be off, you can avoid a dry bake or a soggy bottom with a simple inexpensive oven thermometer.
Arm Power vs Horse Power
This is a subject that divides bakers! Whether to use a kitchen mixer or go purely by hand… I am a fan of a good kitchen mixer but used in the right capacity. If you are baking a large number of cakes, you cannot go wrong with a proper stand mixer and the king of them all has to be the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. After 100 years of production, the design has barely changed and that is because it is that good. It makes mixing large amounts so easy and they look beautiful on the counter too. If it’s good enough for the Great British Bake Off…
However, muscle does have its place and sometimes you need to get your hands dirty and leave the mixer to one side. Bread making is the best example, you really do need to use your hands to work the gluten in the bread dough. The other example is mixing egg whites, it is so easy to over-whip egg whites. I find it easier to control with a hand whisk. However, there is no need to worry that your arm is going to tire. Oxo have a great solution in their Hand Held Mixer, this will allow you to stop exactly when the egg whites are at the correct consistency but will take some of the hard work out of it.
Top Tip: Invest in a second bowl for your Stand Mixer, this will allow you to keep wet and dry mixes separate. This is very often a recipe essential.
We eat with our eyes first, so in this case, looks are as important as what is on the inside. Decoration can be as simple or as ornate as you wish. For our big day I opted for a simple rustic buttercream finish. This helps add flavour and moistness to the cake. It also helps to disguise any cracks and is simple to make and spread. It really is a good option for most bakes.
A classic Christmas Cake will always, in my opinion, need the smooth finish of white fondant icing. This is available in a ready-to-roll version which takes the work out of it, nobody will be able to tell the difference! For cupcakes, nothing beats a perfectly piped swirl of icing. The versatility of a silicone piping bag is hard to beat, they are reusable and easy to clean. Fancy making Choux Buns after one too many episodes of the Bake Off, the bag is also heat resistant to 250 degrees.
Finally presentation, no point going to all this effort and serving it on something inappropriate. A cake stand is the definitely the way to go, it elevates your creation above everything else on the table. It really makes it the centrepiece and adds that last touch of flair. We have a number of glass and ceramic versions on our website so you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Top Tip: You don’t need to spend a fortune on cake decorations. Google a list of edible flowers, you will be surprised at what you find. They are perfect decorations!
Baking should always be a pleasant experience, it really is something the entire family can join in on. If you follow the key tips above, baking will become a breeze. Get the kids involved, make it a weekend activity and you can all enjoy the results. Now… on your marks… get set… Bake!