Here are some top tips to help you up your baking game…from someone who has made every single baking mistake in the book (and a few more besides) and would love to help you avoid them!
PAY ATTENTION TO BBE DATES ON RAISING AGENTS
Don’t keep raising agents (baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, yeast) beyond their best before date. They can lose their oomph as they age and therefore may not work as intended.
For more information on raising agents, read my article on the difference between baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.
EMBRACE THE LUMPS!
When making muffins and waffles, mix the batter only until any traces of flour are barely visible but don’t worry if your batter is lumpy. These lumps will help keep the texture of your muffins or waffles light and airy. Overmixing can result in a dense, closed texture.
ALWAYS BAKE BY WEIGHT
There are *lots* of recipes out there, particularly those originating from the United States, that give ingredient quantities in cups (and parts thereof). In other words, ingredient quantities are given in volume.
Please, for the love of all that is holy, if you come across this kind of recipe, put the book back on the shelf – or keep scrolling if you’re looking at recipes online – and use a recipe that gives ingredient quantities by weight.
I have always been genuinely puzzled why people don’t bake by weight. It’s not as if a kitchen scale is an expensive piece of kit (well it can be if you go for a really fancy pants one, but it doesn’t have to be!)
Baking by weight is accurate. Baking by volume is not.
Buy yourself a kitchen scale and you will, in this one small purchase, instantly become a better baker.
You can pick one up for as little as £10 but I would recommend you invest in the best you can afford, especially if you are going to be doing a lot of baking.
I highly recommend a digital kitchen scale for much better accuracy (which is critical when it comes to gluten-free bread baking!) Have a look at the BBC Good Food review of the 11 best kitchen scales for some options.
DON’T OVER GREASE YOUR CAKE TINS
When greasing (but not lining) your cake tins, don’t use too much fat or you will end up lightly frying the edges of the cake. They will be crunchy with an oily taste – deeply unpleasant!
Check out my recipe for making DIY cake release to use when greasing your cake tins.
MAXIMISE THOSE FRUITY FLAVOURS!
Add fruit zest (lemon, lime, orange etc.) to the butter and sugar while creaming to release the oils from the fruit skins and add more flavour. Do the same when making buttercream if the recipe calls for zest.
A WHITER SHADE OF PALE (BUTTERCREAM)
Buttercream made with butter has a yellowy hue, which is not ideal if you are aiming for white. One solution is to use shortening (such as Trex) in place of the butter but this completely changes the taste and mouthfeel of the buttercream. And not for the better, in my opinion!
To achieve a whiter buttercream when using butter, beat the butter for a minimum of five minutes before adding the icing sugar and it will become a lot less yellowy.
You can also add a teensy (and I mean teensy) drop of violet/purple food colouring. This will neutralise the yellow and make your buttercream look whiter.
You can also buy a product called icing and buttercream whitener, which does the job as well.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: SO CHILL, CHILL, CHILL!
If a recipe calls for a specific chill time (e.g. cookie or pastry dough), don’t be tempted to skip it. It is there for a reason and ignoring it could result in a baking disaster (like biscuits that spread while baking and end up like crunchy pancakes!)
BE ORGANISED: PREP LIKE A BOSS, BAKE LIKE A PRO
Good preparation is key to successful baking. While the ‘wing it with what’s in the cupboard’ method of cookery can work successfully for rustling up a meal on the hoof (works for me *a lot*), this is a one way ticket to recipe disaster in the world of baking.
Because baking is a science and each ingredient has a very specific role to play in producing a star bake, ‘winging it’ with alternative ingredients will result in something other than intended.
So always start your baking session by reading the recipe and then reading it again to ensure you have understood it. Next prepare your mis en place (the fancy term for gathering together all your ingredients).
Once you know you have everything you need, re-read the recipe one last time then you’re good to go to bake like a pro!
SLOWLY DOES IT! ADD YOUR EGGS ONE AT A TIME
This tip is for cake recipes using the creaming method. The creaming method involves beating the sugar and fat together until light and fluffy. The primary goal of this method is to add volume and air to your cake batter.
So after taking the time to whip up lots of air and volume while creaming the fat and sugar, you don’t want to undo that effort in the remaining stages of making your cake batter.
By adding the eggs one at a time – and beating between each addition – you will be helping the creamed mix retain all that lovely air and volume.
And air and volume trapped in your cake batter will lead to a lovely light and airy finished cake.
CURDLED CAKE MIXTURE? DON’T PANIC!
Nothing strikes fear into an unsuspecting baker like a curdled cake mixture!
It might look like something out of a horror movie, but it’s actually not the end of the world if this happens. You can still bake your cake and it will still look and taste like cake. It’s just that the texture won’t be quite on point. And the curdling can inhibit the rise.
So it’s always best to try and avoid a curdled cake batter in the first place. And there are some simple steps you can take to do this…
Make sure you really cream the fat and sugar together well. This is the foundation stone of a cake based on the creaming method, so it is really important not to shortcut it.
Slowly add your liquid ingredients (this includes egg) to the creamed mixture and resist the temptation to dump them all into the bowl in one go.
As mentioned in the tip above this one, adding too much egg too quickly can knock out air and volume. It can also cause your cake mixture to split / curdle.
Adding your eggs one at a time and beating after each addition will reduce the risk of a curdled mixture.
You can also add a tablespoon of the recipe’s total flour weight with every egg. This will stabilise your cake batter and reduce the risk of it curdling.
An imbalance of ingredients can throw a cake recipe out, which is why it is important to carefully weigh all your ingredients. Including the liquids. Too much liquid will split your cake batter so never guesstimate with liquid quantities and always use the size of egg specified in the recipe.
And finally, always bake with room temperature ingredients. This will help reduce the risk of your cake batter curdling. So if you are someone who keeps eggs in the fridge, lift them out an hour or two before you are ready to start baking.
ALWAYS FOLLOW THE RECIPE – DON’T BE TEMPTED TO WING IT!
To avoid the disappointment of at best an under par bake or at worst an epic bake failure, always follow the recipe. To. The. Letter. I cannot stress this enough!
A well written, researched and rigorously tested recipe will not let you down, provided you follow the ingredients and method exactly as instructed.
Each ingredient and its corresponding weight will have been selected precisely for the role it plays in producing a mighty fine end product.
Brown sugar in a recipe, for example, will have been chosen for its depth of flavour, higher moisture content and the colour it adds to a bake. Subbing it for caster sugar may not result in a total baking failure, but it won’t look and taste the way it was intended.
So if your recipe calls for brown sugar and you only have caster sugar, pop to the shops before you start baking. Or save that recipe for another day and find something to bake that uses caster sugar.
I know that it is tempting to substitute one ingredient for another, particularly when you are trying to bake without certain ingredients for dietary reasons.
But you are far, far better to take the time to find and follow a recipe that caters specifically to your dietary needs than to ‘wing it’ by making changes to a recipe with ingredients you can’t consume.
And I say this because, at best, this approach will result in an OK bake. And I’m not about OK baking. I’m about *great* baking. And helping *you* become the best baker you can be.
So I will say it again…
Always, always follow the recipe. To the letter. Please and thank you 🙂
WORKING WITH MULTIPLE PIPING TIPS
If you are piping more than one design in buttercream on a cake or cupcakes, you are going to need to change the nozzle/tip on your piping bag.
There is a little gadget called a coupler that holds the piping tip on the outside of the bag. This allows you to change the tip while continuing to use the same bag of icing.
If you drop your tip into the bottom of the bag before filling with icing, you are obviously not going to be able to get the tip out until you’ve used all the icing.
If you don’t have a coupler and you want to change your piping tip halfway through a bag of icing, you can do what I do…
I put the nozzle into one disposable bag then cut the end off another bag and fill it with buttercream. I then drop this piping bag into the one with the nozzle. Then, when I want to change the nozzle, I lift the inner bag of icing out of the outer bag, change the tip and drop the inner bag of icing back in again. Simples! 🙃
I hope you have found these tips helpful and I wish you one hundred thousand triumphs with baking yourself happy at home 💕