Want to know how to bake the perfect cake? Want to know how to ice a cake with fondant icing or buttercream? Looking for how to make meringues? We have all of your baking questions answered here in our ultimate baking guide.
We also have plenty of baking recipes, from simple cake recipes to a guide to bake the perfect sourdough. Read on to find out more…
Which ingredients to use for baking
What’s the best vanilla extract? It is worth investing in a good value vanilla extract or paste due to the fact that it is made from real vanilla pods compared to vanilla essence, which has been chemically manufactured so it has a weaker more artificial flavour.
How do I prepare citrus fruits for baking? Place the fruit in the microwave for a couple of seconds for optimal juice extraction. Roll citrus fruit before juicing them. Press down firmly on a lemon or a lime and roll it along the work surface. This breaks some of the pulp cells and juice vesicles so the juice runs out more easily. Useful if you’re juicing by hand, or want to provide wedges that squeeze easily.
Which sugar should I use? Brown sugar, honey and golden syrup are all hygroscopic (absorb water easily) – this is good for dense cakes such as gingerbread (they will stay fresh longer), but trickier in crisp biscuits and meringues, which will go soft very quickly.
Which chocolate should I use for baking? For a recipe where you want the flavour of chocolate to shine through, buy a good quality brand with a high percentage of cocoa, and adjust the recipe to suit it. If your chocolate is very dark, with little added sugar, you may need to make the recipe sweeter to give you the final flavour you want.
Can I make my own chocolate chips? Chopped good quality chocolate will make better chocolate chips than many ready-made chips which have added ingredients to stop them melting and sticking together.
Is it better to use cocoa powder or chocolate? Cocoa plus chocolate gives a better chocolate flavour than one without the other.
How do I know when my brownies are done? A brownie when cooked is meant to crack on top – it will also still be soft in the centre, making a skewer test redundant. Having said this, some brownies are more cakey while others verge on being fudge.
What type of piping bag should I use for icing? There’s nothing worse than a slippery piping bag when you’re trying to ice a load of cakes– it’s impossible to pipe well without a good, firm grip. Disposable bags with a textured finish stay grippy until you’ve finished the bag. You can also wash and reuse them so they needn’t be instantly disposable.
Which baking tins should I use for baking? Dark coatings on non-stick tins absorb heat, which can give cakes very brown sides. Invest in silver tins which give lighter results. Silverwood makes an excellent range of anodised aluminium tins that will last a lifetime.
How do I stop sugar sticking to my utensils? Anything that touches molten sugar immediately becomes unpleasant to clean. Simply fill the dirty pan with water, bring to a rapid boil and place the spoons or utensils that need sugar removal in the pan. This will dissolve the sugar and all you have to do is simply pour the water away. Although if you’re cleaning metal spoons, please be careful as they will be hotter than the sun.
What’s the best way of adding sauce to my puddings? Little plastic squeezie bottles are ideal when baking, whether it’s dripping a chocolate ganache over a cake, pouring a berry coulis on a pie or creating precise dots of caramel sauce on your sticky toffee pudding, the bottle allows you to create mess free and precise application.
How to bake a cake
Do I need to line my cake tins? If a cake recipe tells you to butter and flour a tin then do so. The batter might not rise as well if you don’t (it needs the butter to help it slide upwards). If it tells you not to, don’t! Some cake mixes need a rough surface to help them climb up.
How do I make my cake rise higher? To help your sponge rise sift the flour a couple of times so that it’s nicely aerated when you add it. Sifting the baking powder along with the flour will make sure that it’s well mixed before beating.
Does the cake tin size matter? You can’t change the tin sizes willy-nilly when baking a cake, so if you do use smaller or larger tins, adjust the cooking time (more for smaller tins, as the cake will be thicker, and less for larger ones).
Does it matter where in the oven I put my cake? If your oven has a hot spot and your cakes always come up risen more on one side, rotate them half way through the cooking time
How much space do I need to leave between cookies on a baking tray? Space your biscuits and meringues out when you cook them; don’t try and cut cooking time by squashing them together. You’ll just end up making one big biscuit.
How do I soften butter for baking? It can be a painstakingly time consuming task waiting for your butter to soften before adding it to pastry as if it is heated in the microwave it’ll be too soft/liquid to make a well risen cake. For those inpatient bakers you can cube your butter, get a bowl of warm water and place the cubes in the water for around 5 minutes and it will be at the perfect temperature for your pastry.
How long do I need to mix the butter and sugar when making a cake mix? Creaming together the butter and sugar is a traditional way of starting to make a cake, however many bakers do not mix them together for long enough. Spend at least 5 minutes creaming the butter and sugar on a high speed until the mixture turns extremely light, almost white and fluffy for optimal rise and a lighter cake.
How do I stop my baking mix from curdling? Primarily the main annoyance during baking is creaming the eggs and butter/sugar mixture together, no matter how slowly you incorporate them the mixture will always seem to curdle. This is due to the fact that the eggs and butter are at different temperatures so make sure they are both a room temperature to create a smooth mixture.
How do I fold my cake mix correctly? Fold thick into thin when combining two lots of mixture for a cake or soufflé. For example, you would add the beaten egg whites to the base, not the other way around. Add a couple of spoonfuls first and stir them in well, then fold in the remainder.
How to cool, dry and store cakes
Do I need to cool my cakes? Cool your cakes in the tin when they are very hot. Once they can be handled, take them out. Otherwise they will steam and end up soggy.
How long do I let my cake cool before icing? Before icing cakes or any baked produce, remember to leave them to cool completely; they need to be cold. Being at an ideal temperatures means that the icing will stay exactly where it needs to be and will not run off the cake.
How do I cut a cake? Use dental floss to cut a cake in half; it works like a cheese wire. But not the mint flavour, of course!
How do I fix a dry cake? Your heart deflates when you realise that all the time and effort spent baking a cake has been wasted because once it’s out of the tin, it’s dry. Fear not; just make a simple syrup. Boil equal parts sugar and water together and brush it over the dry cake, the sweet liquid will seep into the sponge creating more moisture.
How do I store a cake? The two or three tiered cupcake stands are beautiful but not very practical, unless you’re in range of ravenous friends who will demolish the food with in an hour or two; this is due to the fact that they are not airtight. It is worth investing in a cake stand that has a sealed lid to keep your baked produce fresh
How to decorate cakes
How do I level a cake before icing? When making a cake covered in buttercream or fondant, the trick to get a neat finish is to level your cake with a serrated knife. Even when crouched down looking at the cake, it is difficult to discern if it is in fact level, pick yourself up a mini spirit level and place it on the cake – works like a dream.
Crumbs are a cake makers nightmare, whether they’re getting in the buttercream or over the floor, they’re bad news. To combat this problem, simply freeze the cake in advance. The freezing process keeps the cake fresh, moist and stops crumbs falling off whilst carving.
How do I thicken icing if it’s too runny? Whoever thinks that getting the right consistency of water to icing sugar is easy… is wrong, it varies every time. To solve the problem of having far too runny icing (and then incidentally running of out icing sugar to correct the problem) here’s a top tip. Add the water gradually to the icing sugar, 1 tsp at a time; this may seem laborious but it will ensure that the icing is at the perfect consistency.
How do I roll fondant? Fondant can be a nightmare to roll out due to it sticking, to prevent this simply cover your surface and rolling pin with a light dusting of icing sugar or corn flour. Additionally, an American style rolling pin (with handles) is much easier to use compared to a French style pin (with no shaft).
How do I create transparent icing? If you desire to make a cake which decoration involves a glass like product, like a camera lens or broken glass simply melt down clear mints in a pan and pour into a oil lined tin or desired shape container and allow to set and harden.
How to make whipped cream
How do I make whipped cream? Make sure your cream is cold before you whip it. Whip cream gently and keep a close eye on it, otherwise it will turn to butter.
How do I rescue a split whipped cream? It is easy to over whip cream or in hot weather whipped double cream can split very easily, to solve those two problems simply pour a little loose double cream in to the mix and whisk gently; you will find the cream has an improved consistency.
Which eggs should I use to make meringues? You need fresh eggs for meringues, the fresher the better. Utensils without any grease on them (including from egg yolks) are essential for making meringues, or the whites will be difficult, if not impossible to whisk. A glass or metal bowl will work better than a plastic one as fat clings to plastic.
How do I know when my meringues are cooked? Make sure your meringues are thoroughly cooked and don’t be tempted to take them out early. Undercooked meringues weep uncooked egg white from the bottom; overcooked meringues end up with beads of sugary moisture on top.
Why do I need to cool meringues? Leave the meringues to cool in the oven so they dry out thoroughly. Because of their high sugar-content they will always be susceptible to absorbing moisture from the air, so making them on a humid day or in a steamy kitchen may end in a stickier meringue.
How do I crack eggs? Separating the egg yolk and white can be a traumatic ordeal for the novice baker whilst making meringues. But once you have nailed the old crack and divide, the top tip is to avoid touching the whites with your hands whilst doing so. As they generate dirt and fat from your hands will stop the egg whites from whisking up to stiff peaks.
How do I line a baking tray to bake meringues? When lining the tray with parchment paper don’t put any fat/butter on the tray to make the paper stick, this fat will react with the protein in the egg and stop them from cooking correctly.
How do I create stiff meringues? Whisking up egg whites to make meringues can be difficult. Add a pinch of cream of tartar and egg white powder (meriwhite) to the egg whites whilst whisking and you will get stiff peaks in no time.
How do I make perfect scones? For perfect scones your flour needs to be aerated so sift it a couple of times. Work as lightly as possible – the fat and flour should look flaky when you’ve rubbed them in, and use a knife blade to stir liquid into the mixture so you don’t overwork it. The dough should feel light and squashy with air. Pat out scone dough and roll it only once or twice before stamping it out.
How do I create the perfect muffin mix? The most important stage of muffin making is amalgamating the ingredients. You must fold everything together as lightly as possible until it is only just mixed and probably still lumpy. Heavy-handed mixing will give you leaden muffins. Use a large metal spoon, not a wooden one, to help keep air in the mixture.
Do I need to leave muffins to cool when they are ready? Once your muffins are cooked, ease them out of the tin as soon as you can – if you leave them to cool in the tins they’ll steam and end up soggy.
How do I reheat muffins? Breakfast muffins can be a wonderful treat in the morning, but they’re so much better warm. Try heating them up in the microwave for 10 -15 seconds, not only does it make the kitchen smell like a bakery but it tastes like they’ve freshly come out of the oven. Be sure not to put the muffin in the microwave if it is in a metal lined case, only paper ones will be safe.
What temperature should I make the pastry in? The most important pastry rule is that you mustn’t let it get too warm or the fat will melt and turn it oily. Make sure your hands are cool, use your fingertips to handle it rather than the palms of your hands, and use a cool kitchen surface (marble is best if you have it).
How wet should I make my pastry dough? Don’t make pastry too wet or it will be tough. Add your water gradually and make sure each amount is fully incorporated before adding any more.
Should I use lard or butter to make pastry? Lard might seem like an old-fashioned ingredient, but it adds texture rather than flavour, making pastry crisper and lighter, and your end result will be the better for it.
What should I do if my pastry gets too sticky? If your pastry starts to get sticky, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. On no account keep trying to roll it out.
Why should I chill pastry before cooking? The slower the butter melts, the neater your pastry will be. Warm butter will melt out of the pastry layers and whatever you’re making will end up lopsided.
How do I egg-wash my pastry? Add a pinch of salt to an egg for glazing. It releases the albumen and makes it easier to brush on pastry and cakes.
How do I get a flat base for my cheesecake? Use a straight-sided glass to press the biscuit base into the side of the tin. This will also help keep the base flat.
How do I know when my cheesecake is ready? If the recipe tells you there should still be a wobble in the centre, it means just that! Don’t cook it until it is firm unless you want a cracked top.
How do I stop my cheesecake from cracking? If your cheesecake cracks across the top it may be the fault of the recipe. One or two eggs is enough for a big cheesecake, any more may set the filling too firmly and cause it to pull apart as it cools. On the other hand, you may have overcooked it!
How do I rescue a cracked cheesecake? If your cheesecake does crack, cover the top with a layer of soured cream, dulche de leche or fruit. No one will ever know….
How do I make a New York cheesecake? New York cheesecakes are wonderful when you’re in the city but you can make them just as well at home with this tip. The baked cheesecake is light and creamy, to get that texture all the way through the cake, bake them in a bain marie which is a water bath. By placing warm water in another tin around the cake it’ll allow the cheesecake to bake evenly giving you that gorgeous texture throughout the dessert.