Curdling confusion – 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.
Butter temperature – 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.
Cracking 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 the generate dirt and fat from your hands will stop the egg whites from whisking up to stiff peaks.
Pegs aren’t just for the washing – If you have cut the parchment paper a little too high over the cake edges, don’t fear, use wooden pegs to secure the paper down to the sides of the tin to prevent the paper falling into the cake and ruining the shape.
Baked cheesecakes – 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.
Citrus fruits – Place the fruit in the microwave for a couple of seconds for optimal juice extraction.
Meringue trays – 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.
Foolproof 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.
Invest in a squeezy bottle – These little plastic bottle beauties 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.
Spirit levels aren’t just for builders – 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.
Carving/leveling cakes – 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.
Proving a point – Proving is an essential stage in baking, however the conditions in which you prove the bread are important. It needs a warm environment (which understandably is difficult in the UK), try proving it in an airing cupboard, above a radiator and in the grill above an oven on a low temperature.
Sugar and butter – 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.
Dry cakes – Your heart deflates when you realize 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 up 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.
Rolling 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).
Vanilla quality – 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.
Useful spoons – Biscuit bases are wonderful, but need packing densely into the bottom of a tin, so instead of using your hands, simply smooth it down with the back of a spoon and quite a bit of pressure.
Sticky 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.
Cool cakes – 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.
Heating breakfast 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.
Transparent – 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.
Water icing – 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.
Airtight – 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.
Cream conflict – 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.
explore the current baking trends with cookery writer Anna
olive magazine podcast ep20 – baking trends, urban gardening and no-cook recipes