Learn to bake
Alicia Moo | On 26, Jul 2013
Iâ€™m going to let you in on a little secret â€“ anyone can bake.
Baking is like learning how to spell â€“ there are several rules and several exceptions but once you learn the alphabet Â you are more than half way ready to read and write.
So Iâ€™m going to share some handy 101 tips to get the most novice of bakers mixing away and serving up tasty treats to impressed friends and family.
1.Â Know your oven
Temperature is important when it comes to baking.
All ovens are different and if your oven is anything like mine, sheâ€™s temperamental.
Some ovens run hot and some run slow.
Once you get to know your oven you should adjust your temperature accordingly, when a recipe says 180 degrees my oven says just under 170 degrees.
I donâ€™t have a lot of fancy gadgets but if you want to get things just right invest in an oven thermometer that sits inside the oven and will tell you the exact temperature.
And for most of your basic cakes, cookies and slices bake them on the middle tray of your oven to allow for even cooking.
2.Â Do not take shortcuts
Baking is a science, a very accurate and precise science so following instructions is mandatory.
Itâ€™s not approximately 1 cup it is exactly 1 cup!
If it says gradually add, do just that â€“ if you decide to throw in all the milk at once, your batter will curdle.
3.Â Working with butter and eggs
Butter temperature is very important.
For most cakes and cookies butter should be at room temperature.
In other words it isnâ€™t hard and you are able to slice through it â€“ it should feel soft to the touch and spreadable.
Tip: If your butter has been in the fridge and you just have an itch to bake immediately, just cut the butter up into manageable cubes and pop it in the oven for about 10 seconds or until soft but not melted.
For any type of baking â€“ eggs should be at room temperature, not Â straight from the fridge.
Free range eggs tend to create a fluffier cake and fresh eggs always seem to please a cake.
4.Â Do not overcook
Overcooking cake is a major no no!
Iâ€™d rather be served just under cake then dry cake.
After all, who doesnâ€™t love licking the spoon?
So always set your timer at least 10 minutes under what the recipe instructs to check on your cakeâ€™s progress.
For most basic cakes, they should spring back when you press down gently.
But for novices and for a fail-safe check stick a skewer in the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean, sheâ€™s ready to get out of there.
5. Baking terms and their meanings
Just a few commonly used terms to get to know:
Cream â€“ usually used when beating butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Fold â€“ stir mixture gently in light figure of 8 motions, bring the batter from the bottom of the bowl to the top of the batter, slowly incorporating the mixture â€“ this technique is used to keep air in the batter.
Stiff Peaks â€“ when beating egg whites; dip beaters into the egg whites and lift â€“ the egg whites should peak like a mountain and should stay in bowl if turned upside down.
Soft Peaks – when beating egg whites; dip beaters into the egg whites and lift â€“ peaks should form and slightly fall on itself.
Scald â€“ Used when boiling certain liquids- means to heat until just before boiling, bubbles should not form.
I might be a little old school but I treat my chocolate like a new born baby.
Chocolate is sensitive and precious so melting it is a slow and loving process.
Always cut chocolate into pretty fine pieces â€“ this just makes the melting process faster and the chocolate will melt at an even pace.
Place chocolate in a heat proof bowl and place over a pot of simmering water on low heat and using a metal spoon stir occasionally, once melted take it off the heat.
7.Â Diligent mixing
Cakes need to be mixed well; ingredients really do need to be fully incorporated.
Always follow recipes when it says things like beat on medium, high or low or mix for 5 minutes.
It will all matter when it comes to the end result.
You can overbeat cake batter though, so donâ€™t be over zealous.
But you donâ€™t want lumps of flour and butter lying around.
Never ice a hot cake!
Ice on ice is the rule.
Your cake should be completely cool, if not that beautiful icing is just going to run away.
Same goes with cutting cakes in half â€“ cool cake!
Always cool baked goods on a wire rack.
9.Â Dressing your tins
My grandma taught me the key to a pretty as a picture cake was in the preparation of your cake tin.
First, liberally grease the tin with butter or margarine, this will act as glue for your baking paper.
Use the cake tin to draw a template of the base onto a sheet of baking paper â€“ now you have the perfect size for the base, cut just inside the circle you have drawn so it fits perfectly.
Then line the side Â – use the tin to measure the right length to cut, allowing for a little overlap.
The paper should be around 2-3 cm above the top of the tin (this acts as a sort of shield for the cake while in the oven).
Tip: when lining springform tins â€“ line the base of the tin with a square piece of baking paper, just hanging over the sides and then clamp the other part on top and cut away the excess paper.
Voila â€“ youâ€™ve got yourself a perfectly flat, no crease base lining.
10.Â Personal favourites
- When a recipe uses vanilla essence â€“ I will use vanilla extract instead â€“ itâ€™s got more punch, itâ€™s more natural and it will always give that lovely vanilla flavour to your cakes.
- Always sift flour, icing sugar and cocoa powder.
Several chefs have said sifting flour has become obsolete and it was only done back in the day to get rid of weevils.
But again, call me traditional, I will forever be sifting my flour, sometimes even thrice!
House wives, CWA women and nannaâ€™s have been doing this for centuries and we all know they are the best bakers, so Iâ€™m following the professionals!
- And lastly, laugh at failed attempts.
There is no point beating yourself up over a bad bake, thatâ€™s how you learn.
And in most cases a bad cake is still very much edible and sugar goodness is indeed mandatory for a happy day.
Baking 101 complete!
Iâ€™ve included this photo of an orange checkerboard cake as a prime example that baking is for everyone.
It looks mighty impressive and the stuff of culinary skills and years of perfecting but it really isnâ€™t.
The cakes itself need very little thought â€“ itâ€™s basic, no crazy ingredients, no gadgets, no precise outrageous steps like once your mixture reaches 68 degrees exactly add the tempered chocolate.
Itâ€™s easy, just break the recipe down and you should be sitting pretty.
Just like itâ€™s not always â€˜iâ€™ before â€˜eâ€™, it wonâ€™t always be room temperature butter or fresh eggs.
So give it a go, there might just be a hidden baker inside just waiting to shine.