Now I have my fair share of baking problems and sometimes, complete and utter disasters. I like to think that this happens to everyone – even the most accomplished bakers.
So here’s a list of baking tips and hints. You may already know most of these but hopefully there’s something useful in here for you.
And if you do have the odd baking mishap, don’t despair. You can usually save a cake that’s not gone to plan by turning it into trifle – no shame in that! And the most important thing is not to give up – keep baking!
1. Read it ~ and don’t weep
First up, read the recipe. Read it and understand it. Read it again. Know what’s required and what comes next. Then you know that recipe you just read twice? Follow it. Stick to it. Do what it says. Especially if you’re new to the baking game, or it’s a new or particularly complicated cake. Remember, it’s as much science as art.
2. A world of difference
Know which country your recipe comes from. Cooking measurements are different around the world. Yes it’s true – annoying isn’t it? A “tablespoon” might be 15ml or 20ml. And a “cup” varies between 236ml in USA, 250ml in Australia and Canada, and 284ml in the United Kingdom. That’s a big difference – especially in baking.
3. Hot, hot, hot
You must pre-heat your oven. Otherwise your cake might end up tough, rubbery, flat – or all three!
Most ovens take a good 15 minutes to pre-heat. Modern ovens even come with a handy little light that will tell you when the oven is at the right temperature. Please don’t put your lovely cake into a cold oven. Please.
4. Butter is best
Do not substitute margarine for butter unless the recipe specifically says you can. Baking is based on science and margarine changes the chemistry of how the ingredients combine and react together (and I think it tastes icky too but that’s just personal preference).
5. Warm ‘em up
Ingredients should be at room temperature unless otherwise stated in the recipe. This is really really really important for eggs and butter and ensures all the ingredient combine in the way they are supposed to without variations in temperature and texture. Really important.
6. Cocoa not flour for dusting
If you’re making chocolate cake, try dusting the tin with cocoa powder instead of flour to prevent sticking. It will stop your cake looking like it’s got dandruff (sorry – I know that’s not the nicest image but I’m trying to make a point!)
7. Running “Hot” or “cold”
I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your oven has been lying to you. It’s not 180˚C after all (but you suspected it all along didn’t you). Most ovens run “hot” or “cold”. Buy an oven thermometer and test its real temperature. And they’re surprisingly inexpensive. For less than $10 you can buy commercial grade over thermometers like this one: Commercial Grade Oven Thermometer
8. Berry good
To prevent berries staining cake batter and to stop them from sinking to the bottom of your cake, lightly dust with flour before adding to your mixture. When you do add them to your cake batter, mix very gently. You don’t want to bruise the berries.
9. Not too full
Don’t overfill your cake tin. No more than three-quarters full or there won’t be room for the cake to rise (plus it will overflow everywhere and you’ll have to clean your oven which is a hateful, hateful job).
10. Step away from that oven door
Don’t open the door of the oven until the cake is at least three-quarters baked. The lost heat messes with the rising. It might end up lopsided or completely flat. Opening the door too soon can also make your cake tough or rubbery.
12. Slice like a pro
Use a hot knife to cut through your cake for professional crumb-free slices. Heat the knife blade with boiling water and wipe dry before slicing for a nice sharp clean edge.
Baking Tip 13 – For our Baker’s Dozen
Don’t have a stylish cake dome to keep your cake masterpiece fresh? A big, deep bowl will do the trick (even if it doesn’t look quite as nice).
Where does the phrase “baker’s dozen” come from?
According to the font of all knowledge Wikipedia, the oldest known source for the expression “baker’s dozen” dates to the 13th century England during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272).
Bakers who were found to have shortchanged or cheated customers could be subject to severe punishment including judicial amputation of a hand. That’s right – they would cut off your hand. Ouch!
To guard against losing a hand, a baker would give 13 for the price of 12 in order to be certain of not being known as a cheat. Sounds like a good plan to me.