A student's guide to baking
Posts tagged ‘Advice’
- Get the butter out of the fridge in advance. Obviously leaving it out for several hours beforehand may not be the best thing and will probably leave you with a half-melted yellow mess, but I usually find half an hour or so is enough to make a noticeable difference, provided you’ve got a warm kitchen. I know some people prefer to microwave the butter for up to 30 seconds on a lower setting to make it easier to work with, but with that you run the risk of melting the butter entirely, or at least causing it to separate slightly, which isn’t what you want. My routine is just to get the butter out of the fridge when I first enter the kitchen, and then go about getting together utensils and ingredients and turning on the oven to preheat.
- On the subject of butter, save the wrapper when you’re done with a block. I keep a stash of several in a drawer for greasing tins, as there’s normally enough small bits of butter to grease your cake tins. Granted, keeping a stack of them has raised eyebrows at times, but it saves on greaseproof paper and using up butter.
- You start off by creaming butter and sugar together with almost all cake mix. Regardless of how you choose to go about it, you should find that the butter and sugar will start to clump together in small clusters before sticking together in one large ball. Once you get to that stage, you’re almost done, but make sure to keep going until it starts to separate out into smaller bits again to make it easier when working the other ingredients in consistently.
- The advantages of a wooden spoon. Being a student baker, I’m used to doing making cake mix by hand with a wooden spoon. Having an electric hand mixer speeds the process up considerably, but you lose the arm workout. Personally, I’m still on the side of the trusty wooden spoon. Having a hand mixer is great, and an utter godsend when it comes to whipping cream, but generally I find that I’m just as thorough with a wooden spoon as with an electronic mixer, and I even find that I’m better at working out the small lumps of butter when taking the more basic option.
- When it comes to adding eggs, different people have different ways of do so. I know people who prefer to whisk their eggs separately before adding them in, but I’ve always been one to crack them straight into the mix and work them in one at a time. I’ve nothing to suggest that one is better than the other, but by mixing the eggs straight in, you’re saving yourself a bit of washing up if nothing else.
- Wherever possible, use a sieve. The texture will be lighter and more consistent if you make a point of sieving in the sugar and flour, and anything else that one would reasonably sieve. Sugar that’s been kept for a while has a tendency to form chunks that are a bit harder to break apart, so putting them through a sieve will help to make sure there aren’t any sizeable lumps in your cake.
- You may wish to swap the tins between shelves halfway through baking if you’re making a sandwich cake or a cake of any kind that involves multiple layers, depending on your oven. Be careful not to leave them out of the oven, and if possible, put one on a different shelf for a quick and clean swap. By doing this, you help to make sure that both layers are baked equally, rather than having one layer more cooked than the other.
- When baking cakes, always remember the infamous knife test. When the cake looks about done, check that the inside is cooked by inserting a thin knife or skewer into the cake and then removing it again. The tip should be clean with no cake mix and there should be a minimal amount of moisture. Generally when doing this it’s best to pull the tray just out of the oven enough to test it, but be ready to put it straight back in if it’s not done.
- Speaking of taking cakes out of the oven, if in doubt leave it in. Unless the recipe says otherwise, a cake should never be put back into the oven once it’s been taken out and started to cool. The processes that go on during baking stop once you take the cake out of the oven, so trying to salvage a half-cooked cake once it’s been out of the oven for a while is very difficult.
- When baking gluten-free, things become a little more difficult and you have more options. There are the more complicated alternatives involving a mix of various gluten-free and wheat-free flours, like nut-based flours or others such as rye or potato flour. When I first had to bake gluten-free, I didn’t have the time or resources to experiment with various different flours, so I went for the simple option of gluten-free self-raising flour. I did have some slight issues with it, but thankfully they were only minor. If you want a fairly large or high cake, make sure to have a fair amount of mix to get the height you want, and if in doubt, add a teaspoon of baking powder to the mix when adding the flour just to be sure. The other thing to be wary of when baking gluten-free is that the texture of the mixture is going to be a bit different. I’ve found sources saying that it’s thicker and sources saying that it’s runnier, so be prepared to cater for both as required. My experience is that the mix tends to be a bit thicker, so adding a tablespoon or two of milk can help to make it easier to work with if you’re concerned. The texture does also tend to be a bit crumblier than normal, so be warned if you’re trying something with a more technical or elaborate structure!