New to baking or just looking to improve your baking prowess? These handy tips will have your excelling and answer your most common questions when it comes to baking! Here are my secret tips and tricks that I've collected from decades of baking (yep I was a kid baker!).
So you've read the recipe, got all the ingredients ready and are ready to bake. But cakes, biscuits and breads can be tricky and there's often helpful information beyond the recipe!
Tip 1. Always start with room temperature ingredients for cakes. Always, always use room temperature eggs for cakes. They will whip up to a much higher volume. This is especially important for sponge cakes and meringues or pavlova. In Winter, place whole eggs in shell in a jug or bowl of hot water as the room temperature in winter isn't warm enough. Even meat is better when it has been out of the fridge for an hour or two depending on the ambient temperature (the exception is seafood).
Tip 2. Make cake flour at home. To make 1 cup of cake flour add 2 tablespoons of cornflour/fine cornstarch to a measuring cup and add plain all purpose flour to the 1 cup mark. Whisk to distribute. You can make a large batch of this and store it if you make cakes often.
Tip 3. For a more moist crumbed cake with an even baking consistency, bake your cake at a lower temperature. See this best ever banana cake for proof (and I now bake all my cakes at a lower temperature). This excludes sponges and pastry that need high heat to rise.
Tip 4. Do most of your mixing of a cake batter before you add the flour-by this I mean make sure that you've properly creamed the butter, sugar and eggs. Once you add the flour you do not want to overmix as it activates the gluten as soon as the flour hits liquid. I usually mix the flour in by hand so that it can't be overmixed and then scoop it into the tin. The only exception is a cake using reverse creaming like this yuzu pound cake.
Tip 5. Parchment paper or baking paper is different from wax paper (the latter is great for sandwiches and is less expensive). If you don't want a more environmentally friendly version of parchment try DIY reusable cake tin liners. You can make these by using barbecue liners. I bought some from a dollar shop and cut out a base and sides for my most popular tins (20cm/8inch) and these can be easily washed and reused-I've been using the same cake tin liners for 5 years already!
Tip 6. If your bundt tin is starting to lose its slip, don't worry. You can make a bundt non stick slurry made with melted butter or shortening, oil and flour (mix 2 tablespoons of each together). Keep it in the fridge and take it out an hour before you need to use it and it will make your bundt non-stick, even intricate bundt tins!
Tip 7. Avoid using non stick oil sprays on bundt tins. If your bundt is relatively new, use melted butter or shortening (some say no butter because of the milk solids but I've never had an issue) and then place the bundt in the fridge so that the butter or shortening firms up and re-brush if need be (this is important if your bundt tin is very intricate). I find using a bristle pastry brush works better than a silicon one.
Tip 8. Dislike sifting icing sugar? I loaaathe sifting it so I place the icing sugar in a small food processor and whizz it very well and that omits all lumps.
Tip 9. Silicon vs metal tins? Metal tins are my preferred option for baking cakes. Silicon can work but cakes will not brown in the same manner and don't conduct heat as well so this may adversely affect your cakes. Silicon is great for ice cube trays and spatulas.
Tip 10. Silicon baking mats are better for macarons than parchment where they can tend to stick.
Tip 11. If using nuts in a cake or slice, toast your nuts first to bring out their flavour.
Tip 12. If using fruit in a cake, toss the fresh or dried fruit or nuts in a little flour to prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
Tip 13. Gently rap the tins against the counter before putting them in the oven to make the air bubbles rise to the top and disappear (prick them with a skewer or toothpick if you need to).
Tip 14. Calibrate your oven temperature with a separate oven thermometer. Some ovens run hot or cool and oven repairs are costly. This is a quick, inexpensive way to check your oven. If it runs hot then adjust your temperatures until you reach the correct temperature.
Tip 15. Bake cakes the day before you decorate them. This allows them to become firmer and more manageable. Decorating a warm or freshly baked cake increases the difficulty.
Tip 16. For decorative cakes use a mud cake or a dense, moist cake recipe like fruit cake. Avoid light sponges as they won't be able to support the frosting. Covered cakes can be made up to 1 week in advance and these keep the best. Coatings like fondant, marzipan, buttercream and ganache are room temperature stable and can be iced ahead of time and provide a barrier and coating to keep the cake underneath fresh. It's best to avoid frostings like cream cheese unless you have the fridge space.
Tip 17. How to fill a piping bag: Hold it in one hand or place in a tall glass, scoop the frosting mix inside, then scrape the mixture down towards the tip with a dough scraper.
Tip 18. When frosting a cake, do a thin crumb coat-this is to catch all the crumbs that will inevitably come off your cake. This is a thin layer and you can see the cake through this. Then refrigerate your crumb coated cake so that the crumb coat becomes a firm layer and then ice it properly.
Tip 19. Silicon spatulas galore - I have around 10 spatulas and use them for different things. Some are thinner and more flexible, some have more of a scooping action. One of my favourites is the mini silicon spatula for getting things out of small tins-think sweetened condensed milk tins! A great brand is Loyal, which is an Australian brand.
Tip 20. If you can afford it, invest in a stand mixer-they have the added functionality of a dough hook to help you make bread. Thermomixes also make a good dough.
Tip 21. When making macarons, it is very important that all your ingredients are room temperature. Also avoid making macarons on humid days unless you have air conditioning to take the moisture out of the air. I store my nuts in the fridge and before I make macarons I dry out the almond meal in a 40C/104F oven to remove the chill and moisture.
Tip 22. Use an ice cream scoop to fill muffin tins if the mix is thick. If it is runny, pour it into a jug and pour it in rather than using spoons. Ice cream scoops are also perfect for cookie portions or thicker batters (I recommend getting two sizes, a small 3/4 oz one and a 2oz. one, American shops will have these and look for a good quality brand like Vollrath).
Tip 23. Need to core an apple or pear? Cut the fruit in half and then use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds.
Tip 24. Chill your bowl and whisk before you whip cream. Also make sure the cream is also very cold.
Tip 25. If you have a high speed blender, blend sugar and roughly chopped up vanilla pods. You don't get any wastage from discarding the outer of the expensive vanilla bean and it has a wonderfully intense aroma.
Tip 26. Keep your instant dried yeast in the freezer. I find I can never use it up quickly enough. Also check the expiration dates of your yeast and baking powder.
Tip 27. Is it too cold to prove your bread? I set my oven temperature to 35C/95F and then turn it off and prove my bread in the warm oven.
Tip 28. Always chill cookie dough and pie dough before baking. The former is to prevent spread (very important if you are decorating them or they're cut in a particular shape) and the latter is to prevent shrinkage. You can also pop them in the freezer for 15 minutes too.
Tip 29. If your sugar cookies are a little shaggy on the edges then smooth them out before baking.
Tip 30. Store cookies with a piece of bread (bread ends are great to use here) that will absorb all the moisture and keep the cookies fresh.
Tip 31. Want to top a cake or slice with chocolate but find that it breaks when you cut it? A little coconut oil is your solution. Use 1 teaspoon per 100g/3.5ozs of chocolate.
Tip 32. Keep your flour in the fridge to avoid pantry moths gobbling it up.
Tip 33. Make sure to keep your yeast and salt separated when mixing bread dough as salt can kill yeast or inhibit your dough rising. One way around this is to dissolve the salt in the water or milk that you are using in your bread.
Tip 34. When baking bread, if the dough is sticky (this can happen as flours vary so much even from bag to bag), try not to add too much flour as this will affect the texture. Just add a little flour so that it isn't too sloppy and can be shaped. Then lightly oil your hands when shaping and handling bread.
Tip 35. Does your pastry shrink too much? It may have too much liquid in it. But if you love the texture and flavour of your pastry and don't want to alter the recipe, let the pastry overhang and then bake it. Then once it is baked, take a sharp knife and trim the cooked pastry.
Tip 36. Want to make puff pastry from scratch but don't have all day? This is a quick 15 minute puff pastry recipe hack!
I should also confess that there are some things that I don't do:
Tip 37. I don't sift flour unless it is for a sponge cake.
Tip 38. I also don't use unsalted butter as salted butter is so mildly salted and I like the extra seasoning (salt=flavour).
Tip 39. I also don't really worry about US vs Australian cup measurements. As long as you are using the same cups throughout and don't switch countries I've never had an issue even with pastry and cakes.
Tip 40. Also some talk about bad cooking days aka there are some days in the kitchen where nothing works. I have no explanation for this, perhaps I get sloppy or risky when I'm in a bad mood. Don't give up. Regroup, relax and try again another day!
I hope you found these tips helpful Dear Reader! Please feel free to share your baking tips too! I'd love to hear yours as we never stop learning! xxx